Honour God: Gratitude, Connection, and Remembrance
In April when Lil Goertzen, editor asked if I would write an article for The Recorder about Thanksgiving, I was glad to do it. I told her that the farmers where I pastor were just starting to seed and there was much excitement in the air. (Nobody is as jumpy as a farmer waiting to get seeding!) Now the crops have grown and the guys are out there working feverishly to get the harvest in. It feels like it might be an early winter.
When the crops are in before Thanksgiving Weekend, it makes my job as a pastor a whole lot easier. Everyone is in a good mood and the Thanksgiving Worship service pretty much plans itself. When there are still crops out there, it’s tough going.
Thanksgiving weekend comes up every year on the calendar. The holiday asks us to think about what we're thankful for, even if we're not always feeling it. It is not a bad thing to practice gratitude, even on days when it doesn't come naturally.
God wanted the same for His children.
The book of Leviticus, in the Old Testament, contains a detailed account of the festivals and celebrations that the Israelites were commanded to observe. It includes instruction for religious ceremonies and rituals such as Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These feasts were initiated by God himself, and they were not optional.
Today we might wonder why God had enforced celebratory feasts at different times during the year. Wouldn't that be too many days off? After all, most of these required a week's worth of celebrations.
God knew well the hearts of humanity and our tendency towards all work, all the time. He was lovingly creating rhythms in the week (Sabbath) and the yearly cycle, when there would be time off, not just for family holidays, but for something far more important.
God wanted them to have time built into their lives each week and each year to remember who He was and what He had provided for them. By following His calendar of Sabbaths and holy days, the Israelites would stay connected to God, remember His mighty works, and enjoy a strengthened community.
The festivals compelled the Israelites to remember and re-tell God's faithful acts in their history - the Exodus, giving of the Law, and the years in the wilderness. Observing the Sabbath recalled God's Day of rest after creation. The Passover memorialized deliverance from Egypt. The Feast of Weeks commemorated receiving the Ten Commandments. God knew His people needed reminders to recount His steadfast love through the generations.
Furthermore, God's feast days promoted unity and joyful community. Families would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem at least three times a year, joining with the larger community of God’s people to worship in the appointed place. There would be shared stories, singing, dancing, prayer, food, and rest. Amid celebration, needs would be met, and reconciliation could occur. God created His festivals to build and strengthen them. It's actually a very thoughtful idea that God had for his children.
Now the world in general pushes against a lot of God's commands. We no longer observe the feasts and festivals that they did then, and there are reasons for that. Today we take time to celebrate Christmas and Easter as Christian celebrations - maybe Thanksgiving as well. But apart from those, our secular society does not allow for too many holidays where we remember what God has done for us.
We live in a world that really doesn't want to remember God or family. Much of the world doesn't have any history with God so there's nothing to remember. For many of them, holidays just conjure up memories of family conflict.
Sometimes the issue isn’t with the world as much as it is with our own attitudes. We might not be in the right mood to celebrate these holidays. We would rather just power through them and pick up extra shifts at work. Perhaps Thanksgiving has become the day to finish yard-work, like putting away the garden stuff, painting the deck, or hanging Christmas lights before the snow flies. It's easier to let the day pass us by than intentionally set aside time for gratitude and thanking God.
But reflecting on life's blessings, even when we're busy or not “Feeling” it, is important. Maybe this year we should put away all the "to do" lists for a little bit. Share a meal, however simple, with people you care about. Call family you don't see as much. Remind yourself of life's gifts big and small. It doesn't have to be a huge production to remind ourselves that gratitude is good for the soul.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to appreciate all the wonderful things God has blessed us with, but how can we truly celebrate and say thanks?
Sometimes honouring traditions comes naturally, but other times we need a reminder. Family isn't always easy - little disagreements can grow if we're not careful, or we may drift apart, busy with our own lives. We have to make an effort to get together and connect, whether just cooking a simple meal or bringing different dishes to share as one.
If you find yourself alone or apart from loved ones during this season, cultivating gratitude remains meaningful. You could invite a neighbour to share in fellowship over a casual meal, bringing them comfort, just as God graciously welcomes us.
However you mark the day, on your own or in a crowd, having an attitude of appreciation lifts your spirits. Thanking the giver of all good things puts life in perspective and keeps you grounded through whatever each season may bring. This holiday is a chance to focus on God, family and friends, and be thankful for all you have.
Let me offer some ideas for practising gratitude this Thanksgiving.
Have each person share what they are most grateful for. This helps foster an attitude of gratitude.
Include prayers of thanks at your meal, blessing the food before eating. Ask different family members to lead prayers.
Donate food or volunteer at a shelter or food bank. Giving back helps focus on others who are less fortunate.
Create a gratitude journal that family members can add to each year.
Host an open table for any friends or neighbours who may be alone during the holiday. Spread compassion.
Play hymns, or spiritual songs during your meal. Worship is the precursor to gratitude.
Do a nature walk before or after dinner and notice signs of the changing seasons. Appreciate God's creation.
Light candles during your meal as a symbol of God's light in your lives that year.
Spend time in fellowship, sharing what you're thankful for in faith, health, family and life in general.
Donate to a charitable cause you support as a way to give back.
Setting aside time to appreciate Gods faithfulness, remember His works, and strengthen community bonds undoubtedly shaped the Israelites' relationship with Him. This season invites us to consider how celebrating such holidays might enrich our own faith journey. What if we saw holidays not just as obligations or interruptions, but opportunities to honour God through gratitude, connection, and remembrance.
My prayer for us is that this season might draw us closer to our Heavenly Father, the giver of all good gifts.
Randy Friesen grew up in the EMMC at Westmount Evangelical Church (now Sutherland Evangelical Church, Saskatoon SK), learned to pastor at the Aylmer EMM Church in Ontario, and pastored the Richmond Gospel Fellowship in Winnipeg. Randy and Lauralea have been in pastoral ministry for 37 years and the past 25 have been spent helping unhealthy churches get healthier.
They have four married children, and the best part is seven little grandkids they are Papa and Nana to.
Join him each weekday for Daily Prayers at www.thefieldpastor.com
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 60 No. 5