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 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, one of the speakers recalled this act of heroism. Someone called out that Edward Spencer was present in the audience. He was invited to come forward. The speaker asked him 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.” [confirmed at http://www.ship-wreck.com/shipwreck/projects/elgin/]
Just three years after that tragedy, President Lincoln would make Thanksgiving Day 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—or even disregarded amid other distractions.
The first Thanksgiving was held the November after the Pilgrims had experienced much hardship and death. They knew God had spared the fifty-odd who survived. They knew God had orchestrated that Squanto would serve as their instructor, interpreter and advocate. They invited a large number of native Americans to join them for a joyful feast that lasted three days.Three years later, their governor had firmly established one day every fall to gather for prayer and thanksgiving for God’s providence during another difficult year. 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.
Do you have a thankful heart? Do you have difficulty setting aside time to thank God during holidays like Thanksgiving? Perhaps it is because expressing gratitude to God is not the normal pattern in your life. Perhaps it’s because you haven’t calculated God’s blessings and interventions in your life over the last year. The New Testament sets our 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 our “personal circumstance meter” is not to have a bearing on our gratitude to God. We are to be thankful in both prosperity and adversity. Health and sickness. Highs and lows. But how can we rise to do this? Genuine thankfulness comes from understanding and reminding ourselves of the Gospel—the good news that God was thinking of you before the world was formed. In His love and grace, He made a way for every barrier to be removed so that sinners (like us!) can enjoy their Maker forever. He has not left us alone, without love or light or power (read John 17). God is at work right now, and will ultimately set everything right again. I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased James 1:16-18 in The Message: “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.”
Therefore, I will take a few days off this week, then return to work with diligence and excellence, and an eye toward pleasing God in everything I do. In the knowledge that everything we have comes from God’s hand, I am praying that God will fill all of us with a genuine sense of appreciation and awe for His hand on our lives. I don’t want to be like those Edward Spencer pulled out of Lake Michigan, who allegedly did not express their thanks to the one who risked his life to save theirs. Let us be even more careful that we don’t ignore the One who gave His own life as a ransom to rescue us from sin and darkness and death, in order that we can know righteousness and peace and fullness of life.