Foundational Thanksgiving

Understanding Our For Fathers Heart 

It is Thanksgiving, not Christmas! The tradition of Thanksgiving in America, our focus on God and His blessing date way back. David Barton of Wall Builders wrote, “The main thrust of celebrating Thanksgiving here in America, is from the familiar story of the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebration of 1621.” (David Barton – 11/2008

Today, it appears the Thanksgiving season is open season to make merchandise of the Gospel with the purpose of making money.  To use the Thanksgiving season as a prelude to touching the Holy things of God with unholy hands is an insult to the Lord, for He has given us the blessings we enjoy.

Could it be? Is it time? Does the church today need to follow the example of Christ?  In His dealing with the money changers in the temple when they used the sacrifices found in Scripture to make a fortune for themselves. He aggressively addressed their sin by overturning the tables and reminded them, “God’s house is to be a house of prayer, not a den for thieves.” (Luke 19:45-46)   In a nation where the foundation of the founding fathers was a healthy reverence for God, the church needs to aggressively address the sins of America.

I would propose to you, the Word of God holds the foundational truths for expressing a thankful life. Psalm 107:21, “Let them thank the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.” Understanding, the heartbeat of the first Thanksgiving lays the foundation for a thanksgiving season that glorifies the Lord.

To whom did the early Pilgrims give thanks to?

The Pilgrims

The Pilgrims set sail for America on September 6, 1620, and for two months they braved the harsh elements of a storm-tossed sea.  Upon disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they held a prayer service and then hastily began to build shelters; however, unprepared for such a harsh New England winter, nearly half of them died before spring. (William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1856), pp. 74, 78, 80, 91.)  After enduring a harsh winter they met an English speaking Indian, Samoset, whom learnt English from fisherman and traders.  One week later Samoset showed up with Squanto, who chose to live with the Pilgrims and accepted their Christian faith.  Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, described Squanto as “A special instrument sent of God for [our] good… and never left [us] till he died.” (William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1856), p. 95)

As one continues to look at the period of the first Thanksgivings in America – we see in the summer of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a huge harvest.  Pilgrim Edward Winslow affirmed this by writing, “God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn”; “by the goodness of God, we are… far from want.” (Mourt’s Relation or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth, Henry Martyn Dexter, editor (Boston: Jim Kimball Wiggin, 1865; reprint of 1622 original), p. 133. See also William S. Russell, Guide to Plymouth and Recollections of the Pilgrims (Boston: George Coolidge, 1846), p. 95, quoting from a letter of Pilgrim Edward Winslow to George Morton of London, written on December 21, 1621)

The pilgrims declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends, whom showed them how to survive in the New England land.  America’s first Thanksgiving Festival involved Ninety Wampanoag Indians and fifty Pilgrims feasting three days.  They ate shellfish, lobster, turkey, corn bread, berries, deer, and other foods.  The Pilgrims and Indians engaged in races, wrestling matches, and other athletic events and prayer. (David Barton – 11/2008)

In 1623, there was another hardship, a prolonged drought, which if continued would lead to another period of starvation and death, much like they experienced in the winter of 1620.  Governor Bradford, called the Pilgrims to a time of prayer and fasting to seek God’s direct intervention. Significantly, shortly after time of prayer – and to the great amazement of the Indian who witnessed the scene – clouds appeared in the sky giving a gentle steady rain upon the land.  (David Barton – 11/2008)

  • Governor Bradford explained: “It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in abundance, as that ye earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith, which did so apparently revive and quicken ye decayed corn and other fruits as was wonderful to see, and made ye Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing.” (William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1856), p. 142)

The drought had been broken. The fall harvest was one which caused another reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. The Pilgrim’s practice of designating official times of Thanksgiving spread to different colonies which became annual traditions. (DeLoss Love, Jr, The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Boston: Houghton,, Mifflin & Co, 1895), pp. 87-90)

David Barton wrote, “And just as the Pilgrims’ example of calling for days of thanksgiving, with prayer and fasting, so, too, did the all New England Colonies develop a practice of calling for a day of prayer and fasting in the spring, and a day of prayer and thanksgiving in the fall.”

