January 19, 2021

Sundays with Michael Spencer: November 22, 2015


The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Brownscombe

From Thanksgiving, 2006

Around hundreds of thousands of Thanksgiving dinner tables, millions of Americans will take a moment and share with one another what they are thankful for in the past year. Because Thanksgiving doesn’t require any particular confession of faith, it’s close to a universal experience for Americans, and one that most of us treasure more and more as the years go by.

As Christians, we understand that thankfulness is a deep pillar of character in the Christian life. As Henri Nouwen said…

Gratitude  goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Thankfulness is both a “do” and a “be” in the Christian vision of the good life. A sovereign and wise God orders life and we learn to respond in every circumstance with praise and gratitude.

And, if you haven’t noticed, that’s not an easy calling. As Americans, we posit our own quests and maps for happiness in the midst of the Christian story, and we discover that we all have a level of addiction to our definitions of happiness that stand in the way of simple, trusting thankfulness to God. Repentance from moral vices is relatively easy when compared to repentance from addiction to what we believe absolutely MUST BE in order for us to be happy, blessed and normal.

We live by an ethic that frees our desires from the judgment of the Gospel. We assume that the Lord of the universe is signed on to make us happy by filling out our little lists of wants. We are consumers and we are socialized to believe that we judge all things- including God- as consumers.

Christianity is not a faith of consumption, but a call to discipleship and Trinitarian fellowship/community. Can we be thankful when we don’t have what we want, or when we do not recognize God’s way with us as “the good life?” Can we find the true note of thankfulness that Paul expressed when he said

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

. . . I have a wonderful wife, two incredible children and a great new son-in-law. I have my health (and a wonderful doctor.) I have a job that provides everything from housing to insurance to free food. I have classes to teach, sermons to preach and a community that includes me as a valuable member. I have a thousand reasons a day to be happy in God and for his blessings. I have friends all over the world and opportunities in the Kingdom of God that few people anywhere could ever imitate. I have no debts and a dependable car without payments. I sleep at night and look forward to every day. The generosity of those who support my ministry enriches my life every day. I have made it through a mid-life crisis that could have destroyed me, and I love the God and Father of Jesus more than ever. The Gospel makes me cry with joy, and I want more and more of it.

It is my American nature to focus on where things have not gone according to my plan. I realize that God’s incredible faithfulness should stand over every part of my life where fear and anxiety challenge my definitions of happiness. It’s exactly in those places I need to proclaim to myself the goodness and the generosity of the Lord. True contentment is not related to the events of the day, but grows out of the Gospel and from being in covenant with God himself.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, join me in a hymn of praise to the One to whom we can always be thankful.

Sing praise to God Who reigns above, the God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled and every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

What God’s almighty power hath made His gracious mercy keepeth,
By morning glow or evening shade His watchful eye ne’er sleepeth;
Within the kingdom of His might, Lo! all is just and all is right:
To God all praise and glory.

The Lord is never far away, but through all grief distressing,
An ever present help and stay, our peace and joy and blessing.
As with a mother’s tender hand, God gently leads the chosen band:
To God all praise and glory.

Thus, all my toilsome way along, I sing aloud Thy praises,
That earth may hear the grateful song my voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart, both soul and body bear your part:
To God all praise and glory.

Let all who name Christ’s holy Name give God all praise and glory;
Let all who own His power proclaim aloud the wondrous story!
Cast each false idol from its throne, for Christ is Lord, and Christ alone:
To God all praise and glory.


  1. For me, personally, Thanksgiving is the only holy day of the year. I am blessed with food, clothing, shelter, and the means to provide for silly little luxuries. I am also blessed with, and by, a very small circle of people who love me and whom I love in return.

    But also, as the post states, this one day helps me to foster within myself an attitude of gratitude during the rest of the year. Indeed, it IS a discipline as well as a grace when others notice it in me. Without the Holy Spirit of God, though, this would not be possible, so I am grateful for His presence.

    Now, if I could only maintain that attitude throughout the remaining 364 days of the year…

  2. Steve Newell says

    “Christianity is not a faith of consumption, but a call to discipleship and Trinitarian fellowship/community.” is the statement that stood out to me.

    It is sad to me how we have turn churches in places of spiritual commerce and pastors as therapists.

  3. I remember my best friend who, when her son was dying at age eleven, still laid the white table cloth on Friday night and lit the candles and said the prayers of her Jewish faith . . . it must be that there is something in trusting and in thanksgiving that sustains us even in the most difficult of times.

    Ever since, I have thought about how we lay the table and give thanks on Thanksgiving and how it is, holy day or not, that we seem to draw strength from the act of doing it even more than from the nutrients in the foods. ‘Ritual’ gets a bum rap . . . ‘tradition’ doesn’t fare too well either . . . but when the safe world we inhabited is failing apart, it is good to hold on to what our people held to in the past . . . the rituals, the prayers, the traditions . . . rote from a memory that survives numbing sadness . . . light from fresh candles calling us to awareness of the Source of all light . . . the gathering of people who need one another and who have real reason to do so . . . yeah, our traditions give structure and strength in the days when, having been weakened, we need to return to the place of thankfulness . . .

    so lay the table cloth, light the candles, and call together your people . . . there will be enough food to go around . . . that always happens that there is enough to share . . . and collectively give thanks, even if you have forgotten how to ‘say grace’ . . . give thanks . . . it won’t be the same if you don’t

  4. It’s no secret that those who live under the delusion that the world (or America or their mother or their boss or…) owes them a living have the marked ability to suck the joy out of any situation they find themselves in. Ugh! People who are genuinely grateful and appreciative of life’s gifts, on the other hand, seem to drop joy accidentally into a situation. I’m not claiming either extreme for myself but am reminded by the post to give thanks in all things. Thank you. Thank you. My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you and I thank you. Thank you! 🙂

  5. Enjoyed this post…always a good reminder and reflection…especially going into Advent.

    I would like to take this opportunity to say that I am extremely thankful for InternetMonk–its existence, it’s contributors–past and present,commenters, and recommendations on the side–I love the whole package.

    Thankful to God that He had me find it in my desert wanderings at the right time…so that I wouldn’t be come a Done or a None!

    Going in to this week of thanksgiving with more gratitude than I could ever had imagined…and it’s not because of what I ‘have’ or ‘don’t have’–it is simply because of basically what Henry Nouwen was quoted. So true.

    Thank you all, and Happy THanksgiving!

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Thing is, when the Bible becomes just a spiritual engineering manual of Fact Fact Fact and sotieroology just a Penal Substitutionary Atonement/Sinner’s Prayer business contract, there really isn’t much room left for Wonder.

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