This morning, because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I felt led by the Lord to dig into when Thanksgiving was first established here as a national holiday. What I found on Congress’s website is an image and the transcript of the Thanksgiving Proclamation given by George Washington in New York on October 3rd, 1789. This is what this great US president proclaimed:
New York, 3 October 1789
By the President of the United States of America (George Washington), a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Indeed, we have much to be thankful for here in this country! We have the privilege of enjoying so many freedoms and opportunities that so many around the world simply cannot.
An unfortunate side affect of this rich blessing, however, is that we have become a very consumer and me-driven culture. Within it, thankfulness and gratitude is more rare now more than ever. We have a great tendency to focus on the things that we do not have and the things that we wish we had, which keeps us in a state of greedy discontentment and far from thankfulness. So often, we want things exactly the way that we want them and we want them now. Anything less throws us into a pit of depression and despair. We tend to do this even with God Himself. We serve and honor Him when His favor and blessing are being poured out generously, but the moment that things start to not go the way that we want them to, we begin to question and get frustrated with Him. Our commitment to serve Him and honor Him because of who He is regardless of our circumstances just isn’t there. It’s very easy to lose sight of how incredibly blessed we are and all that we have to be thankful for. This morning, however, we’ll find just how life transforming and powerful choosing to give thanks can be!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
So we start out by gaining a clear understanding that no matter what our circumstances are, it is God’s will for us to give thanks, to pray, and to rejoice. No matter what our circumstances are, God is still good and His love and faithfulness endure forever. Jesus still made a way for us into an eternal paradise where there was no way otherwise. No matter what is going on in our lives, it is temporary and will pass. If for no other reason, we can still rejoice and give thanks to Him because He gave His all for us and has prepared something far greater for us in eternity. Remember Paul said:
2 Corinthians 4:17
Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Of course, we’re not being asked to do something that Jesus did not do Himself. On a dark day filled with grief, we see an incredible miracle take place in the life of Jesus because of His chosen response to His circumstances. In Matthew 14, we find that John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ cousin, the one who God had sent to prepare the way for His ministry, the one that cause Him to leap for joy even while He was still in Mary’s womb, and whom had even baptized Jesus had just been beheaded by Herod. Many of us can’t even begin to imagine how horrific and difficult this had to be for Jesus to hear news of. Let’s dig in and see how Jesus responded to this news.
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
There will often be times in our lives where things come out of the blue and shock us. These circumstances throw us off and force us to take a step back and try to gather our thoughts and emotions to try and make sense of it all. During this time of grief, Jesus withdrew by Himself. There are often times when we need to do the same. We need to spend time alone with the Lord to allow Him to minister to us and comfort us during these difficult seasons of life that often to not make sense to us. However, we’re reminded that though sorrow may last for the night, God’s joy comes in the morning. These difficult seasons will pass and the time soon comes to take our focus off of the temporal and keep it fixed on the eternal. Though these circumstances take us by surprise, we soon realize that we can’t go back and change anything and that life is going to continue. We’re forced to make the decision to get back up and brush ourselves off and continue to run the race that God has called us to. Jesus did the same. His grief was very real and understandable, however, it was also temporary and after taking some time alone, He continued on to do the work that He had been called to do.
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Jesus chose to take His eyes off of Himself and the tragedy that just occurred and saw the needs of others. He was driven and motivated by compassion toward them, which took Him away from His mourning and grief and onto the eternal purpose for which He was there for. Jesus could have chose to be angry with His Father for allowing His dear friend’s life to be taken from Him for doing God’s will and angry with the people for being so selfish gathering around to receive ministry from Him immediately after such a tragedy. However, He chose to be compassionate toward them and to press onward. Instead of becoming bitter, He made the lives of others better.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
The disciples were also showing compassion on the people, seeing their need to eat soon and realizing that it was getting late.
