(For Throwback Thursday and Thanksgiving, here is an article I wrote in 2004 for the national Christian magazine, Forward in Christ.)
A young child stands with his mother in a packed elevator. The child sneezes. Someone nearby says, “Bless you.” Without hesitation, the mother looks down at her child and asks, “What do you say?”
Embarrassed, the child meekly looks up and says, “Thank you.”
Is that what it really means to be thankful?
Each year in the United States, tens of thousands of families gather together on the fourth Thursday of November. We talk about being thankful. We eat turkey. We eat pie. We eat until we can’t move. Then we watch football. Again I ask: Is that what it means to be thankful?
On the fourth Thursday of November each year, families on the island of Puerto Rico also gather together to celebrate. In Puerto Rico, Thanksgiving Day is called el Día de Acción de Gracias—literally “Thanks Action Day.”
Now I think we are on to something.
There once was a man named Zacchaeus who lived at the time of Jesus. He was a tax collector in the town of Jericho. In those days, being a tax collector meant that you were a thief and a traitor.
One day Jesus was walking through Jericho. Large crowds gathered around to hear him preach. Zacchaeus, too, wanted to see this famous prophet. Yet he had a problem. You see, Zacchaeus was vertically challenged. To put it bluntly, he was short. But he didn’t let that stop him. He climbed a tree to be able to see over the crowds. As Jesus passed by, he looked up at short Zacchaeus wobbling there in the tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
Later, Zacchaeus witnessed Jesus’ generous love and forgiveness personally. He heard how Jesus had come to save even lousy tax collectors like him. Overwhelmed with thanks, Zacchaeus stood up to address those present. He announced that he would give half of his possessions to the poor. To all those whom he had cheated over the years, he would pay them back four times.
On that day 2000 years ago, Zacchaeus celebrated Thanks Action Day.
Every day our heavenly Father looks down on us, his undeserving children, and says, “Bless you!” He generously showers on us more blessings than we can count. He gives us family and friends. He gives us houses, cars, TVs, computers, and riding lawn mowers. He gives us air to breathe and water to drink. God has blessed us to be born in the richest country in the world.
Being thankful is more than a question of mere words. Being thankful is an action.
Did you know that? Even the poorest of us here in the United States are richer than the majority of the world. So often we see our neighbor’s new car, our brother’s new pool, and our friend’s new Nintendo GameCube, and we wish that we weren’t so poor. We tell ourselves that we just can’t afford to give more in our offerings because we are only farmers, factory workers, or teachers. Yet, even the poorest of us are richer than the majority of the world!
And if that wasn’t enough, our God showers on us the riches of his forgiveness and love. With his perfect life and innocent death, Jesus paid the price of our materialism, selfishness, and worry. Through water and the Word he adopted us as his dear children. Even now he has prepared for us an inheritance in the riches of heaven where we will forever reign with him in glory.
Even if we were forced to sleep on the dirt floor of a grass hut in the middle of Africa—even if we lived in the rubble of war-ravaged Iraq—we wouldn’t be poor. There is no such thing as a poor Christian. We are princes and princesses. We are heirs to the glory of heaven.
Every day our heavenly Father looks down on us, his undeserving children, and says, “Bless you!” So now, what do you say?
After Thanksgiving dinner every year, my family has the tradition of asking each person at the table to say one thing for which he or she is thankful. Over the years we have thanked God for boyfriends and girlfriends, for graduating from high school and college, for our health, for our salvation, for our parent’s love. Part of being thankful is expressing our thanks out loud.
But being thankful is more than a question of mere words. Being thankful is an action. Zacchaeus showed his thankfulness by giving half of everything he owned to the poor. Zacchaeus showed his thankfulness by paying back those he had wronged four times the amount he had stolen. Zacchaeus thanked Jesus for his generous love by giving generously to others. Being thankful is an action.
Every day our heavenly Father looks down on us, his undeserving children, and says, “Bless you!” Because of Jesus, we are rich. So, let’s follow Zacchaeus’s example and thank Jesus with our actions. Give generously from the riches that God has given you. Seek opportunities to volunteer your time and talents at your church and worthy charities. Tell your children, your neighbors, your friends—tell everyone you can of the generosity of your Savior God.
This year, don’t let your thanks be merely a question of words. Show it with your life. Oh, and have a happy Thanks Action Day!