Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving prayer — Take time to give thanks

When the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in late autumn of 1621, they most likely had no thought of establishing an American holiday. That would not occur officially until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November to be a national holiday for giving thanks to God. The pilgrims were merely doing what they had done for years in the old world, pausing to give thanks to God for His goodness in providing a harvest.

However, that first Thanksgiving on the soil of their new home was certainly celebrated with significant meaning in their hearts. Their landing at Plymouth, Mass., on Dec. 21, 1620, was the fruition of a dream for a new beginning, but it would be followed quickly by great danger. Their first winter was marked with illness and hunger so severe that it threatened to wipe out this fragile outpost in a new world. Barely half of the 100 pilgrims who came on shore made it until spring. Had it not been for some friendly Indians who taught them what crops to plant in this strange land, the settlement would likely have disappeared.

By the time November came, they had harvested their crops and stored up a meager supply of food for the coming winter. They would not forget their custom, however, of setting aside a special time for a harvest thanksgiving festival. For three days they celebrated God’s goodness, inviting their Indian friends, who provided five deer for the feast. In spite of severe hardship and suffering, they wanted to thank God for His provision and for the freedom to worship Him as they saw fit in their new land.

Just a few years after that celebration, the hymn most clearly identified with Thanksgiving, “Now Thank We All Our God,” was penned. The conditions under which it was written in 1637 were every bit as challenging as those the pilgrims faced. German pastor Martin Rinckart served in a town that became a home for political and military refugees during the catastrophic Thirty Years War. Then the Black Plague arrived. There were four pastors in town. One fled and Rinckart buried the other two in the same day. Only he remained to minister to a dying city. He conducted funeral services for as many as 50 people a day, officiating at almost 4,500 funerals in one year. But Rinckart is best known for writing the great hymn that triumphantly proclaims thanks to God:

Now thank we all our God,

with heart and hands and voices

Who wondrous things has done,

in whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms

has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.

My prayer is that we might recapture the heart and spirit of gratitude to God that was expressed by the pilgrims and by Martin Rinckart. We live in challenging times, difficult for many, but certainly not the magnitude of hardship faced in those earlier days. For most of us, the real challenges that might distract us from giving thanks to God for His bountiful blessings come in the form of ease and plenty. Our day will be filled with sumptuous meals, football games, family fun and last-minute plans for how to execute our Black Friday shopping trip. The very way we celebrate Thanksgiving may well crowd out any thought of the God who has blessed us so.

Please don’t misunderstand me. None of those things is inherently wrong. I don’t want to be a Scrooge (sorry, wrong holiday). But please take time today to thank God for how good He has been to us, for all of the blessings He has provided us. Please thank Him, regardless of your personal or economic struggles, in spite of the hardships of your life. Paul reminds us in the Bible to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20), and to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Take time today to give thanks to God for life, for health, for the abundance of material blessings with which He has showered us. Thank Him for your food, for your home, for your clothing, for your transportation, for your job. Praise Him for your family, your friends, your neighbors and your church family. And most of all, by all means, thank Him for what Paul calls His “unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). That gift is His Son, Jesus Christ, whom He sent to this world to take the penalty for our sin by His death so that we might be forgiven by God, brought into His family, and given an eternal home in heaven.

If you do indeed carve out time to actually thank God on this day, you may find that your heart begins to resonate with the words of Martin Rinckart’s second (and lesser known) verse of his famous hymn:

O may this bounteous God

through all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts

and blessed peace to cheer us;

And keep us still in grace,

and guide us when perplexed;

And free us from all ills,

in this world and the next.

— Dr. John King

senior pastor

Johnston Chapel Baptist Church

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