Although you were probably taught differently in elementary school, the first Thanksgiving celebration on American soil didn’t occur in 1621 when Pilgrims shared a feast with a group of friendly Indians. That has made for a good story and even a couple of movies, but it isn’t exactly true that this was the first such “Thanksgiving”. No, the first recorded Thanksgiving actually took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and the fact is that it wasn’t exactly a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown was so brutal that only 60 settlers remained from a group that once numbered 409. Those who had survived were starving, they were desperate and they prayed fervently for help, although they had no idea where any help might come from. Yet help did arrive! A ship full of supplies and food came from England and the settlers at Jamestown immediately gathered for a prayer meeting to give thanks to God. That was the first, truly American, Thanksgiving.
James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV84). The truth is that everything we have, everything we are and everything we will ever be is solely because of the goodness of God. Writing of our complete dependence on our heavenly Father, Paul penned, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Focusing on the last of the 3 imperatives in that passage, we can see that it is God’s will that His people always be thankful to Him, and that gratitude is intended to include everything. “All circumstances” means just that. The Greek word has in mind being thankful for every single part that makes up the whole. In other words, I should be thankful that I am alive and have full use of senses today AND that would include when I stubbed my toe this morning, thought I had broken it and literally felt like I would pass out from the pain. The fact that I am alive and have full use of all my senses includes that I have a toe that I could mash into a door in the first place!
This “attitude of gratitude” is rarely seen in a world where many people throw hissy fits when they don’t get their way. However, it should always be seen in God’s people. In fact, the psalmist wrote that we should, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100:4), meaning we should come into the presence of God and “give thanks to Him and praise His name.” If there is a quality that should be so obvious in Christians that everyone can see it, it is that we are thankful. After all, we owe everything, literally EVERYTHING, to God! In Psalm 100, the psalmist says that 1) God made us; 2) we are His people and 3) the sheep of His pasture. We belong to the Creator and He is our Father! He has provided us with life, He sustains our lives and He has given us eternal life by His grace through His Son, King Jesus the Christ. No matter what happens to us in this life, no matter what hardships or trials we endure, we should be ever thankful to know that our God will work all things for our good. As such, we should have the attitude of Job, who despite losing his family, wealth and his health, still exclaimed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
In 1897, Johnson Oatman penned these wonderful words that capture the essence of 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done; Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
May God’s people continually enter His gates with thanksgiving, counting the many blessings that our Father in heaven has provided for us!