Living with Thanksgiving
Pastor, Conference speaker, Professor, Talk Show Host, and Columnist
Believe it or not, not everyone is looking forward to Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law was in the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day and she overheard someone say they wished they had to work on Thanksgiving so they could avoid having to spend time with their in-laws.
Why do some people have such a negative feeling about such a positive holiday? It would seem there are plenty of people who go through life looking only at the disappointments or the painful experiences refusing to see the blessings that surround many of life’s challenges. I don’t know who to attribute the following witticism to but I agree with its underlying philosophy. "As you travel down life’s pathway, may this ever be your goal…keep you eye on the donut, and not on the hole."
The first Thanksgiving took place in the midst of some of the worst trials imaginable for those who braved the crossing of the Atlantic to begin a new life in the new world. One hundred and two pilgrims landed at Plymouth in December of 1620. Less than six months later only fifty-five were still alive. Their chances of survival rested fully upon the fruit of the fall harvest. When that harvest was fully gathered Edward Winslow wrote these words, "…. although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." There in the middle of devastating circumstances with their very lives hanging on the quality of the harvest that small band of believers was able to praise God for what they believed were His abundant blessings.
Over 250 years later, Abraham Lincoln sat down in the middle of what could be described as the darkest period of American History and declared a day of Thanksgiving. America was being torn apart by a bloody civil war and yet Lincoln spoke of "gracious gifts of the most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless, remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.
Those first adventurers we call pilgrims and the sixteenth President of the United States, though separated by time and circumstance, shared a common bond. They realized that true thanksgiving is not a day, a season, or a temporary thought. It is an attitude of the heart.
King David understood this principle when he wrote Psalm 103. David begins by exalting the name of the Lord and by encouraging himself to remember who God is and what He has done. "Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits." The key to an attitude of thanksgiving that transcends the season is our ability to remember the blessing of our God. Those blessings are:
- Personal, for David emphasizes the fact we must respond to God in a personal way. We must personally bless the Lord as we remember His goodness. Jesus understood this principle well for John’s Gospel records that before Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish to feed the five thousand, He lifted his eyes toward heaven and gave thanks for what He had in His hand. I am afraid if I hand been holding nothing but a few loaves and a few small fish I would have been too focused on my lack of supply to be thankful for what God had already supplied. When our praise becomes personal it does so because we are consumed with an attitude of thanksgiving for what we have rather than focusing on what we need.
- Those blessings are profound, in that they are blessings that proceed from the soul. Being thankful for our blessings should proceed from the very fiber of our being. It isn’t the mere material and temporary blessings that David is speaking about but rather the eternal blessings that flow from God who is eternal.
- Those blessings are perpetual, because the blessings flow to us even when we forget to offer thanks. Hosea 13:6 could serve as a summation of the history of how we treat the blessings of God. It says, "As they had pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot Me."
Everywhere I turn during Thanksgiving season I hear fear expressed in one form or another. Fear over the economy, job security, the possibility of a terrorist attack, and just a feeling of helplessness as national and international events seem to be spiraling out of control. But we must not give in to that spirit of fear. Paul reminded believers in Rome, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, Abba! Father!"
Fear binds us to the enemy. It places us in bondage so that we are blinded to the blessings of a loving Father. We are not orphans who have been left to wander in the wilderness of fear and confusion but rather, we are adopted children of the king who are able to cry to that king as our Father.
Here in America, it could be said that we have found pasture in the biblical sense. Even in the face of uncertainly we can still say that we are blessed above all nations with unmatched prosperity and liberty. This month, as we sit around a bountiful table surrounded by the blessings of God, let us not forget all His benefits. If fear comes to the door let us send faith to answer and no one will be there.
Original publication date: November 24, 2008