Being Text of a Speech by Sir Bassey Ubong (KSS) at the 2009 Annual Thanksgiving Service of the Life & Power Gospel Ministry, Omoku, November 29, 2009
Ps 100:4 “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him and bless his name.” Let us share the song, “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart; I will enter His courts with praise. I will say this is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice for He has made me glad…”
“Art” has meanings such as the technique of doing something and the ability to do something. “Act” means getting something done. This implies going beyond ability or intention or desire to realization. Action rather than desire or intention gets the world to move forward.
“Thanksgiving” has three meanings as indicated by the Encarta Encyclopaedia published in 2006. Thanksgiving means “a prayer that offers thanks to God;” “an expression or an act of giving thanks;” “a public acknowledgement or celebration of divine goodness.” This brief discourse will rely on the last meaning which sees thanksgiving as a public acknowledgement of divine goodness, where the word divine is used in the context of the Almighty God. The art and act of thanksgiving in this discourse therefore refer to the techniques and the public actualization of the desire to appreciate God for His goodness.
Rationale or Reasons for Thanksgiving
Why should people give thanks to anyone and in particular to God? First, a simple thank you relates to an expression of gratefulness which can spur the person being appreciated to do more. In our personal relationships on earth, people regarded as ‘ungrateful’ are unattractive and attract less assistance. The same obtains with God as evidenced in the case of the ten lepers in Luke 17:12-19. We should note the tone of Jesus when He reacted to the thanksgiving of one person out of the ten. Jesus disapproved of the ungrateful attitude of the other nine. Incidentally, the one person happened to have been a stranger! To date, family members, friends, tribesmen, and fellow members of clubs and religious organizations take the kindness of each other for granted. A friend told me he used to insist on his children appreciating all gifts from him and his wife from food to school fees. Train up a child in the way he/she should go and in adulthood he/she will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Consider a family which continues to receive goodness from a person but rather than appreciate they pay back with hatred, disdain, and even curses. “Take what he has to offer but reject him.” God cannot applaud such an act. Consider voters who support office seekers but watch as the subsequent office holder refuses to share even constituency allowance with the voters. God cannot smile at this. Consider groups who lay the golden egg but are maligned, traumatized, and sometimes killed by those who benefit without contributing. God may appear to be silent, but the reward will come with time.
Second, thanksgiving meets a natural fact: life is a two-way process of taking and giving. When we keep taking, we exhaust the source including non-physical entities such as patience and tolerance. In the community for instance, when people continue to take out without replacing, the stock gets exhausted. This should remind us why Nigeria sits on the floor today. When we put back, we enrich and strengthen the source. In Nigeria how do the rulers say thank you to those who generate goodies? In business, replacement takes the name corporate social responsibility. To thank God by words and by gifts satisfies the two-way relationship in nature and ensures the strengthening of the divine source. Climate change for instance results from withdrawal without replacement.
Third, thanksgiving or appreciation as earlier indicated spurs further action. The alternative holds true – it can turn off someone to the point of resentment. Take a life case of a man who paid a visit to his in-laws. The man ate cooked food and drank wine to his satisfaction. The mother-in-law packaged takeaway food as well as raw food and life chicken for him to take home. The sated visitor declared, “I can’t thank you for all you have done.” The father-in-law responded, “You can go with the one in your stomach. The ones in the boot of your car will not go with you since you cannot thank us.” This story has made the rounds in Ibibio land for decades. It exemplifies inappropriate use of words but also the need for appreciation.
When should we thank God?
The first definition of the word thanksgiving referred to “a prayer which offers thanks to God.” Since we are expected to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonica 5.17) and the standard format of prayer as indicated in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6. 9-13) has five parts (worship, thanksgiving, forgiveness of sins, supplication, and worship), it follows that thanksgiving should take place all the time which means whenever we pray. In the context of this discourse (formal public acknowledgement of the goodness of God), thanksgiving should be periodic. It can take place after a major event in the life of an individual or a group including communities and nations. At the national level Israelites had thanksgiving service after the army of Pharaoh got drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 14. 28; 15. 1-21) and after the Passover when the Israelites were saved from pestilence (Exodus 12.14).
Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America was and is designed to appreciate the Maker for the blessings of harvest and other achievements of the previous year. As a national (public) holiday it holds on the second Thursday of November every year. Imagine the National Assembly of Nigeria in an attempt to institute Thanksgiving Day in Nigeria. The members will block it but can debate cattle grazing lands and oil pipeline payments. But imagine also what USA and Canada gain by specifying one day to say thank you for rich harvest, of course, to the Source of harvests. By extension imagine what Nigeria loses by the rejection of the simple art and act of appreciation to the Source at the national level. Imagine what happened when a Moslem-led Nigerian Federal Government set up a national committee to lead national prayers. The “Nigeria Prays” team led by General Yakubu Gowon generated wonders and saved Nigeria from collapse. When multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious groups put their differences aside and approach the Supreme Being, wonders must come to pass. USA and Canada continue to use Thanksgiving Day for their benefit. Many things done or not done combine to keep Nigeria down.