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
Although you can’t exactly see it now, the crowd that had gathered included about 5,000 men not including the women and children that were present. You can imagine how the disciples may have felt when Jesus told them to give them something to eat and that there was not a need for them to go away. Jesus knew that despite their circumstances, those people needed to be there and had complete faith in the Father’s ability to provide. Let’s watch and see what happened.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
We see that Jesus chose to give thanks for the small things and the little that He had even in the midst of such a horrific event. When there just isn’t enough to go around (and we’re walking in obedience), we need only to look up to our heavenly Father and thank Him for what He’s about to do! When Jesus prayed, He didn’t complain about their lack and tell His Father about their great need, but He rather simply gave thanks to His heavenly Father for the little that He had. This small choice unlocked miraculous and supernatural breakthrough. There is much that we can learn from this as well!
When we choose to first go to our Heavenly Father instead of elsewhere for our needs to be met and give thanks for what we have, no matter how little it might be, God is able to bless and multiply it. A life filled with thankfulness and gratitude is a life that is able to be blessed because it appreciates and gives glory to the God who alone is worthy of it. Choosing to give thanks proclaims that our provider is God Himself; that He is our source. We acknowledge that everything that we have comes from His hand alone and that we are grateful for what He has given us. When we choose to give thanks, it changes our perspective on life and unlocks an incredible transforming power into our lives.
For those who are parents, this should be a familiar concept. When you give your children something and they aren’t thankful for it or don’t take care of it and misuse it, it doesn’t exactly motivate us to give them something greater as a result. We’re especially not motivated to give them more if they complain about what they have been given and whine for more. However, when they are very thankful for what they are given and take great care of it, you would be motivated to give them something more even without them asking. I’m sure that at times, our Heavenly Father feels much the same! For example, how frequently do our prayers sound similar to this?
However, when we choose to give thanks in prayer, we will naturally be praising and worshiping God. This choice of giving thanks is so powerful that even secular research has found just how transforming it is.
An article written by Mikaela Conley of ABC News states:
For those who tend to be more Grinch-ish than grateful, there’s some hard evidence that might make you want to turn that frown upside down. A positive outlook and feelings of thankfulness can have a direct and beneficial effect on the brain and body.”If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system,” said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center.A research exercise was performed known as the Three Blessings exercise. Each night before going to bed you write down three good things (ordinary or extraordinary) that happened to you during the day. Studies reveal those who continue this exercise for one week straight can increase their happiness and decrease depressive symptoms for up to a six-month period.
This research simply backs up what God’s word has already taught us to be true. Choosing to give thanks releases God’s blessing into our lives and transforms the way in which we see things. We see that this choice can even release physical healing and freedom into our lives. Withholding thanks from God and choosing to see only lack and need for change only serves to keep us in that state because it blocks God’s blessing. Choosing to give thanks regardless of our circumstances releases God’s power to change our circumstances and to receive His rich blessings. It really comes down to our willingness to trust in and have faith in God’s ability and willingness to provide. In closing, we’re going to take a look at a man who was an incredible example of his faith in God’s ability to provide by simply giving thanks to Him.
Among the greatest monuments of what can be accomplished through simple faith in God are the great orphanages covering thirteen acres of ground on Ashley Downs, Bristol, England. When God put it into the heart of George Muller to build these orphanages, he had only two shillings (50 cents) in his pocket. Without making his wants known to any man, but to God alone, over a million, four hundred thousand pounds ($7,000,000) were sent to him for the building and maintaining of these orphan homes. When the writer first visited them, near the time of Mr. Muller’s death, there were five immense buildings of solid granite, capable of accommodating two thousand orphans. In all the years since the first orphans arrived the Lord had sent food in due time, so that they had never missed a meal for want of food.
Although you probably did not expect it, we’re going to watch a short cartoon clip this morning to encourage us to give thanks to God, regardless of our circumstances, and to trust in Him for all things. Following this clip, we’re going to enter into worship by putting this message into action. We’re going to open the mic and ask that everyone come and choose to give thanks to God for something that He has done for you in the past year.