(Listen to Pastor Joel's sermon on this topic here)
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday: food, family, friends, and remembering all the ways that God has blessed us. It's also a time for us to pause and reflect on all of the blessings that we have received, and to express our gratitude to God. But we shouldn't just stop at a feeling of gratitude - our feelings should translate into action. Even the word "thanksgiving" involves action - the action of giving thanks. But how do we do that? Is there anything tangible that we can do to express our gratitude? Yes, indeed, and the Bible gives us three simple ways that we can turn our feelings of gratitude into action that all involve some sort of giving.
Leviticus 7 tells about "peace offerings" - sacrifices that the Israelites could make whenever they wanted to in order to celebrate the peace they enjoyed with God and the blessings they received from God. There were several different sacrifices that the Israelites were commanded to make, most having to do with forgiveness of sin and to obtain ritual purity. But the peace offerings were different. They weren't required like the other sacrifices, and anybody could make a peace offering at any time for any reason out of gratitude to God. It's the characteristics of these peace offerings that offer us some suggestions about how we can tangibly express our gratitude to God.
Give of yourself.
The primary characteristic of a peace offering was that the one who made the offering sacrificed his own resources to do so. Peace offerings required the sacrifice of an animal and also several loaves of bread. In order to make this offering, the worshiper had to give up something that he owned (an animal and the bread). Remember, he wasn't required to do this, but did so out of the desire of his heart to thank God for all that he had done. But in order to give a peace offering, the worshiper had to give of his own precious resources. The lesson for us is the same. One tangible way that I can thank God for all that he has done is to find a way to give of my resources.
Give back to God.
When we give of ourselves as a way of thanking God, we primarily give back to God. With the peace offerings, the first portion of the sacrifice (the animal and bread) was burnt as an offering to the Lord. This symbolic gesture communicated the reality that everything the worshiper had belonged to and came from God. Giving these resources back to God through a burnt offering was a way of acknowledging that everything a person owns comes from God, and so we thank him by giving what he has given to us back to him. So if you'd like a tangible way to express your gratitude to God, think of a way that you can give back to God out of all that he has given to you.
Give to others.
A third characteristic of the peace offerings is sharing what we have with others. After the worshiper gave a portion of his offering to the Lord, the rest was for him to eat and enjoy. Typically the worshiper used the leftover meat and bread and threw a feast for his friends and family. This was yet another symbol of appreciating all that God has done. It's a statement that declares: "God has blessed me immensely! Come and share in God's blessing!" So this Thanksgiving, think of some ways that you can thank God by giving to and sharing with others.
Learning to be thankful.
f you're like me, it's easy to take God's blessings for granted. I often don't even realize how blessed I am because I am willfully blind to all of the ways that God has provided for me. Little children have to be taught and trained to say "Please," and "Thank you." Like them, I have to train myself to recognize the ways that God has blessed me and provided for me. The peace offerings of Leviticus 7 weren't required or enforced. Rather, they relied upon someone simply realizing and acknowledging all of the ways that God had blessed them and responding to that realization with a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We need to learn to be thankful, and then respond to our feelings of gratitude with the action of thanksgiving.