It’s Thanksgiving time in America, a holiday first celebrated in 1621 to commemorate the harvest of the Plymouth Colony. When it was first inaugurated as a holiday, only a few eastern states participated. However, through the effort of Sarah Hale, a young woman fired with determination, the whole nation joined in setting apart a national day for giving thanks to God “from whom all blessings flow.” She resolutely engaged the press with an endless flow of letters and articles to the various newspapers and journal of her time. She pleaded long and earnestly with three Presidents: Filmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. In 1852 her campaign succeeded in uniting 29 states in marking the last Thursday of November as “Thanksgiving Day.” But then came the dark days of Civil War. Who would listen to the lone woman persistently pleading for “just one day of peace amidst the blood and strife?” One man did. In l863, President Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a day for the nation to give thanks unto Almighty God.
Almost 150 years have passed since that time. America takes the day off work, families and friends gather for everything from simple to elaborate meals. Sometimes, some people still give thanks. I’ve begun to wonder, though, if we have lost the art of being thankful. If our hearts have become ungrateful, and our lives lacking in praise.
We’re not very good at saying, “Thank you” these days. In fact, as I’ve tried to use those two little words more than usual these past few weeks, I’ve noticed that it is so rare that it startles people. Kindness costs nothing but its value is untold. We are often like the little boy who returned home from a birthday party to be queried by his mother, “Did you tell Mrs. Jones thank you for the party?” His reply was simple: “No. I was going to but the little girl ahead of me said, ‘Thank you’ and Mrs. Jones said, ‘Oh, don’t mention it.’ So I didn’t.”
The story is told of a diary entry by the Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, after he was robbed. He wrote, “Let me be thankful: First, because I was never robbed before; Second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life; Third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Matthew Henry lived out the Scripture’s command of “In every thing give thanks….”
William Law, in his “Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life” wrote, “Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who receiveth everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.”
Henry Ward Beecher once wrote, “If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet and sweep through it, and it would draw to itself the most invisible particles. The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find some heavenly blessings.”
This year, as Thanksgiving Day approaches, as the season of Thanksgiving settles in, shall we all commit to making this year a year of truly giving thanks? Can we designate the entire month of November as a time to be thankful to God, our friends, our family members? The word “thanks” occurs 73 times in the Bible, in 71 verses. Thirty-nine times in the Scripture the two word command, “Give thanks…” appears – “Give thanks unto the Lord…make known his deeds among the people…” (I Chronicles 16:8). “Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever” (I Chronicles 16:34). We are to give thanks for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever, at the remembrance of His holiness, because of His righteous judgments. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “In every thing give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Let this year be the year, this month be the month, that we live out in our lives the writing of John the Revelator: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” Think to be thankful.
I close with one final quote from Abraham Lincoln, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become to self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to God that made us. It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”