Most Christians understand that we are to be a grateful people. This attitude is especially easy to have on beautiful sunny days, when liberty abounds and the elections go our way, when we hit our stride at work, or when we are in good physical health. But even in times of challenge, sorrow, and trial, the Apostle Paul tells us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be make known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Living here in America at this time in history, we certainly have our share of challenges. It would be easy to become anxious. Yet we have so much to be grateful for and, especially in this season of Thanksgiving, we would do well to give God thanks and praise for what He is doing, what He has done, and what we believe He will do in the months and years to come.
Like you, I am grateful to know and trust the One who holds the future! This knowledge is vital because, in a year that has been incredibly tumultuous, we could easily be overwhelmed with anxiety and stress. The Smith family has dubbed this year “2020 the Terrible.” And indeed, it has been terrible in so many ways. At the same time, we firmly believe that God can turn even the most terrible situation on its head and use it to advance His perfect will.
Of course, it isn’t easy to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks” — yet we are told that “this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We certainly are not to approve of everything, and thus this does not mean we give thanks for every event that occurs in our lives or all that happens to us. However, in the midst of every circumstance, knowing God has allowed it all for our good, we are grateful, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.
Giving thanks is being grateful for who God is in the midst of everything. Our focus should be on God and who He is, not on what we think we deserve. The entitlement mentality is reflected in our nation now more than ever. But God is good, and we are sinful. We deserve judgment, but we receive much mercy. When we truly realize who we are and what we deserve in contrast to who God is and what He has given us, we cannot help but be grateful in the midst of whatever circumstance that we face.
Some Background on Thanksgiving
When the pilgrims arrived in November of 1620, they brought with them the biblical doctrine of giving thanks. They gave thanks to God in the midst of difficulties (banishment, jail, persecution and loss of material possessions, storms at sea, and being blown off course to Cape Cod.) They gave thanks to God in the midst of death when half their company died the first winter. They gave thanks to God in the midst of drought (in 1623) and especially thanked God when it rained “gentle showers.”
They also gave thanks to God during their three day harvest festival, probably in the month of October, 1621, which is the origin of our modern Thanksgiving holiday. The 51 surviving Pilgrims were joined by 90 Native Americans for this three-day feast. They ate seafood, fowl and native wild turkey along with venison. Only four adult women had survived to host a dinner of 140.
In October 1789, President George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving to be Thursday, the 26th of November that year. The proclamation declared, in part, that Americans should observe a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
Washington was dedicated to showing thanks–to Divine Providence, to his wife Martha, to his troops, to the Continental Congress, and to his fellow countrymen. We assign many positive character traits to him, including unflinching integrity, bold and decisive leadership, undying loyalty, and humility. But perhaps chief among his admirable traits was his spirit of thankfulness, which included giving credit to those who deserved credit. (Read and/or print the entire proclamation HERE.)
The origin of giving God thanks in the midst of difficulty is rooted in the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast, described in Leviticus 23:34, took place for a week in October, and involved feasting and giving thanks to God for His provision though mixed with suffering (See also Deut. 16:14-15). It has also been called the Feast of Ingathering (or harvest), the Feast of thanksgiving, and the pilgrim feast (due to the wandering of the Israelites). It was a celebration of joy mixed with suffering and the abundance of water in the midst of drought.
In the 19th century, Henry Morton Dexter wrote this poem about the first Thanksgiving:
We had gathered in our harvests, and stored the yellow grain,
For God had sent the sunshine, and sent the plenteous rain;
Our barley-land and corn-land, Had yielded up their store,
And the fear and dread of famine, oppressed our homes no more.
As the chosen tribes of Israel, in the far years of old,
When the summer fruits were garnered, and before the winter’s cold,
Kept their festal week with gladness, with songs and choral lays,
So we kept our first Thanksgiving in the hazy autumn days.
These are things Christians would do well to remember today as we give thanks to God Almighty for His goodness, mercy and love to us! We urge you to continue to pray fervently for our state and nation this Thanksgiving weekend. Pray that Christians will be confident and strong in the Lord, taking heart, waiting for Him—and thankful for His presence with us, which is enough of a reason to offer Him thanks each and every day of our lives.
Devote yourselves to prayer,
keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…