On September 8, 1860, the passenger steamer, Lady Elgin, 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 many 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, one of the speakers recalled this act of heroism. Someone called out that Edward Spencer was in the audience. He was invited to come forward. The speaker asked if there was anything particular he remembered about that day. “Only this”, he replied: “Of the sixteen or seventeen people I saved, not one of them thanked me.” [http://www.ship-wreck.com/shipwreck/projects/elgin/]
Three years after that tragedy, President Lincoln would declare a national holiday of praise and thanks to God. Lincoln said, “Those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord . . . God should be thanked with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.” Like those whom Edward Spencer helped rescue, giving thanks to God and others is often an afterthought, easily disregarded amid other distractions. The first Thanksgiving was held the November after the Pilgrims experienced extreme hardship and death (1621). They knew God had spared the fifty-odd who survived. They knew God had orchestrated for Squanto to serve as their instructor, interpreter and advocate. They invited a large number of Native Americans for a joyful three-day feast. Three years later, their governor established one day every fall to gather for prayer and thanksgiving for God’s providence. It became such a regular event, that George Washington celebrated Thanksgiving after becoming President—so did most presidents until Lincoln pronounced it a national holiday in 1863.
Do you possess a thankful heart? Do you intentionally set aside time to thank God during this holiday? Expressing gratitude to God may not be a normal pattern in your life. Try to calculate God’s blessings and interventions over the past year. The New Testament sets the standard: “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 Thessalonians 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 your “personal circumstance meter” shouldn’t influence your sense of appreciation. We are challenged to be thankful in both prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, highs and lows. How can we rise to do this? The spring of genuine thankfulness is the Gospel–we must remind each other of the good news that God was thinking of us before the world was formed. He was planning how he would remove every barrier to knowing and enjoying Him forever. God is still at work redeeming and restoring lives and families and communities and nations . . . ultimately He will set everything right again. Eugene Peterson paraphrased James’ challenge very well: “So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word [Jesus], showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)
This week I will take a little time off to rest with my family and reflect on the ways God has worked in my life this year. I will focus on what He has already done rather than obsessing over the future. I don’t want to be like Edward Spencer’s survivors who allegedly failed to express their thanks to someone who risked his life to save theirs. In the same way, be careful to acknowledge and thank Christ Jesus, who willingly gave His life to rescue you from Sin and Death, so that you can experience righteousness, peace, fullness, and loving relationship with Him. Happy Thanksgiving!
Serving Him with you in the marketplace,
Lord, You have not withheld anything from me–You took the punishment I deserved and gave me Your righteousness and Your Spirit. This is beyond my comprehension, especially 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 ask. Thank You for every spiritual blessing You have poured out—even when I haven’t realized all that You intend for me. Give me the ability to sit quietly long enough to remember and assess how greatly I am blessed today—not just during Thanksgiving week.
“Oh Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.”