In October, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln declared:
“I do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”
The War Between the States had raged for almost five years and would not be resolved for another six grueling months. In governing a land torn in two, Lincoln had not hesitated to lean on the analogies of Christ’s house divided and built on sand. Yet, where others might be inclined to curse or deny the existence of God, Lincoln embraced His goodness and benevolence:
“I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”
As we prepare to partake of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie, may we not displace the ultimate emphasis of our thanksgiving, that is the thanks we owe our Almighty God. In Psalm 103, David exclaims, “Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (1-2).
Too often at this time of year, we tend to concentrate on the abundance of things in our lives, such as the food piled high on our tables, the family gathered to laugh together, and hopefully even our good health. But the benefits of our beneficent Creator are so much more than these ephemeral things.
From God flow the gifts of forgiveness, patience, courage, and love. Only from God do we receive the ultimate gift of sacrifice that cleanses us of the trespasses that separate us from Him, so that we might enjoy a life eternal in His presence. Having tried and failed to hold a nation together with his own bare hands, Lincoln understood all too well that only God could piece together what man in his greed and pride had torn asunder.
Thanksgiving may certainly be offered through our actions, but since we most often associate thanksgiving with our proclamations, there is another consideration for this time of year and that is the importance of all the things we say all year through.
Proverbs tell us, “The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating” (18:6). Christ warns, “that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). Gossip, complaining, ridicule, hatred, lies, all such rumblings deny the grace of God in us and keep our message of the love of Christ in shadow.
On the other hand, words that are true, kind, patient, loving, these are the things that shine the light of God’s grace to others. Thankfulness is very high on the list of words our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us.
Scientists tell us that gratitude:
- Increases our connections with other people
- Improves our physical and mental health
- Helps us sleep better
- Improves our self-esteem
- Makes us empathetic
- Decreases aggression
- Reduces our negative responses to trauma, helping us recover from tragedy
In Jesus Calling, Sarah Powers explains,
“The best way to befriend your problems is to thank [Jesus] for them. This simple act opens your mind to the possibility of benefits flowing from your difficulties. . . . The next step is to introduce them to [Jesus], enabling [Him] to embrace them in [His] loving Presence. [Jesus] may not necessarily remove your problems, but [His] wisdom is sufficient to bring good out of every one of them” (March 5 devotion excerpt).
We live in a world where our daily attempts to be perfectly good fall beneath our stumbling feet like so many well-intentioned things. But we needn’t despair because our righteousness is dependent on God’s benefits to us through grace rather than on our goodness. By concentrating each moment on how thankful we should be that our Holy God loves us so much, surely we will avoid the pitfalls of an otherwise wayward tongue.
So, this Thanksgiving, embrace a humble heart that kneels before an awesome God with gratitude that overflows. And carry that gratitude into every day so that His light may shine through you to a wounded world:
“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4).