Sorry this Thanksgiving message is coming to you after the celebration of Thanksgiving. I found this message in my files today. I had prepared it, and preached it the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1997. I hope that, as you read this message, you gain a better understanding of the history of the event, and an increased appreciation for what we can be thankful for.
In 1620 the English settlers, called the Puritans, arrived at Plymouth Rock, what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, on their ship, the Mayflower. These people were very religious and believed that they were on a mission for God. In spite of the cold weather and lack of food, they gave thanks to God for the safe journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and for the freedom from an unjust government. It was a harsh winter, and by Spring only 52 Puritans were still alive. The Native American Indian chief, Squanto, had pity on these settlers and befriended them. He and his tribe taught them what things to grow, gave them seed, and told them when to plant them. By Fall, they had a bountiful harvest. In gratefulness to God, they had a worship service and then they had a feast and invited their Indian friends to join them Five of the surviving women made the meal. It wasn’t until almost 250 years later that president Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
The word “thankfulness” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon term that meant “thinkfulness”. If you can’t think of anything to be thankful for, you have a very poor memory! Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” A story is told of a gifted preacher who suffered a nervous breakdown. A friend told him that with God’s help he could overcome his depression. The key was to practice thanksgiving. He suggested that the minister think of all the people who had a special influence on his life over the years. Then he asked, “Did you ever thank any of them?” The downhearted man confessed that he couldn’t recall ever doing so. His friend challenged him to think of one person and write to him, expressing his appreciation. The pastor took his advice, and when he learned that his letter had greatly encouraged the person, his heart was lightened. So he jotted down a list of all who had helped him, a list of over 500 names, and wrote a letter of appreciation to each one. As he counted his blessings, his depression left him. Realizing that the Lord had been showering him with encouragement through these individuals, he began thanking God daily for His love and goodness.
Psalm 93:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O Most High”, Thankfulness is good for us. People who see their unworthiness of God’s favor, and are filled with gratitude to Him, won’t be proud or discontented. They also won’t be selfish, unforgiving, or hateful.
Psalm 116:12 says, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits?” His immediate answer is: “I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord”. Nothing gratifies God more than when we gratefully receive His gifts, and nothing grieves Him more than when we reject His gifts.
What are you thanking God for today? There’s always the traditional things like food, family, and friends. But what about those things we cannot lose, such as eternal life, forgiveness, God’s presence, and access to God in prayer? Remember that the English word, “thankfulness” meant “thinkfulness”. When you think about what God has done for you, be thankful!