by: Rick Craft

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Th 5:18).

Thanksgiving is an outward expression of an internal attitude.   Gratitude is demonstrated by the action which we refer to as thanksgiving.  It is the desire of God that man be appreciative for the things he invests in human lives.

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God” (Eph 5:20)

The senior saints of First Church use the phrases “giving thanks” and “turning thanks” to speak of praying before meals.  There is a deeper significance in these expressions.   The colloquialism “turning thanks” is apparently a shortened version of the expression “return thanks.” The preceding generation was taught to gratefully respond to God for the food they had to eat; they “returned thanks” to God for the blessings he provided.  When he provided, they worshipped.  They were not slow to return thanks for the goodness of God.

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psa 106:1)

During their first years on this continent the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled in New England struggled mightily to survive.  The Wompanoaq Indians helped the colonists with fish and seed.  When the initial crops of the Plymouth colony produced food to sustain them for another season they set aside a day in the fall of 1621 to express their appreciation to God for His faithfulness and provision.   This day eventually became a national holiday, Thanksgiving.

Some suggest that the Spanish in Florida first celebrated Thanksgiving on September 8, 1565 in Saint Augustine, Florida; others contend that the Virginia colony initiated the idea as early in 1617.  The competing dates strengthen the argument that the early settlers, Spanish or English – Catholic or Protestant, were grateful to God for provision and protection; they actively expressed their thanks to him.  The men and women who first came to this continent realized that their security and lives were vested in the care of the almighty One.  North America was colonized under the shadow of the grace of God and the love of God.  God has blessed America; from the beginning we have been a thankful and grateful people.

“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee (Deu 8:10).”

The name that is now bestowed on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States is Thanksgiving Day.  In 1941 it was designated as a day to thank God.  We have survived another year; God has provided once again.  For almost four hundred years residents of North America have taken time away from their schedules and responsibilities to express gratitude to God; truly this is a worthy effort.  The original purpose of the day was praise to God!  It is time that the nation returned to the basic principles of the Pilgrim leaders; we must acknowledge our dependence on God by expressing our appreciation to God.

From 1930-1940 the United States suffered through the Great Depression.  People went hungry for there was a lack of food. A day of labor netted the worker total wages of twenty five cents. Most of each day was invested in merely ‘keeping body & soul together.’  The county was in the grips of poverty and there was little that could be done to loosen its hold.  Those who were blessed with adequate food to eat were careful to express their gratitude to God for all that He provided.

“It is a good thing to give praises unto the LORD” (Psa 92:1).

Then in the 1940’s America was suddenly immersed in World War II.  Over four hundred thousand GI’s did not return home after the war.  Many who returned were maimed or crippled.  Again, in emotional circumstances, the men and women of our nation remembered to “offer thanks” to God for victory and power.  The Nation rose to global prominence on the shoulders of these sacrifices of gratitude which were presented to the God of Heaven by the men and women of this world

Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!  And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing (Psa 107:21-22).

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Azusa Street Revival ignited a spiritual fire that rapidly spread across the nation and around the world.  As men and woman believed, repented, and were baptized, they were filled with the Holy Ghost!  This dramatic change from the bondage of sin to the freedom of the new birth brought forth an enthusiastic flow of thanksgiving.  Even difficult circumstances and hard times could not quell the flow of thanksgiving that welled up inside these forgiven souls who were miraculously filled with the Holy Ghost.  With joy they drew waters from the well of salvation as they cried, “Thanks be to the Lord!”  Praise the Lord (Isa 12:3)!

In the midst of the Depression spirituality survived and thanksgiving blossomed as the Spirit of God brought spiritual deliverance and freedom.  As natural circumstances became bleak, revival spread across the country:  God poured out his Spirit upon the thankful, grateful repentant folk.  They in turn shared the hope in Christ with others; Despair turned to hope and once again a country became thankful.  That revival brought strength to the nation that would enable Americans to endure and overcome during World War II.

As we approach this Thanksgiving season, there is a growing sense of uncertainty in our country.  There is economic stress, soldiers are fighting in the Middle East, protestors are rioting in the streets, spiritual values are being destroyed, unborn children are dying daily, families are disintegrating, children are being abused, drug abuse is rampant and immorality is all too common.  Accompanying these negative societal symptoms is a lack of spirituality.  North America is no longer populated by a majority that is appreciative of the blessings of God.  The 2009 Thanksgiving proclamation by the President of the United States was the first ever to omit a direct mention of God.

Our November national holiday, established to ‘turn thanks,’ is disheveled, distorted and diverted; it has become merely a time of family, food and fun.  A holiday originally designated as a time to thank God for his provision has been transformed into a day for man to indulge himself.  Instead of looking vertically to thank God many look horizontally and credit human endeavors.  While no one would suggest that there is harm in family, food or fun, it should be quickly acknowledged that these priorities cannot be permitted to replace the attitude of gratitude that we call thanksgiving!

Our nation can only be saved and blessed as we reach out to Jesus Christ in appreciation and thanksgiving.  No individual can be saved and blessed of God without thankfulness and appreciation.  In every little thing and in every big thing, give thanks!

 “O LORD, my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever” (Psa 30:12).

This Article first appeared in the print edition of the Focus Magazine in November 2011