Faith & Family

Restoring the spirit of thanksgiving

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Casey Wilson

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors… with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” Edward Winslow, December 1621

It had been a long year. What began with 65 days in rough seas would become a cold winter robbing them of half their people. Children had died, many were widowed, entire families had been lost to sickness – and what lay before them was an unfamiliar land and uncertain future.

That was the hand Governor William Bradford had been dealt: a two-seven off suit in poker terms; an almost zero chance for victory. He was 31 years old, a once-orphaned, now a widower, who had been called to lead the remaining 50 Pilgrims after their first leader, John Carver, died.

So, what was behind Bradford’s determination? What shaped his character and guided his convictions? The answer is probably best illustrated in his famous words: “So the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”

It was this anthem of praise that beat in the hearts of many Pilgrims. They were Christians, hopeful and trusting that God would lead them into a new land. Bradford also said, “May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness, but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity…’”

The moxie of Plymouth was different than that of Jamestown. While Jamestown boasted in its strength and capital, Plymouth trusted in God. While Jamestown was built predominantly by men and slaves, Plymouth was built by families seeking religious freedom. In many ways, the grit of Plymouth was a disposition to praise, to trust, and to give thanks. This attitude would overflow in a three-day celebration in the Autumn of 1621 – what we now refer to as the First Thanksgiving.

Here we are, some 400 years later, and what has become of Thanksgiving? What have we done with this great heritage? Theologian Charles Spurgeon once said, “There should be a parallel between our supplications and our thanksgivings. We ought not to leap in prayer, and limp in praise.”

Have we begun to limp in praise? Are we barren, void, and without true thanksgiving? Have we grown comfortable having feasts and field games without any faith? Far too often, we hear grumblings about visiting in-laws, about the inconvenience of company, and about all the effort it takes to host such a meal. Must we be reminded that Thanksgiving was originally three days long and had almost twice as many Indians as Pilgrims, 95-51? 

So, what can we do? How do we recover some of the spirit that the Pilgrims had? How do we become, as Spurgeon said, a “melody of thanksgiving” and, as Apostle Paul encourages, “abounding in thanksgiving?”

First, we must remember the goodness of God. It would be easy (and sadly typical) to talk about the issues, the hurts, the pains, and all the problems around us. But what we need is to “rejoice in our feast” (Deut. 16:14). Determine not to gossip and slander over the turkey (2 Cor. 12:20). Prepare your heart to serve others (1 Pet. 4:9), to welcome neighbors (Heb. 13:2), and to recall the good in each other (Phil. 2:3). Fill our days with field-games, deer hunts, recreation, family, friendship, and fun – but do so while acknowledging the Giver of such gifts (Rom. 1:21; Jas. 1:17).

Secondly, we must be filled with spiritual optimism, not Black Friday ecstasy. The “plenty” that Winslow refers to goes far beyond five deer and much fowl. That First Thanksgiving was a celebration of praise for the houses built, the crops gathered, for the civil laws established, the new marriages, the children that had been educated, and the worship that had taken place. For Carver, Bradford, Winslow, and the rest of the Pilgrims, crossing “this great ocean” was never the end goal. Rather, it was to establish a home, a community, to live in a place where they could worship free of persecution and raise their children under the banner of Christ. That is what they were celebrating, and that is what they had begun to see.

So, this Thanksgiving, be encouraged; be thankful. Be a vessel that overflows with the goodness of God. Be a man or woman with a vision for your home and family. Consider your labors, the simple chores, the mundane rhythms, and all that must take place to build a great home and community. Give thanks for these things, and let all that you do be done for the glorious name and praise of God.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” – Psalms 100:4.

Casey Wilson is the Kavod Family CEO and Macon Sense Publisher