National Proclamations of Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving celebrations were so common – during the time of the American Revolution, Congress issued eight separate National Thanksgiving Proclamations.  Congress also issued seven separate proclamations for prayer and fasting during the time of the American Revolution. (See the Journals of the Continental Congress (1905) for June 12, 1775; March 16, 1776; December 11, 1776; November 1, 1777; March 7, 1778; November 17, 1778; March 20, 1779; October 20, 1779; March 11, 1780; October 18, 1780; March 20, 1781; October 26, 1781; March 19, 1782; October 11, 1782; October 18, 1783)

Proclamations like:

George Washington, “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. . . . Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November [1789] . . . that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.” (George Washington, Writings of George Washington, Jared Sparks, editor ((Boston: Russell, Odiorne and Metcalf, 1838), Vol. XII, p. 119, Proclamation for a National Thanksgiving on October 3, 1789.)

Abraham Lincoln, in 1863 set aside the last Thursday of that November with this Thanksgiving proclamation which had strong spiritual content and came about at a pivotal point in his life.  Just three months earlier, the Battle of Gettysburg had occurred, resulting in the loss of 60,000 American lives. It was during that walk Mr. Lincoln became a Christian. (Abraham Lincoln, The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles. Osborn H. Oldroyd, editor (New York: G.W. Carleton & Co, 1882) p. 366, Reply to an Illinois Clergyman.)

During his proclamation he said, “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, Who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy” (Abraham Lincoln, The Works of Abraham Lincoln, John H. Clifford & Marion M. Miller, editors (New York: University Society Inc, 1908), Vol. VI, pp. 160-161, Proclamation for Thanksgiving, October 3, 1863. See also, The American Presidency Project, “Abraham Lincoln: Proclamation – Thanksgiving Day, 1863”)

As we celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, let us remember the heart-beat of our founding fathers and keep God and Christ at the focal point of the remembrance from Whom all blessings flow.  May we be like Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee, signers of the Declaration, “[Congress] recommended [a day of] …thanksgiving and praise [so] that… the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and …join.. their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive [our sins] and… [to] enlarge [His] Kingdom with consistent righteousness, peace and enjoy the Holy Ghost.” (Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), Vol. IX, p. 855, November 1, 1777)

Here in America, in our Thanksgiving celebrations and proclamations, we have passed away from understanding the relationship with God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, to religious redirect.  May the Lord return our hearts to Psalm 107:21, “Let them thank the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.”

A Full Measure of Thanksgiving

List of Holy Spirit Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:4 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Spiritual gifts are best understood as being Holy Spirit enabled to serve the Lord, the Body of Christ and those in this world for the glory of Jesus Christ.  The church is not a building, denomination, or fellowship.  The church is the Body of Christ, sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. (Ephesians 2:8)  Born again Christians have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ, (Ephesians 2:22) thus, they are equipped by Him to do service for the building of the Kingdom of God.  When we express gratitude to those who are exercising their Spiritual gifts through sacrificial love, (1 Corinthians 12-14) we are in fact expressing gratitude to God who created (Isaiah 45:12) and called the person to Christ, (John 6:44) expressing gratitude to Christ who purchased sinners by giving His life (Revelation 5:9) and expressing gratitude to the Holy Spirit who gives the gifts as He chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Here is a list of some very key Spiritual gifts that are worthy of expressions of gratitude (this is not a full exposition on Holy Spirit gifts or how they are to function in the Body of Christ).   To help you get a grasp on these gifts I am placing them in three categories, 1.) Service Gifts, 2.) Sign Gifts, and 3.) Spiritual Support Gifts.  (Please note: You may write a note, give a card or even speak personally to the servant of the Lord exercising any of these gifts.)

Service Gifts:

Administration – Romans 12:8 speaks of the gift of administration or leadership.  There are those who have on different occasions given direction, directed or governed some key spiritual ministry opportunity for the glory of Christ.  Take time to thank those who you have seen administer this gift in some way.  Be specific.  Example: “I want to thank you for taking the time to oversee the __________________ ministry.”

Encouragement – Romans 12:8 speaks of the gift of encouragement.  Often there is someone who has been in the same circumstance that you are in.  Through the counsel of God’s Word and testimony that glorifies the Lord, this encourager spoke a word that kept you on the course God had set you on.   Be specific.  Example: “I want to thank you for the encouragement the Lord gave me when you shared __________________.”

Contributing – Romans 12:8 speaks of those who have the gift of giving to the work of the Lord.  This gift is an enabling of the Holy Spirit to give beyond the tithe.  These Christians have given repeatedly to the work of the Lord and to meeting the needs of the people.  When appropriate, thank that person for a specific gift and share how it was used of the Lord.

