In Search of a Thankful Heart

On September 8, 1860, the passenger steamer, Lady Elgin, was shipwrecked in Lake Michigan. Rescue teams were sent to help, including a team of Northwestern University students. One of those young men, Edward Spencer, rescued eighteen people from the sinking ship. When he was carried, exhausted, from the scene he kept asking, “Did I do my best?”

Years later, at a class reunion, a speaker recalled this act of heroism. Someone called out that Edward Spencer was present in the audience. He was invited to come forward and asked if there was any particular memory he wished to share. “Only this” he replied. “Of the sixteen or seventeen people I saved, not one thanked me.”

Like those whom Edward Spencer helped to rescue, setting aside time to give thanks to God (or others) is often an afterthought—or it may be disregarded amid many distractions. Only three years later, in the middle of America’s civil war, President Lincoln declared a national holiday of praise and thanks to God, He stated that “Those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord . . . God should be thanked with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”

Setting aside time to give thanks for one’s blessings, along with holding feasts to celebrate a harvest, were both practices that predated the European settlement of North America. The Puritans observed fasting days as well as days of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, victory and other joyous occasions. In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated at Plymouth for three days after the first harvest after the extreme hardship and death of the previous year. They acknowledged that God Himself spared the fifty-odd who had survived. They recognized that God had orchestrated for Squanto to serve as their instructor, interpreter and advocate. They invited a large number of indigenous people to join their joyful feast.

After that, the governor of Virginia colony picked up the tradition one day every fall. After becoming president, George Washington continued the annual tradition—and so did most presidents until President Lincoln pronounced it a national holiday in 1863. One hundred sixty years later, Thanksgiving Day has become something much different for most of our citizens.

Do you have a thankful heart, reflected by setting aside time to record or recount God’s faithfulness and unfailing love? How do our contemporary holiday traditions help or hinder that practice? What tradition could you establish to make this a normal pattern in your family or business? A personal starting point might be to create a place to literally record God’s daily blessings and interventions to return to at the end of a week or month or year…

Consider these New Testament hallmarks as a template:

“Always give thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God . . .” (Ephesians 5:20)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17)

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18)

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe . . .” (Hebrews 12:28)

It is pretty clear that gratitude to God should not be based on a “personal circumstance meter”. We are to be thankful in both prosperity and adversity. In good health or in sickness. In “high” and “low” seasons. Genuine thankfulness requires perspective– placing our lives against the eternal backdrop of God’s purposes and promises. Gratitude is cultivated as we understand and receive and remember the Gospel—the good news that God was already thinking of you before He formed the world. The good news that His wisdom, love and grace planned a way to remove every barrier keeping us from enjoying God’s holy presence forever. The good news that God came to live among us then sacrificed His life to pay for our sins, then gift us His record of righteousness before the Father. And the good news that Jesus did not leave us alone without love or guidance or power until He returns again to fully establish His kingdom (read John 17).

Therefore, I will take some time off this week to rest and enjoy family and also reflect on the countless ways God has provided, sustained, protected, guided and blessed me during this challenging year. I will also ask God to enlarge my heart to become more grateful during the coming months. Unlike those who may have failed to thank Edward Spencer for saving their lives,I hope you will join me in thanking and worshiping the One who sacrificed His life to rescue each of us from Sin and Death and ultimately to bring us to the new heaven and new earth to come (read Revelation 21-22).

Serving Him with you in the marketplace,

David Atchison

Lord, You have not withheld any good thing from me. Please open my eyes to recognize all that You have done for me these last months. As I focus my attention on You, I am filled with thankfulness in my heart, because I didn’t do anything to deserve Your favor. Thank You for the countless ways You have provided for my family—even when I didn’t remember to acknowledge it. Thank for You for every spiritual blessing that You continue extending in my direction. I ask Your Spirit to fill my soul with greater thoughts of Your goodness as I work today. Amen.

“Oh Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” – William Shakespeare