Is There a Seat at Your Table for God?
Thanksgiving is more than an invitation to indulge in extraordinary cuisine…it’s an invitation by God to draw near to Him. For most Americans, Thanksgiving equals the best multi-course meal of the year with endless leftovers. I’ll never forget one of our mission trips overseas at this time of year. We were all sitting in a foreign airport waiting for our flight. Corrie had struck up a conversation with another young lady about her same age, and as they chatted, Corrie asked, “So are you looking forward to Thanksgiving? What’s your favorite part?” The girl stared blankly for a long couple of minutes as several of us explained that Thanksgiving was an American holiday with a massive meal.
As the young lady was discovering a new world, Corrie grew quiet and stared off blankly as she came to terms with what was a very sad reality for her, most people in the world don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving or experience her favorite meal. A few weeks later, we were back in that airport as we returned from West Africa, after experiencing third world poverty up close, watching families living on dirt floors and sleeping in homes made of cardboard. We were most thankful for what we could give and leave behind. Thankfully, there are some things which you can’t unsee or unfeel; they stay with you and settle in a part of your heart that leads you to action.
As Thanksgiving 2020 arrives, we are looking forward to the amazing meal, but also to how we can help others experience the true meaning of giving thanks. This email includes some great ideas that perhaps will inspire you to act.
I love Psalm 100, because it’s a step by step instruction of how to enter God’s presence in the Heavens. In a word – thanksgiving! It’s a great way to start your morning prayers.
“A Psalm of Thanksgiving [tôwdâh]. Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving [tôwdâh], and into His courts with praise. Be thankful [yâdâh] to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” Psalm 100
Giving thanks is a profound concept in the ancient Hebrew. There are two words/concepts. The first is תּוֹדָה tôwdâh. It’s hands-extended adoration, confession, and praise. That’s how you open the outer gate. Otherwise, when you pray, you are really shouting from the street, and expecting God to answer you. There is a protocol to entering His presence. Once you enter the outer gate, you still need to enter His temple and arrive at His courts and throne.
That requires a thankful praise. It’s the word יָדָה yâdâh. The literal meaning of the word is to throw, shoot, or cast. Again, it involves your hands literally throwing out thanks, as if you were holding something hot and need to get it away from you. Our thanks don’t belong to us. Just as the elders in Heaven cast off their crowns at the throne, so God is trying to create in us hearts that are so overflowing with gratitude for who He is and what He has done, that thanksgiving is always pouring out from us.
There are some other powerful concepts in Psalm 100. We are to, “Serve the LORD with gladness.” Gladness is the word שִׂמְחָה simchâh. It’s mostly translated as joy, gladness, or pleasure and defined as “being very joyful” or “being exceedingly joyful”. As in your joy is full – there’s no more room for anything else. We are also invited to, “Come Before His Presence”. It’s the word פָּנִים pânîym. It means to come face to face with God. He’s not inviting you to a Thanksgiving meal and then seating you at another table. He’s seating you next to Him so you can see Him eye to eye and discover His affection for you. Yea, you are His favorite.
And there is more than staring and eating going on at that table. You are going to be, “…Singing”. That’s the word, רְנָנָה rᵉnânâh. And it means so much more than what we think of singing. It’s joyfully singing and loudly shouting for joy or triumph so that our voice echoes. There are no inside voices at God’s table. And what is it we are shouting about? “For the Lord is Good!” That’s the word, טוֹב ṭôwb. It simply means God is the best in every way.
Which takes my mind back to Ghana, Africa. When I close my eyes, I can still see their exuberant dances as they worshipped. We started calling the trip “Ghana…the musical”, because they just seemed to burst into song for any reason. And their songs were full of joy and shouting, dancing, and laughter. I met former voodoo priests who once invoked demons into themselves to gain power, who now were filled with the Holy Spirit and experienced profound miracles as commonplace. I met the descendants of those who sold their neighbors onto slave ships, who now traveled to villages to spread the freedom that only Christ can give. It was their passion; it was their life. They may have never sat down to a Thanksgiving meal, but they live out the meaning every day of their lives.
The simple reality is, there is no thanksgiving if we only have a heart to eat. The word itself is defined by a heart to give. The apostle Paul spoke of the Philippian generosity. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Philippians 4:9-12
I think it’s easy to look at the figures in the Bible and make them bigger than life so that we don’t feel compelled to emulate them because we set the bar too high. But I love this passage so much because it just destroys our poor excuses. Paul wasn’t born extraordinary, he says, “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” He learned how to handle hunger from continually suffering the lack of food. Repetition was his teacher. He learned over and over and over how to be blessed and how to suffer. And from that place, he learned to give thanks. And he also learned that people genuinely want to help, but don’t always have the opportunity.
I pray 2020 hasn’t left you “hungry, abased, or suffering”. The world is not lacking opportunity to receive right now. I hope you can take part in Giving Tuesday as well as our End-of-Year Giving opportunity. I hope you will find many opportunities to give to those in need, that God will be very present at your Thanksgiving table, and we will all discover the thrill of giving thanks!