Without diminishing the various religious festivals that preceded it across the ocean, most recognize the holiday called Thanksgiving as a uniquely American tradition. Before appreciating the role of U.S. presidents who helped to normalize the observance of the holiday, however, we would do well to commemorate the noble intentions of Separatist Puritans who, due to their inability to reform the Church of England, sailed across the Atlantic in search of the freedom to establish an English-speaking society that was robustly committed Scripture. Despite efforts of modern revisionists to downplay the distinctly Christian motivations of the pilgrims, their stated mission in the Mayflower Compact was “for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith.”
When the Puritans arrived in the New World in November of 1620, the harsh New England winter coupled with starvation and disease nearly did them in. Before the cold months subsided, only 53 of the 102 pilgrims on the Mayflower survived. Thankful to be alive, they, according to the first governor of Plymouth Colony, “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over this vast and furious ocean.” From the very beginning of the American experiment, gratitude to Almighty God, even in the midst of tremendous hardship was at the forefront of colonial life.
Realizing the continued theme of God’s faithful provisions, our first president, George Washington, declared a National Day of Thanksgiving in order to offer prayers to the “Lord and Ruler of Nations.” In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, after extolling the divine blessings upon our country, offered a Thanksgiving Proclamation wherein he encouraged the last Thursday of November as a day of praise to our “beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Following the same pattern during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt sought national gratitude in the midst of a difficult season even as he formalized the federal calendar to include the Thanksgiving holiday. He pleaded with Americans to “bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God.”
Whom not what
If nothing else, these historical realities remind us that Thanksgiving is more about WHOM we give thanks to than WHAT we give thanks for. Each year I always chuckle when I read about atheist and humanist groups attempting to express appreciation to no one in particular when the fourth Thursday of November rolls around. Some will merely voice gratitude to family and friends (we can learn much about the value of esteeming the people in our lives).
What God’s Word says
The notion of secular grace, however, leaves many worshipping the universe or luck in general. Not only is this logically and theologically inadequate, but it is also a colossal waste of time. Giving thanks, by its very nature, requires that someone be there to receive it.
Even with a cursory reading of God’s Word, the theme of thankfulness emerges. King David instructed, appointed and admonished leaders in Israel to offer thanks to God after settling the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16). He tells the people to make God’s deeds known (16:8), to speak of God’s wonders (16:9), to glory in God’s name (16:10), to remember God’s work (16:12), to proclaim the good tidings of God’s salvation (16:23) and to ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name (16:28–29).
Then, at a high point of praise, David admonishes:
“O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting (1 Chron. 16:34).”
Neither time nor space will permit me to cite all the verses extolling the virtue of thankfulness.
My personal favorite simply reads, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).”
Thanklessness is a form of independence from God, which is nothing more than practical atheism in disguise. Giving thanks not only reminds us that God is real, but also that He is both active and benevolent in our lives.
So, join me this week, and every week, in giving thanks to the Lord for the magnificent work of His hands.
Count your blessings and voice your love and appreciation to the Father above (Ps. 105:1).
On your good days and on your bad days, remember the will of God and give Him thanks through every season of life (Eph. 5:20).
EDITOR’S NOTE — Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.
Time to review your ‘good list’ and add a few more blessings
By David L. Chancey
McDonough Road Baptist Church
A church in our community hit a rough stretch several years ago. The staff, already ministering to members after a series of tragedies in the church family, suddenly faced the pastor losing his wife and infant during childbirth.
The mostly young staff was doing their best to support the hurting pastor and keep the church going as they navigated through these rough waters. The weekly staff meeting came around, and in the meeting was the 86-year-old seasoned minister who served as senior adult pastor.
One of the young ministers looked across the room at this ministry veteran and asked, “You have walked with people through tragedy and heartache for many years, and yet you are still at it. How have you been able to do it for so long?”
The minister to senior adults paused momentarily, then responded, “I keep a good list.”
They all thought, “Huh?”
Then he explained, “I started many years ago a file where I recorded all the good things I witnessed in my ministry.
“People being saved and baptized, the birth of children, the marriages of young couples, answered prayers, meaningful worship services, goals reached, problems solved.
“I wrote down all the things for which I was grateful to the Lord,” he explained. “And I regularly go back and read through that list.”
Enriching our lives
Though we should live with a heart of gratitude year-round, this time of year prompts us to pause, reflect and give thanks to the Lord as we recall our good list.
Giving thanks is a great exercise and enriches our life in at least seven ways:
- Giving thanks places our focus on the Source of our blessings.
James 1:17 reads, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father.”
- Giving thanks brings God glory.
“And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Cor. 4:15).
- Giving thanks places us in the center of God’s will.
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
- Giving thanks leads to contentment.
Blogger Lisa Appelo wrote, “… gratitude makes what we have enough. If we aren’t grateful for what God has given us, getting more won’t satisfy us either.”
- Giving thanks proclaims God’s greatness.
When we openly give God credit for our many blessings, we point the world to our good, good Father and testify life is not about what we have, but Whom we know.
“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness.” (Ps. 105:1).
- Giving thanks is an antidote to worry.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). What is the result? The peace of God (v. 7).
- Giving thanks enhances our faith.
Remembering what God has done reminds us God’s not finished with His bountiful provision. That’s His promise and His track record.
Psalm 103:1–2 notes, “Bless the Lord all my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
“Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not His benefits.”
What blessings will you remember this year? I’m thankful for:
- Our faithful God who never changes.
- My salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
- Getting to preach God’s Word Sunday after Sunday.
- My congregation filled with great listeners.
Thankful for family
- My wonderful wife.
- My four children.
- My nine grandchildren.
- The moment last Spring when the doctor pronounced “You’re clear!”
- Faithful prayer warriors who prayed and continue to pray for me.
- Fellowship with friends and church family over lunch.
- Cashew Chicken at Royal Chef Chinese Bistro.
- The Broadway Diner Menu, and specifically the western omelet with cheese.
- The annual family beach trip in July.
- That my mother-in-law got to fulfill her wish to make it to the beach this summer and see every family member one last time.
- My dear, amazing Mom, who is going strong at 96 years old and doesn’t look a day over 80.
- Another great Braves season.
- Peppermint milk shakes from Chick-fil-A.
My good list can keep going and going because God is good all the time. What’s on your list this year?
EDITOR’S NOTE — David L. Chancey is pastor of McDonough Road Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit davidchancey.com to see more of Chancey’s writings.