How often should we organize Thanksgiving?
Fixed time and date should not be a major issue. In fact, it should be the more the merrier because thanksgiving which includes praise constitutes God’s primary food. The more we thank God, the less hungry He is, and the more He blesses us.
What should be the Mode of Thanksgiving?
Different individuals, groups, and societies handle thanksgiving in different ways. The primary objective or essence must be kept in mind in planning and execution. People sometimes forget the essence and, in some cases, bastardize the exercise. Thanksgiving which aims at display of wealth, overfeeding, excessive drinking, and other immoral acts cannot be regarded as ideal. If a feast of thanksgiving turns into carousing and parade of clothes and trinkets and cash, it may generate curses when the blessing was intended. When fund raising takes the place of appreciation of the Source, thanksgiving loses its shine and becomes source of bellyache to God.
A better approach to thanksgiving should be a programme with an abundance of praise and testimonies. The power of both cannot be estimated but must not be underestimated. Testimony for instance gives praise to God and indicates to listeners what God can do based on what He has done. When hearers approach God for things and receive same, it opens avenues of salvation and further praise. Moderation should guide wining, dining, and dressing.
Fundraising during Thanksgiving – A revisit.
Should a thanksgiving service be devoted to fundraising? In a society where most people donate money in public to win applause or praise or human recognition, use of the anniversary thanksgiving service for fundraising should make sense but should not be regarded as ideal. Annual thanksgiving service in a church should be a day to say to God thank you for what you have done. Founding anniversaries should concentrate on praise, worship, and testimonies. There should be specific days set aside for fundraising for development activities and because church development is a continuous activity, fundraising should be continuous. Some churches raise the bulk of their money during the annual adult harvest event. In the First African Church Mission bazaar follows adult harvest and auctions generate much money for the parish.
Food for Thought
The following Bible passages should be digested and discussed by groups in churches and beyond. They all relate to thanksgiving.
Psalm 26:7. “That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all thy wondrous works.” This confirms the operational definition used in this discourse – thanksgiving should be a public event to declare the goodness of God. Quiet, personal appreciation is alright, but in this context, it is not thanksgiving.
Leviticus 7:12. “If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried.” Thanksgiving can involve material gifts reason annual harvest thanksgiving goes with physical items.
Psalm 50:14. “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High.” In the case of individuals, sometimes vows are made when a particular request is presented to God as in the case of Hannah (1 Samuel, 1.11). When she went for thanksgiving (child dedication) she redeemed her vow and handed over Samuel to God for perpetual service (1Samuel, 1.24-28). She followed this with material gifts, but her number gift was by way of one of the most powerful songs ever written, crafted in a poem (1 Samuel, 2. 1-10). Hannah redeemed her vow; whoever cannot redeem a vow should not make one (Zechariah 8.17).
Leviticus 22:29. “And when ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the Lord, offer it at your own will.” The sacrifice of thanksgiving (giving up something of value) should be of one’s free will. As noted earlier, avoid vows in conditions of uncertainty as to the possibility of redemption. It gives the announcer (pledger) pleasure of ovation, but it gives God (the pledgee) no pleasure (Ecclesiastes 5:4). Note: pledges are made to God (owner of the church), not to the church (the agents).
Psalm 100:4 “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” Praise is primary in any act of thanksgiving. And the passage did not say enter into His gates to raise money for development projects.
Jeremiah 30:19. “And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small.” Yes, thanksgiving accepts merriment reason Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day with turkey dinner, family reunion, and exchange of gifts but the primary purpose must take precedence over merriment. The rewards of thanksgiving are neither few nor small, but these be the fallouts not the essence.
2Corinthians 9:11. “Being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.” Thanksgiving reinforces the individuals involved. When someone receives blessings he or she goes for thanksgiving. More blessings come which generate more thanksgiving. The cycle must be endless for a true child of God.
Philippians 4:6. “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving go together for God’s sustained grace and blessings.
Nehemiah 12:46. “For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.” As noted above, praise takes precedence in thanksgiving. Recall how King David sang and danced with all his might in thanksgiving? (2 Samuel 6.14).
Thanksgiving should be a daily activity for every human being as God’s mercies and compassion never cease but are renewed every morning (Lamentations 3. 22-23). However, thanksgiving in the context of a public declaration of the goodness of God should take place whenever a marked event has taken place and periodically (monthly, quarterly, annually?). In the USA, Thanksgiving Day is an annual event, and it transcends religion and ethnicity. Citizens and residents thank the Creator for His goodness. The comfortable ensure the weak ones are assisted to thank God.
We should de-emphasize fundraising during thanksgiving ceremonies except during the annual harvest Thanksgiving Day. Song, dance, and moderate merriment should feature during such events and avoid extravagance/ indecent display of wealth should be avoided. Nigeria desperately needs a national Thanksgiving Day. It may turn out to be our salvation.
God bless you as you continue to “count your blessings and name them one by one” as Johnston Oatman told us in a song, he wrote in 1897.