Thanksgiving

Preaching and Worship Resources about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving celebrations were an important part of the people's worship before God. Throughout history, worshiping communities have set aside certain times and days as events of special thanksgiving to God.

In Scripture

A song of thanksgiving in Exodus 15:1-21 "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: `I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name'" (Ex. 15:1-3).

Gratitude for God's actions in Deuteronomy 8:3-20 "When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,[ ]who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today" (Deut. 8:12-18).

Singing thanksgiving ["]O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed" (Ps. 95:1-5).

Enter God's presence with thanksgiving "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations" (Ps. 100:1-5).

Thanksgiving for God's healing in Psalm 116:1-7, 12-19 "I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people" (Ps. 116:17-18).

Thanks for God's faithfulness in Psalm 145:13-21 "My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever" (Ps. 145:21).

Jonah's song of thanks in Jonah 2:7-9 "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!" (Jonah 2:9).

One thankful leper in Luke 17:11-19 "Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan" (Luke 17:15-16).

Gratitude in Christ "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Col. 2:6-7).

Prayer and thanksgiving "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2).

Points to Ponder

God's Instruction When Israel was preparing for a new life in the promised land, God gave them the instruction, "Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field" (Ex. 23:16). Thanksgiving celebrations were an important part of the people's worship before God. Throughout history, worshiping communities have set aside certain times and days as events of special thanksgiving to God. These events are an acknowledgment that God, as creator, is also the provider of all the bounty of life.

Thankful Worship In addition, churches are encouraged to schedule multiple times of thankful worship as determined by their experiences. When special blessings are experienced, when fervent prayers have been answered, when times of prosperity come, or when God has led and protected through times of trial or uncertainty, the church does well to gather in thankful worship before God.

Thanks to God It must be clear that the thanks is given to God and not a celebration of our own achievements. Our God-concept must include him as the great gift-giver and source of all bounty who delights in hearing our response. Though this seems obvious, it can be easy to slip away from it when the call to thanks comes from a national leader and the event seems more national/political than spiritual.

What are we thankful for? The causes that stimulate our thanks must be clearly identified. Most national calls to thanksgiving exhort us to give thanks for the "bounties of divine providence," which usually is a reference to the economy, good crops, and the freedoms of the land. However, in our worship services we usually desire to broaden this beyond material goods to include other areas such as health; relationships in our homes, families, and communities; protection and safety in our land; the welfare of the church; and the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When it's hard to be thankful Worship leaders must be sensitive to the fact that while some have prospered and are filled with great thanks, others are suffering loss and disappointment and may find this day a very difficult one. Such worshipers must gently be led to understand how it is that they are called to give thanks also. The story behind the well-known hymn "Now Thank We All Our God" is a powerful one and can well be told at every Thanksgiving service. When, during the Thirty Years' War, Pastor Rinkart was called on to preside at over four thousand funerals in a year, and sometimes fifty per day, and could still write this hymn of thanks, we are led in a powerful lesson!


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.