“What are you most thankful for this year?” It’s the question we anticipate passing around the table as we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. Reciting our gratitude is part of the turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. It’s what we do on Thanksgiving.
Like many of our American traditions, Thanksgiving has retained some shallow roots of what it was originally intended to be, but for most of us, it has lost the “punch” of spiritual significance. Being thankful means more than sharing a list of good things in your life. Throughout Jewish and Christian history, true thanksgiving has been paired with a “sacrifice.”
Before your mind goes to slaughtered goats from the Old Testament, remember that we are still called to bring a different kind of sacrifice to the Lord as New Testament Christians. The writer of Hebrews spells this out for us:
Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:15–16)
Even if we have grateful hearts this week, most of us celebrate without anything resembling a sacrifice. Probably the closest we will get to sacrificing is sitting next to a relative we don’t get along with. Yet true thanksgiving means more than writing God a proverbial “thank you note” for all of our blessings. An incident in David’s life helps paint the picture for why thanksgiving should also include a “sacrifice of praise.”
David sinned against God by ordering a census of all of the able warriors in Israel. As punishment, God sent a plague against the people of Israel, killing 70,000 of them. Just as an angel was poised to destroy Jerusalem, God said, “Stop! That is enough.” David bought the land where God stopped the angel, with the intention of building an altar to the Lord. The man who owned the land offered to give it to David, but David protested, “No, I insist on buying it for the full price. I will not take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not present burnt offerings that have cost me nothing!” (1 Chronicles 21).
David’s actions show us two different ways that we can offer the Lord a sacrifice of thanksgiving to show him our gratitude.
1. Being Thankful When You Don’t Have Reason to Be
Think about it. God had just struck 70,000 Israelites when David built an altar of praise. No doubt, David felt grief and even anger based on what had just happened. However, he chose to respond to the Lord with praise and gratitude that the Lord spared Jerusalem. Now that’s just incredible. Who would want to be thankful in a moment like that? Yet we are encouraged to “continually offer a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that profess his name.”