For many, Thanksgiving in 2020 was very different. Lucy and I, for instance, were home by ourselves. My isolation ended around lunchtime, so we spent the 10 days prior on different sides of the house. (Fortunately, Lucy never caught the virus!) Our sons were in different cities and the closest we came to being together was a family Zoom call in the afternoon.

One news article of interest said in its opening statement, “See that Thanksgiving celebrations are restricted as much as possible so as to prevent another flare-up.” The reason it was interesting, however, is that it demonstrates that 2020 is not as unusual as we think. The story ran in the Omaha World Herald on November 28, 1918! Thanksgiving 1918 was a very unique time in the United States. Lots of people wanted desperately to celebrate, for the end of World War I had occurred just a few days before. But in many communities, that simply wasn’t possible as the Spanish Flu continued to spread across the states. Moscow, Idaho’s paper had the most interesting headline, “Dread of Influenza Queers Plans for Thanksgiving.” 1 Chronicles 29:1-20 calls us to give thanks with joyful praise in whatever time of life we find ourselves.

The first think we see in the text is that we should praise God from whom all blessings flow. David began his prayer (v. 10) in front of the assembly with a statement of praise and he ended it (v. 20) by calling all the Israelites with him to praise the LORD. He emphasized the praise of God should be from everlasting to everlasting and should be from all in heaven and on earth. (So all of creation should praise the LORD throughout all of time.) L.C. Allen says David’s prayer “ransacks the theological dictionary.” He speaks of God’s greatness, power, glory, majesty, splendor, exaltation, wealth, honor, rulership, power to exalt, and power to give strength.

As you may know, the Lord’s Prayer as recited in churches is not exactly the same as that found in the earliest copies of Matthew 6:9-13. Most notably, the statement, “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” is missing. Most biblical scholars think the origin of that ending to the prayer–which speaks of God’s kingdom coming–was the prayer of David, in 1 Chron 29:10-13. It also speaks of God’s kingdom and ascribes power and glory to God. But whereas the Lord’s prayer ends with this exaltation of God’s kingdom, power, and glory, David’s prayer begins with these ideas. David saw his kingdom as God’s kingdom and knew that it existed not because of David’s own power or glory but because of the LORD’s.

A second thing we learn from this passage is that we should thank God for the blessings of life. Verse 13 says we give God thanks. This is what we say that we do at Thanksgiving, yet at times, do we mean it? We say that we gather to give thanks but how many tables see this more as a time of self-congratulations for the accomplishments of the past year? Do we celebrate our resourcefulness? Exalt our hard work? Announce our good fortune? If we do, we have it the wrong way round. David notes (v. 17) that God tests the hearts of all and is pleased when he finds integrity. God knows our true motivations, whether we are thankful or proud.

The proper view is expressed by David in verses 14 and 16. Everything is from the LORD’s hand. It all belongs to him. In reality, we are but foreigners and strangers in the LORD’s sight (v. 15). David is referencing Leviticus 25:23, which tells us the land belongs to God, so the Israelites could not permanently sell the land, for they were foreigners and strangers residing in the land of God. Foreigners and strangers in their world were those who owned no property, and thus who had no true security. Foreigners and strangers were able to exist in an area only because of the good graces of the landowners in the region. For the Israelites, God was their landowner. They existed in the land only as his servants and whatever they received was from the grace of God.

Finally, the text teaches us that we should give joyfully and willingly. Verse 2 tells us that David had given toward the building of the temple throughout his kingship. Yet in verse 3, David gives again out of his personal treasures. Then, in verse 5, David issues a challenge to all of Israel. “Who is willing to consecrate themselves to God today?” The word translated “to be willing” was used in the Torah for the freewill offerings. The word translated “to consecrate” was used in the Torah for the special preparations for the priests to serve the LORD. The emphasis of David was on the Mosaic promise that the nation was a holy nation, a kingdom of priests (Exod 19:6). And we are told that the people gave! They gave so much that David asked (v. 14), Who am I and who are my people that we can give so generously? He then noted that they only gave what God had first given to them.

Not only did they give willingly to the point of generosity, but they gave joyfully. Verse 9 tells us that the people rejoiced when they saw the giving of their leaders. David said in verse 17 that he had witnessed the generous giving of the people with joy. Then, in verse 18, David prays that these desires and thoughts would be kept in the hearts of the people forever. He prayed that they would be willing and joyful givers at all times. Paul told the Corinthians centuries later that God loves a joyful giver, but some have misunderstood this text (2 Cor 9:6-11). When it says if you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly but if you sow generously you will reap generously, it is not a promise that God will honor your gifts and give you back more than you give. (Remember, David says God knows our hearts and so knows what the motive is in our giving!) Instead, Paul’s emphasis is on being a joyful giver. It is God’s after all and not ours, so why do we begrudge giving it as needed to others? We are simply invited by God to participate in blessing others. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The issue is whether we will receive joy in our hearts because we gave generously or begrudge the small gift we give and receive little in return from what should have been a blessing.

So let us give thanks this year with joyful praise. Give generously to God, in the midst of the pandemic, in the midst of uncertainty, even in a time where you cannot always physically gather together. Praise and thank God for every provision he provides, whether you are with family this holiday season or apart. Always remember that we are all foreigners and strangers in this land, but our God is a gracious and good landlord, who will provide for our every need.

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“Giving Thanks with Joyful Praise” 1 Chronicles 29:1-20

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