Give Thanks in the Desert; Give Thanks in the Promised Land: A Thanksgiving Day service

Recognizing that some people may be going through difficult times when they worship, our worship committee came up with an idea for a Thanksgiving service that speaks about giving thanks both when we are “in the desert” and when we are “in the promised land.”

Before the service we kept the doors to the sanctuary closed and asked people to wait in the fellowship area (although the choir gathered in the sanctuary). When it was time for the service to begin, I briefly explained that worship for Israel was a very “bodily” experience; people literally “went up” to the gates of the temple to enter the temple courts in the presence of the Lord. I said that we would try to capture that sense of entering into the Lord’s presence by processing into the sanctuary. After reading Psalm 100, I opened the doors. We entered (as the choir sang a song of thanksgiving).

The children’s message related to a “Thanksgiving tree” that had been cut out of paper and taped to the front wall of the sanctuary a couple of weeks before. We had handed out paper “leaves” and asked people to write on them items of thanks; these leaves now hung on the tree. I read some of the leaves and talked about the many things we had to be thankful for.

After the children’s message I explained the theme of the service—that on Thanksgiving Day we sometimes make an effort to remember all the things we are thankful for. But if we are in a difficult life situation, we may feel guilty or left out when everyone else seems to be so thankful. I said that our goal was not to have a sudden burst of thankful feelings on Thanksgiving Day but to nurture a thankful heart always. To be thankful we need not deny the sorrow or other negative feelings we may be experiencing on Thanksgiving Day or any other time. So I said that, with Israel, we would offer thanks whether we are in the middle of a “desert” experience or are being blessed in “the promised land.” The message in each section was brief, about five to seven minutes long (as it was, the service took an hour and 15 minutes).

We are a small congregation, used to sharing prayer items. For each of the testimony times we had a prayer leader (one of whom was a teen) ask if anyone would like to share something he or she was thankful for. For each situation we had asked someone ahead of time to begin and thus “prime the pump.” After others had shared items, the prayer leader closed by offering a brief prayer. Some moments were powerful, but what I liked best was that it felt honest, that we really were a people bringing our thanks, even mixed with tears sometimes, to God.






Call to Worship


Songs of Thanksgiving

“Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” TWC 496

“For the Beauty of the Earth” PsH 432; PH 473; RL 5; SFL 89; TH 116; TWC 353

Opening Prayer

Children’s Message: The Thanksgiving Tree

Give Thanks in the Desert


Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 8:1-5; Psalm 42

Message: Nurturing a Grateful Heart in the Desert

Song: “He Leadeth Me” PsH 452; RL 161; TH 600; TWC 635

Testimonies and Prayers of Thanksgiving

Song: “In You Is Gladness” PsH 566

Give Thanks in the Promised Land


Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 8:6-18; Psalm 16

Message: Nurturing a Grateful Heart in the Promised Land

Song: “For the Fruit of All Creation” PsH 455; PH 553; RL 21; SFL 235; TWC 379

Testimonies and Prayers of Thanksgiving

Song: “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” PsH 527; PH 551; RL 18; TH 715; TWC 381

Depart to Live Lives of Gratitude


Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:15-17

Parting Blessing

Edward J. Laarman is director of Geneva Campus Ministry, Iowa City, Iowa.


Reformed Worship 57 © September 2000, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.