By Jeff Lukens
Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with loved ones and share in a time-honored
American tradition. For some, it is an excuse to stuff themselves with
turkey and football. For others, it is a special time of "giving
thanks" for blessings in their lives.
One may ask, "thanks to whom?" Well, thanks to God, of course.
Never before has the question been difficult to answer. Perhaps we should
consider that America's blessings of prosperity, freedom, justice, peace
and opportunity. They are gifts from a mighty and gracious God. These
days, however, the preeminence of God may look more like a matter of
Clearly, this was not the Pilgrims' view. They had come to this land
in 1620, not to escape God, but to find Him in His fullness. They bowed
their heads in acknowledgment of His power and grace. To them, He was
the one and only truth.
In front of them was a desolate wilderness in a harsh Massachusetts
winter. Behind them was a vast ocean that separated them from the rest
Before starting their new lives, they made a covenant with God written
in the Mayflower Compact. They had come to form a colony for the "glory
of God." In return, they would receive His protection and blessings
in this new land. That bond, of their faithfulness and His blessings,
would be the key to their survival.
After the first harvest was completed in 1621, Governor William Bradford
proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and so the holiday was born.
During a period of drought in 1623, a day of fasting was changed to thanksgiving
when during their prayers it began to rain.
They understood what gratitude to the Almighty is about. "Instead
of famine, now God gave them plenty," Gov. Bradford wrote, "and
the face of things was changed to the rejoicing of the hearts of many,
for which they blessed God."
An informal custom evolved in New England over the years of annually
celebrating thanksgiving after the harvest. In 1863, President Lincoln
declared the last Thursday in November as an official national day of
Like the Pilgrims, President Lincoln believed America's prosperity was
not the result of our own making. "No human counsel hath devised
nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things," he wrote. "They
are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with
us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
Lincoln asked Americans to set aside time "as a day of Thanksgiving
and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." We
would give thanks for the blessings God had granted us, "solemnly,
reverently and gratefully . . . as with one heart and one voice by the
whole American People."
Lincoln's words might seem a bit old-fashioned today. No doubt, some
would argue they violate the separation between church and state.
Yet, in millions of homes across the nation, people will still thank
the Lord for many gifts; for health and good fortune in the year gone
by; for the feast on the table and the companionship of loved ones; for
living in America.
The Bible says in Deuteronomy, "When you have eaten and are satisfied,
praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you."
Living in a land of freedom, and the prosperity it makes possible, is
an extraordinary gift. By the grace of God, America is a society in which
more people enjoy more liberty and more prosperity than has ever been
known at any time and anywhere in history. There is no better time than
Thanksgiving to express our gratefulness for these blessings.