I never cared much for Thanksgiving. That’s a funny way to open a post about Thanksgiving but, the truth is this day never really had a lot of meaning to me. For whatever reason I never saw this day as more than a day off, a day to relax, eat, and play or watch football (or both). Then something happened.
The natural process of life: getting married, having kids, getting older began to change my attitude about Thanksgiving. I saw a desperate need to foster an attitude of thanks and gratitude in my own life. Instead of constantly pursuing more I wanted to be grateful for the many blessings God has given to me and my family. In fact, each night when our family prays we thank God for His “many blessings, like food, clothes, and a warm bed.” And why shouldn’t we?
Taking a quick glance around our world I see hungry people, men and women and kids with no homes, people being forced from their homeland for one reason or another, war, abuse, violence, and sin. The truth is, our world is not a very pleasant place. There is much to be discouraged and disheartened about. But, there is also much to be thankful for.
The phrase “give thanks” appears 62 times in the Bible. The word “thanks” appears 95 times. Many of these verses are in the Psalms where we are told to be thankful or give thanks for all that God has done for us. Numerous verses connect our heart with God’s love and goodness. The message is that we should daily be thankful for God’s love and goodness to us by having a heart that thanks and praises God. (See Psalm 86:12; 100:4; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1)
This isn’t always easy as life takes its toll. We lose a job and have to move (again); people treat us in ways that defy common courtesy much less Christian love; our family is a trial that we wrestle with; and the list goes on. We can be tempted to grumble and complain as life treats us harshly but, if we understand the promises of Scripture we have plenty of reason to be thankful. It is precisely because life is difficult that we should give thanks and foster a heart of gratitude and thankfulness.
For me, the one constant in life has been the knowledge that God is both present and actively loving me. The more I realize how pitiful and wretched I am, the more I am amazed by God’s grace to me. That the Almighty maker of Heaven and Earth would choose me from eternity past to receive his grace and forgiveness is cause to be thankful each and every day. To think that while I was God’s enemy He chose, of His own sovereign will to extend grace, mercy and love to me is hard to comprehend. There is nothing in me that warrants saving. This is a counter-cultural message. Our culture constantly pushes people up, telling us all how great we are. The truth is that I am a terrible sinner, an enemy of God worthy of eternal punishment. But, at the right moment, thanks to the message of the Gospel, God saved me and forgave me. What greater cause for praise and thanksgiving can there be?
It is the Gospel message that I am thankful for. Each time I hear it I am reminded of what a great sinner I am and what a great Savior Jesus is. I find a strange peace in being reminded that I am a sinner because it immediately pushes me to recall the Gospel and the fact that my worth is in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It was the message of the Gospel that pushed the Pilgrims to make their historic voyage to the new world. They wanted to be in a place where they could build a community on biblical principles and freely spread the Gospel message to their kids and beyond. A recent article by Tony Perkins reminds us of this historic truth:
“The Pilgrims’ journey began in Holland — not for religious freedom, as is often cited, but for the freedom to build a community on biblical principles for their children. They had left England, where they did not have religious freedom and moved to Holland where they were free to worship as they pleased. But the culture was so corrupt, they made plans to go to the New World.
“What was that journey like? One hundred two Pilgrims had been crammed into a space on the Mayflower that was about the size of a volleyball court. Compound that misery with the lack of light and fresh air (all the hatches had to be battened down because of stormy weather) and a limited diet of dried pork, dried peas, and dried fish, and the stench of an “ever fouler bilge” which lasted for 66 days at sea.
“They arrived in the fall of 1620 just in time to prepare for winter. During that first winter, nearly half of the 102 pilgrims died — 47 in all. In February, at the height of winter, they were dying at a rate of two per day. Thirteen out of 18 of the wives died, with only three families remaining unbroken by death that first winter. Yet even still, they were thankful. And they remained thankful even though at times their daily rations consisted of one kernel of corn.
“The experiences of the Pilgrims were recorded in the historical work Of Plymouth Plantation, penned by their leader, Governor William Bradford, who said of the Pilgrims, ‘Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.’
“The Pilgrims had the ability to rejoice and hope even in the midst of death and privation because they knew their lives served a greater, eternal purpose. When we know and follow Jesus Christ, our lives have that same eternal purpose and that alone gives us a reason to rejoice and be thankful.”
The Pilgrims had much to be thankful, even in the midst of hardship. We too have much to be thankful for despite the hardships we face daily. Cultivating a heart of thanks and gratitude is essential in staving off the roots of bitterness, vice, greed, and materialism. It’s essential to teach our kids how to be thankful. Thankfulness is a primary motivation for sharing the Gospel. When we understand our great need, our desperation and utter inability to restore our relationship to God outside of the saving grace of Jesus, we become thankful. That heart of thanks drives us to share the restoring message of the Gospel with others.
Today, it is my most sincere desire that you will realize all that you have to be thankful for. I hope you slow down, spend time with friends and family being thankful for the many blessings God has given. For one day I hope you don’t think about work, what needs to be done, or even Black Friday shopping. I hope you simply rest in the blessings of God and live with a heart of thanks and gratitude. From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.
Read President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation given in 1789.
Watch the video below to see what the first Thanksgiving may have looked like. If the video doesn’t appear automatically, please refresh your browser.