Thanksgiving is a day about family—it’s a day about being grateful for all the blessings that each one of us has been given. And while too many people today only see it as a day off work where people overeat and watch football all day, it really does stand for so much more. It is at the heart of what makes any person or nation great! God has given us annual memorials of His great plan for mankind in our holy day observances, and the nations of modern Israel have created other annual civil observances. However, perhaps none of the holidays the United States of America has created better reflects a truly godly principle, and a foundation of Christian character, more than the annual celebration of Thanksgiving.
The traditional “first Thanksgiving” is generally accepted as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation in 1621, and was historically a religious observation to give thanks to God! Although we see it still celebrated as such by some families, it is largely now considered a secular holiday.
Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering at home with family or friends for a feast of turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. And while some may take a moment to consider the blessings they have, fewer and fewer take the time to really reflect on what marvelous and miraculous blessings this nation has been given over the past 200 years or so of its existence. What about us? How thankful are we for the tremendous blessings we have been given in God’s Church?
It is easy to take for granted what we have been given. As a nation, we have forgotten God’s hand in establishing this country, providing for it, and maintaining it; we’ve forgotten that the blessings we enjoy stem from the promises God made to Abraham over 2,500 years ago. And unless we are careful, we in God’s Church can easily fall prey to that same lack of appreciation.
Our country has come to expect abundance—to think that we deserve “the good life” and all the material blessings that come with it. Herbert W. Armstrong recognized this attitude of ingratitude as one of the most common sins that people commit. In a Plain Truth article in April of 1962, he wrote: “Certainly a lack of gratitude is one of the most prevalent, if not the most terrible, of sins. Few have learned to really appreciate what they have. Most are prone to accept the good things by taking them for granted, failing to give thanks. We gripe about our complaints more than we count our blessings.”
When was the last time we really took stock of our lives, of the many and varied blessings that God has poured out on us, and shared that appreciation with our Father? This season is an excellent time for each one of us to pause and reflect, not only on the material blessings that God has richly shared with us, but—more importantly—to examine all the spiritual blessings that we may be taking for granted.
The Revolutionary War to Nationhood
During the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, each time recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of these days in their states. The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga. It read, in part: “For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of … It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor … And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”
Those are pretty powerful words!
Ingratitude comes from a negative attitude, and conversely, gratitude or thanksgiving can only come from a positive attitude. What we permit our minds to dwell on greatly influences our level of thankfulness. If our minds are steered toward the positive aspects in our lives, we won’t have any trouble recognizing an abundance of things to be thankful for.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “Be careful [be anxious] for nothing [don’t worry, in other words]; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:6-8).
There are no negative thoughts on this list! No complaints, no gripes, no searching for “what’s wrong with it” when someone comes to you with an idea or suggestion. God wants our thoughts, our meditations, our minds focusing in on the positive attributes in our lives and in those we come in contact with. How much of our prayer life is centered on all the blessings God has given us? God knows we have trials. He understands that we are under pressures. But He wants us to lean on Him instead of on ourselves. Life isn’t always easy, but it only becomes more difficult when we permit our minds to dwell on the negative issues affecting our lives. Even the negative issues are actually positive because they help us to develop character. God did not intend that our lives be free from all hardship and difficulties, so we need to meditate on and be grateful for that “pressure” that will help us develop our full potential. When our attitude is a positive one, then we can approach all of our trials with a Romans 8:28 mindset of knowing that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
We have so much to be thankful for, because everything we do, everything we have, everything we are, comes from the great Creator of all.
Keeping a positive attitude in our lives not only helps us, it can help those around us. In spite of persecutions, we can live the joyous, fruitful kind of lives that give light to those we come in contact with in our daily living. Christ encouraged His disciples saying, “Ye are the light of the world.” And later, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Christ taught that we are not to put our light under a bushel, but on a candlestick where all can see. Notice that Christ said men would see our good works and glorify God. He didn’t say that they would hear about our “good works.” Use this Thanksgiving season to let others see your shining light.
We truly have so much to be thankful for. If we can keep a positive attitude knowing that God promises us that all things will work out for good, and if we recognize what really has value to us in this life, then each of us should have no problem developing and maintaining this attitude of thanksgiving all year long.
George Washington’s Presidential Proclamation, October 3, 1789
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.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States 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. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Proclamation Delivered during the Civil War, October 3, 1863
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
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 voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, 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 I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.