I've been musing these last few days on the difference between "being thankful" and "giving thanks."
In some ways, a Christian celebration of Thanksgiving and a secular celebration of Thanksgiving aren't any different, but I think there is an important difference that lies in the distinction between these two phrases.
To "be thankful" often means no more than recognizing that there are a lot of nice things in one's life that could just as easily not be there. We look around at the roofs over our heads, the loved ones around us, the food that we have to share with them when they come, and we're glad for those things. We see that not everyone has them, and that there are no guarantees that we always will either-- or that we necessarily deserved them in the first place.
If that's as far as we go, however, all we have is a vague sentimentality.
Giving thanks, on the other hand implies a definite object for our thanksgiving; thanks are given to someone, not just felt. For the Christian, the object of our thanksgiving is God Himself-- our Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.
As soon as we recognize the reality that God is the one to whom we are to give our thanks, the content of our thanksgiving will be transformed as well. God's blessings to us go far beyond the physical, tangible things that we can see around us. This is why a Christian perspective of thanksgiving can go beyond sentimentality; it has an answer for the hard reality of intense suffering. Even for those who are not experiencing physical blessings, the abundant spiritual blessings possessed by every believer are more than sufficient to merit our thanks to the One who has given them to us. We have been redeemed from darkness to light, given the Spirit to dwell within us, granted access to the Father, and united with Christ. We are God's children, His chosen ones whom He loves. How can we not give Him thanks?
But we can take this one step farther. We are to give thanks not only for what God has done, but also for who He is. Giving thanks is one form of praise. God is, in Himself, inherently worthy of our thanksgiving. As we thank Him for His goodness, mercy, love, holiness, power, and sovereignty, we also praise Him and give Him glory.
That is a distinctively Christian expression of "being thankful."
May this, dear friends, mark us all the year round.