What the Pilgrims Taught us About Thankfulness

OK, it’s Thanksgiving week so you probably know where I’m going with this blog. But we all need to be reminded why being intentionally thankful is important.

Thanksgiving Day is a good annual reminder to make thankfulness an important part of our life.  Psychologists say it’s good for us, and God says it’s His will for us [1 Thessalonians 5:18].  Why?  Because God knows how it will nourish our spirits and produce much needed joy in our lives.

It might’ve taken Congress until 1941 to declare a national day of Thanksgiving, but God declared days of thanksgiving long ago. He instructed Moses to set aside three times each year when the Israelites gathered together to give thanks [Exodus 12:15-20; Leviticus 23:15-21, 33-36]. God knew how important it is for us to give thanks, and He knew how easy it is for us to forget.

I know I need to work on my “attitude of gratitude.” How about you? Before you partake of your feast this year, let’s pull some real nourishment from the stories of those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving on this continent. It’s rich stuff, yet it’s calorie-free too!

They knew Who was their Provider.

The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. They were a pioneering bunch who travelled 66 days across the Atlantic hoping to build a settlement in the wild frontier.  And after they survived a very difficult first year, they wanted to thank God for His grace and provision.

They saw the Bible was full of reasons to give thanks to God. In the Psalms, God showed them and still shows us today “His mercy is everlasting” [Psalm 100:5] … “His love endures forever” [Psalm 135] … He is “good” [Psalm 118:29].  He also gives His leadership [Psalm 23] … His companionship [Psalm 139] … His strength [Psalm 18].  All of these scriptures allow us to “feast” on the goodness of God by giving us language to use in expressing thanksgiving!

King David, the writer of these Psalms, experienced huge successes and huge failures in his life. But through both, He always thanked God for being faithful. Thankfulness keeps us from being selfish & proud if we succeed. And it keeps us from falling into chronic despair if we’ve failed. Imagine gathering with a family who possess David’s outlook around the Thanksgiving Dinner table. No one would be the black sheep or the golden child.

 Imagine going to Thanksgiving dinner with this mindset: Praise the Lord!  For He has heard my cry for mercy.  The Lord is my strength and shield.  I trust Him with all my heart.  He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.  I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.  Psalm 28:6-7

Philippians 4:6 says thank Him for all He has done.  Gratitude only happens when we think about what we’re thankful for, so will you take a few minutes and intentionally remember God’s good gifts to you?  When you remember His mercy, protection, and help, your attitude will change because your heart will fill up with gratitude instead of pride or despair.

Despite great difficulties they thanked God.

Less than two years after the first Thanksgiving, desperation siezed the Pilgrims. Many of them lost their lives and crops.  In the Spring of 1623, the Pilgrims fasted and prayed for a whole day, and God met their need with two weeks of rainfall.  After an abundant crop was harvested, Pilgrim Father Edward Winslow wrote, “Another solemn day was set apart . . . wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness to our God Who dwelt so graciously with us.”

In the midst of their difficult circumstances, they chose determined dependence on God.

Life is full of loss, and it’s tough to remember to give thanks when everything seems broken. How can we still give thanks like the Pilgrims did?

Their thankfulness did not ignore the hardship.  Instead, it enlarges their hope because the God they were trusting was bigger than any of their temporary setbacks.

As His child through Jesus Christ [Romans 8:1], He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion [Philippians 1:6].  How?  We usually don’t know.  But even without the final outcome in sight, faith trusts God. And intentional gratitude helps us remember who’s in control.

When we partake of Communion at church, we are giving thanks for the agonizingly painful work of Jesus Christ going to the cross willingly for our salvation? God is our Redeemer. He knows how to redeem our pain and loss.

We can still hurt. We will still grieve. But the foundation of our thankfulness is Jesus’ finished work on the cross! It doesn’t erase every negative right now. Instead, it rearranges my perspective and places my hope on Jesus rather than on our circumstances.

Some loved ones might not be around your Thanksgiving table this year. Perhaps because of deployment or death or division in your home. You might need a good cry, and maybe you haven’t given yourself the time to grieve significant losses. Will you take a few minutes and give God your burdens?  He is there with you this Thanksgiving. You can trust Him to bring fresh hope into our lives. Don’t allow your story end in defeat or despair.

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

They wanted to share God’s joy with others.

The depictions of the first Thanksgiving shows something interesting. The Pilgrims were not the only ones gathering around the table. There were also Native Americans who had helped the Pilgrims succeed in planting and harvesting. Native Americans taught the newcomers how to grow crops in New England’s rocky soil. They also shared their deep knowledge of the forests and rivers.

Good people define our life and make us better. Many times when we pray for an answer, God sends us a friend. We need to celebrate those friends and family members as good gifts from God.

The Christians in Corinth were far from perfect, and the Apostle Paul knew the depth of their brokenness when he wrote to them. But he still wrote, I always thank my God for you [1 Corinthians 1:4].

So, with those gathered around your table … laugh at their jokes, welcome their wisdom, and appreciate their unique place in your life– no matter what their age or status.  Will you take a few minutes and show gratitude to those people sharing your Thanksgiving Day?  Giving thanks to God always honors Him. Watch how He blesses your life in fresh ways. As you remember His goodness, He’ll not only bless you. He’ll cause you to become His blessing to others.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called. And be thankful. … Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Colossians 3:16-17

Have a blessed Thanksgiving this year!

Pastor Dave

Dave oversees the Prayer & Outreach Ministry which receives over 20,000 prayer requests every year through WAY-FM’s Prayer Wall. He loves to encourage people and his ministry distributes over 4,000 Bibles annually.

Pastor Dave is a happy guy. He is loved by his wife. He is loved by his kids. He is loved as PopPop by his grandkids. Best of all, He is loved by God!

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