Of course on Thanksgiving Day, the logical topic is gratefulness. So it is both fitting and necessary that I reflect on gratitude on this national day set aside for us to give thanks. Many events, celebrations, holidays and gatherings have been cancelled this year courtesy of COVID. And now given the current situation here in the U.S. and around the world, perhaps a holiday whose focus is solely on being thankful seems to be sorely out of place. Or is it? Is this a holiday we want to skip because of what we have experienced this year?
Or could it be that true gratefulness is an attitude of the heart and therefore not impacted by my circumstances nor by my current situation? In this scenario, my ability to be thankful depends on the condition of my heart rather than on the condition of my surroundings.
Paul understood this and wrote about it in Philippians 4:11-13, sharing his secret in these words,
” . . . I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
Paul knew that God’s presence with him didn’t come and go, depending on his earthly circumstances. Rather it was constant, God with him in want and in plenty. Must be why Paul wrote these words to the Thessalonians,
“give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
King David also knew the importance of a grateful heart. He wrote these words in Psalm 116:17,
“I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.”
Psalm 50:14 tells me to, “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High,”
Why should my gratitude and thanksgiving be directed to God? because –
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
Why are we not aware that anything and everything good we have is from God? When we were a more agricultural society, this connection was more obvious, I think. Consider these words from Psalm 147:7-9,
“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp. He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.”
We read in Acts 14:17, “Yet He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Full stomachs and full hearts, both food and joy in abundant supply (it says plenty of food and fills my heart/ your heart with joy) Yes, if we are going to spend a whole day in giving thanks, it would be helpful for us to be clear on, to be certain of just who it is that we are thanking. Psalm 145:13-16 answers this question clearly saying,
“The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
So many good gifts contained in those words! I am loved, I am upheld when I fall, I am lifted up when I am bowed down, I am fed and I am satisfied. Not a minimal sustenance, just enough to get by, but satisfied because He is the Creator of the universe and all it contains. He holds everything and everyone in His hands. No wonder that when He opens His hands every living thing is satisfied, including me.
Is that not more than enough reason to give God thanks, right there? Out of the abundance of the earth God provides for us. Not just food, but other things like energy as well. From coal, to oil, to natural gas, wind, solar and water power are all gifts from God’s creation. Farmers throughout history have felt this connection with God as the Giver of every good gift, maybe because they have lived it out as they receive their living from the land. And with that living, with their labor, they sustain the rest of us. We need to thank God for that and for them.
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were both clear about the reason for a national day of Thanksgiving when they issued their respective proclamations, the first on October 3rd, 1789 and the second on October 3rd, 1863. In the former Washington stated,
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor – and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
These words of Washington leave no doubt that Thanksgiving originated as a day of thanks and prayer to Almighty God. There was no confusion about who we were thanking. We were thanking the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Makes perfect sense. Then Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday with his proclamation on October 3rd, 1863.
That year, 1863, would rival 2020, I think as a year when perhaps people were not feeling particularly grateful. (they were in the middle of a Civil War, so not a lot of peace and prosperity going on at the moment for them) I guess we can relate a little?
In his proclamation, Lincoln lists some benefits such as peace with other nations, the wealth of the country from industry, the plough, the shuttle, the ship, the axe and the mines, a growing population and an increase of freedom. Then Lincoln says,
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the 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. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
And so Thanksgiving became a national holiday, a day set aside for giving thanks, praise and prayer to Almighty God. It’s purpose was clear from its inception. Thanksgiving became an official, national holiday during the divided, uncertain time of the Civil War. It would seem that this current divided, uncertain time is not the time to abandon nor forsake this uniquely American tradition. We need God’s presence in our individual lives and in the life of our beloved country now more than ever.
Both Washington and Lincoln clearly acknowledged our nation’s legacy of looking to God for guidance and protection and giving Him the credit and the gratitude. This is not the year to abandon our Thanksgiving traditions. Gratitude has a power all its own to refocus our wayward vision back to the Giver of every good gift and to remind us just how rich we really are as children of the Almighty God of all creation.
I confess – an old hymn is playing in my head. You can’t hear it, dear readers, but I will share some of the words with you now.
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”
Today, I will choose gratitude – I will count my blessings and thank my Heavenly Father for each and everyone of them.
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.” (Psalm 107:21-22)
sincerely, Grace Day