In October 1621, 53 Pilgrims gathered in Plymouth, MA to celebrate the successful Fall harvest along with 90 Native Americans who had helped them survive a very difficult year. They viewed the harvest as a life-giving bounty from God that would sustain them through the long winter. This time of “Thanksgiving” was a tradition the Pilgrims brought with them from England and shared with their new Indian friends.

Desperate times call for desperate praise.

In 1789, President Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated each November. From that time on, the date of the observation of Thanksgiving varied by state until President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November (later codified by Roosevelt as the 4th Thursday of November) as a national “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” What makes this proclamation intriguing is that the nation was in the middle of the Civil War. The union was fiercely divided, state against state and brother against brother as the fabric of our country was being ripped apart with the loss of life and property devastating families across the land. All of this makes the words of President Lincoln’s proclamation even more remarkable:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards 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. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 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. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In the context of a nation at war with itself, President Lincoln drew the nation’s attention to “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” He knew that focusing on the goodness of God changes our perspective on everything else. Honest Abe understood that the greatest weapon against chaos is thanksgiving.

Tumultuous times call for radical thankfulness!

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2020. We have experienced what could be described as the most tumultuous year in decades. Our nation is still divided. COVID-19 has devastated families and our economy. Racial tensions seem to be constantly at a boiling point. The Presidential election has been the most contentious one of my lifetime. Delayed results, allegations of voter’s fraud and other irregularities, multiple legal challenges have eroded confidence in the political process. Meme after meme have expressed the chaos that we have all experienced in 2020. With all of this, what is our attitude to be on the fourth Thursday of November this year?

May I suggest that we follow the lead of the Pilgrims and President Lincoln by simply giving thanks. As believers, we can find God’s hand leading, providing, and protecting us in everything. If you are still breathing, God has brought you through to this point. So, in spite of all that has happened this year, things are always true of us in Christ:

God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have received redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

We have been “raised up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)

“Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

“My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance in every good thing.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Heavenly focus calls for transformative thanksgiving.

As Christ followers, we have infinite reasons to be thankful. Let me encourage you to shift your eyes away from the chaos of 2020 and instead focus on the truths that we are saved, sanctified, sealed, secured, and sustained by the blood of Jesus on the Cross and the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Father. When you focus on Him, no matter what happens, thanksgiving will flow naturally and freely, not just on the fourth Thursday in November, but all day every day!

From Forgiving Forward, an online blog resource (originally published November 24, 2020)