Helps or Serving – Romans 12:7 speaks of those who are known as being Christians or people who express a life of helping others.  When you hear of a practical need, it does not surprise you to hear that those who have this gift are right at hand to meet the need again and again and again.  When you are aware of the person exercising this gift, take time to thank that person.  Being specific takes the expression of appreciation right to the heart.

Mercy – Romans 12:8 speaks of the gift of mercy.  When people are hurting, especially because of choosing to live outside of God’s perfect will, there are Christians whom the Lord uses to express His mercy.  This mercy enables the backslid, the misguided and the lost to look to God for mercy with an expectation it may be enjoyed in due season.  Think of the time when the Lord brought such a person into your life.  Make time to thank that person for exercising this gift and share (when appropriate) the Lord’s goodness regarding the matter.

Sign Gifts:

Distinguishing Between Spirits – In 1 Corinthians 12:10 we read of Holy Spirit led Christians who have the gift of distinguishing between spirits.  Satan persistently tries to counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit, therefore, God has gifted His servants with the ability to discern spiritual things.  There are those who are not confused with a critical spirit in the natural, thus they are able to discern the heart of God in spiritual matters.  These Christians are very faithful in disciplined prayer and have great knowledge of the Word of God.  Every church that has true disciplined times of prayer has servants of the Lord whom you can trust to discern spiritual matters.   Think of that person who has proven faithful in long seasons of prayer and deep study of God’s Word.  That is the person you can show appreciation to, because distinguishing between spirits is a much needed gift in the Body of Christ.

Healing – There are those in the Body of Christ, as the Lord chooses and in His time who are given a word to speak forth healing through prayer. (1 Corinthians 12:9)  Take time to think of those who prayed with you in faith and the Lord granted the healing you sought.  Make time to thank them for praying with or for you.  God is the great physician, whether He chooses to use modern medicine or to bring healing at the moment when the prayer is offered.  It is God who gives His servants the faith to pray in a manner that honors Christ.

Spiritual Support Gifts:

Word of Knowledge – This gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8 and 14:6.  This is that word that was spoken to you dealing with a factual matter coming from a trusted brother in Christ who had no knowledge of the circumstance at hand.  It was given with the perfect timing uncontrolled by you or anyone else.  As the Holy Spirit reminds you of a time when you enjoyed this gift, make time to show appreciation to the vessel from whom it was exercised.

Word of Wisdom – This gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8.  This is a word given through the Holy Spirit to you through a trusted brother giving you wisdom on how to apply a truth or accomplish the task set before you.  As the Lord reveals to you a person whom He has used to give you this wisdom, make time to express appreciation to that person.

Prophesying – Romans 12:6 speaks of those who have the gift of “prophesying” which is “…not primarily prediction but communication of revealed truth that will both convict and build up the hearers.” (The Expositors Bible Commentary)  It is a special gift that enables the preachers (Ephesians 4:11) to expound the Holy Scriptures. (Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon)  This gift of the Holy Spirit enables the proclaimer of God’s Word to declare the Lord’s purpose, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the hurting and afflicted. (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon; The Pulpit Commentary)  This gift enables the preacher to make known the will of God, which is designed to influence men. (Barnes Notes)      There are different people who have exercised this gift by denying themselves certain privileges so they can be prepared to preach and teach the Word of God.  The Bible says that people are unworthy of those who exercise this gift.  Make time to express appreciation to those who have a proven faithful to the Lord and to you through exhortation by exercising this gift.

Faith – 1 Corinthians 12:9 speaks of the Holy Spirit giving members of the church a faith that enables them to see through to completion that which God calls them to do.  The Holy Spirit using the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, gives such an enlightenment of a truth that it causes Christians to live a life of pleasing faith to God.  There is someone whom you know is a Holy Spirit enlightened, Word-minded Christian who expresses a genuine faith to God.  Take time to thank them for exhibiting Biblical faith.

Song Service Teams – 1 Chronicles 25 speaks of those having people trained and skilled for music in the house of the Lord.  Make time to thank those who weekly exercise their gift to the church.

Again this is not a exhaustive Biblical teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, however, there is enough truth presented here to equip you to show appreciation for those who exercise their Holy Spirit gifts for the common good of Christians and those who do not know Christ.

Praying the Lord’s best as you prayerfully consider how you may enjoy, “A Full Measure of Thanksgiving.”