It is always a joy to see media reports of school children dressing like Pilgrims and Indians as they learn of the first Thanksgiving in America. A day for giving thanks was established in this country when Gov. William Bradford called together 53 colonists, the survivors of unbearable trials after coming to America, to celebrate the harvest and the goodness of God’s provisions for them. Chief Massasoit and 90 Indian men joined the Pilgrims and provided venison to go with the fish, fowl and wild turkey made available by the Pilgrims. They feasted and rejoiced in God’s goodness.
As America grew, governors of the colonies would set aside a day in November for giving thanks. In 1863 President Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In every case, Thanksgiving was a day to focus on the goodness and grace of God. Football and shopping were not the center of attention. Norman Rockwell pictured our modern day Thanksgiving with the illustration “Freedom from Want” in his Four Freedoms series. The family is seated at a bountiful table with anticipation in every eye and joy and laughter on each face.
Honestly, I am surprised the ACLU and others have not tried to strip Thanksgiving of its Christian roots. No matter how some may try to rewrite history, this day is designed to give thanks to the only true God for His goodness to our families and our nation.
How can we make this a time of truly giving thanks rather than a day of ignoring God while gorging on food and football? I would propose that it should begin with personal, individual thanksgiving. Blessings with which to fill your heart, mind and prayer closet with thanksgiving are plentiful! Take time to find a quiet spot and let your praise and thanksgiving flow to God.
There are simple but powerfully meaningful things you and your family can do to focus on giving thanks to God. Why not ask each person, both children and adults, to verbally express at least one thing for which they are thankful to God? Another approach would be to gather the family and share your own personal testimony of the work of God’s grace in your life. Tell of the circumstances of the point of your conversion, and then include ways God has met your needs and worked in your life across the years. Invite family members to do the same.
Thanksgiving should be a day to express gratitude for God’s provision of food, shelter and other daily necessities, but we must not fail to rejoice in the most meaningful of all His provisions—the work of Christ in coming to this Earth to die on the Cross for our sins and to rise from the grave to provide eternal life for us. Nothing surpasses His forgiveness and the pouring out of His grace and love toward us. For this we should fill the air with thanksgiving and praise. Mere language is insufficient to declare His goodness.
It would be easy to move through Thanksgiving without ever giving much thanks. For many people, rather than gratefulness being the focal point, it is just another day away from work and school. While there is great joy in getting together with family, their giving thanks will be limited to a prayer before the meal. What a tragedy! Of all people on Earth, American Christians have countless reasons to stop and give thanks.
The focus of the first Thanksgiving was not the food—it was God. Those present knew their very existence was due to the generous hand of God. It is true of us today. We must not allow this day to pass without offering an artesian spring of praise and thanksgiving before the throne of our God.
Happy Thanksgiving, and may our God be praised among His people.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.