The Pilgrims celebrated what is commonly called the “First Thanksgiving” in America in 1621, after their first harvest in the New World. Listen to what Edward Winslow – one of the pilgrim leaders who voyaged on the Mayflower – said, in reference to the celebration that they shared together with the Native Americans:
“And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
Winslow really understood the true meaning of Thanksgiving – not just as a holiday, but as an existence.
In Hebrews, we read about this kind of life: a life of gratitude that is pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15-16 says this:
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
The first evidence of gratitude is this: lips that give constant praise and adoration to the Lord. It comes from a heart of knowing and believing that all we have is from God, and no matter how much or little, it is more than enough.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to mention a second outcome of a thankful heart: generosity. Genuine gratitude is authenticated not just by words of thanksgiving to God but by deeds of kindness to God’s creation. Is the way that we share and respond to those in need pleasing to God? Does it reflect a heart of gratefulness and contentment?
Like Winslow, we ought to recognize the abundant blessings God has poured out on us and actively respond both in word and deed.
Popular advice columnist Abigail Van Buren (also known as Jeanne Phillips), published a Thanksgiving Prayer in 2000, originally written by her mother and Dear Abby founder, Pauline Phillips. The prayer gives beautiful articulation and application to what Hebrews teaches us.
O Heavenly Father:
We thank Thee for food
and remember the hungry.
We thank Thee for health
and remember the sick.
We thank Thee for friends
and remember the friendless.
We thank Thee for freedom
and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service.
That Thy gifts to us may be used for others.
May our prayers this Thanksgiving resound with this one. May this holiday season, and beyond, be marked by hearts of gratitude that result in constant praise and thanksgiving to our Great God and ongoing generosity and goodwill towards all that He has made – every man, woman, and child.