I was driving home late at night during these early days of November, and all across the radio dial, I heard … Christmas songs!
Now, on the one hand, it is actually quite amazing that secular radio stations take two months out of the year to devote their schedule exclusively to the music of Christmas. And if you enjoy listening to that, and it helps you to think about Christmas this early—while everything around us is still a beautiful shade of burnt orange—go for it!
Yet, I am not convinced that this is the best strategic choice for promoting one’s spiritual growth. For one thing, I know of no clear Biblical admonition to celebrate the birth of Christ—especially for a substantial portion of the year. On the other hand, believers certainly have plenty of commands to “be thankful” (Ps. 100:4; Col. 3:15; see also Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Thess. 5:18).
Dr. John Walvoord is credited with formulating a famous illustration regarding the pretribulational rapture, which goes like this: Once all the signs of Christmas are on display, it’s surely time to get ready for Thanksgiving! Likewise, once the signs of the second coming become obvious, the rapture is certainly getting closer.
In this article, I would like to focus on the first portion of that statement. Thanksgiving is, indeed, advancing quickly—although you might never know it from any cultural signs.
Actually, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Sadly, it seems that it is becoming more and more our forgotten holiday—not only in our beloved nation (where the line between Halloween and Christmas seems to be blurring) but even in the church.
The world appears to have run out of ideas for how it might plunder Thanksgiving for commercial gain. Football is on all day, with no more room for growth. A few years ago, stores started opening Black Friday on Thursday. Thankfully, that concept may be fizzling out. What is there left to try, except to allow the fourth Thursday in November to revert to being a holiday for families … and feasting?
Yet, we might also inquire, where does faith fit in that picture?
Granted, Thanksgiving is an American holiday—not a Biblical or even a church holiday. But it certainly has Scriptural underpinnings and takes us back to the Biblical foundations of our nation. It offers a magnificent opportunity to focus on the necessity of gratitude, and we ought to take spiritual advantage of that. So, I would like to offer a few ideas that might help. Along the way, we might even find a few signs of Thanksgiving!
Listen to Thanksgiving Music
Yes, I said Thanksgiving music. There are many wonderful “hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19) for this season, including some brilliant newer ones. We may not even sing through all of them in a given year in our churches.
Yet, listening to them would surely prepare us to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15). And, while we listen, we might also focus on reading from the “psalms” (Eph. 5:19).
Attend a Thanksgiving Service
I grew up attending church on Thanksgiving morning. That practice is now all but nonexistent, but many churches still offer some type of Thanksgiving service—either on a Sunday, at their midweek service, or at another special time.
If your church is not in the habit of highlighting Thanksgiving, I would love to encourage the congregation to begin a new tradition. This year, specifically, the church calendar works in favor of Thanksgiving. Advent begins Dec. 3, so both Sundays around Thanksgiving are available for an emphasis on this noteworthy theme.
Study the Thanksgiving Pilgrims
Our Pilgrim Fathers gave us this holiday four centuries ago. They played a significant role in the development of our country, and they continue to inspire us with their wisdom, their godly example, their quest for freedom, and the prominence they placed on Thanksgiving.
I began studying and teaching about the Pilgrims nearly 30 years ago. I find them incredibly fascinating and motivating. There are so many tremendous resources available today that tell their story in a faithful and compelling manner. I encourage you to make use of those materials and share this history with others so that:
“A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation” (Ps. 22:30).
Accept This Thanksgiving Assignment
If you’re still not feeling thankful, why not start out by writing down a list of all the reasons you have to be truly grateful? As the old gospel song implores us:
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.[i]
Give some earnest and prayerful consideration to this subject. Ask the Lord to help you to “forget not all His benefits” (Ps. 103:2).
Make this November really different! Prepare your heart for Thanksgiving.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, based in Columbus, WI, and serving in the Midwest. For more information on his ministry, visit sermonaudio.com/pscharf or foi.org/scharf, or email email@example.com.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
[i] Johnson Oatman; “Count Your Blessings.” Public domain. Taken from “Count Your Blessings;” Hymnary.org; n.d.; https://hymnary.org/text/when_upon_lifes_billows_you_are_tempest; Internet; accessed 8 November 2023.