Football, turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Add in family, friends and some fall colors and you have Thanksgiving, right?
I don’t think that’s what the pilgrims were thinking. The food and celebration overflowed from a place of gratefulness they had survived a very harsh first year in the New World –only half of them remained. The point of that first Thanksgiving actually continues a refrain sung by true believers throughout history.
Three Stories of Thanksgiving to Catalyze Your Own Stories of Thanks
As I reflect on the pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, I remember three stories that might inspire you as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
1) Martin Rinckart – Martin pastored a church in Eilenburg, Germany during the 30 Year War. In 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, he remained the only pastor as one abandoned his post and two others perished. Martin buried nearly 5000 souls during that year–including his own wife. Yet, he was able to write in faith the words of perhaps our most famous Thanksgiving Hymn: Now Thank We All Our God.
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
There are many amazing arrangements of this hymn (including this organ setting by J.S. Bach), but I must give a nod to John Rutter’s arrangement shown here with the Cambridge Singers and the City of London Sinfonia:
2. Psalm 136 provides the classic model of thanksgiving that pervades all aspects of life. The chorus of “his steadfast love endures forever” underpins our songs of thanksgiving with an acknowledgement that God’s love is reason enough for thanks. The psalmist leads us to lift thanks for a myriad of blessings, including: God’s character and sovereignty; God’s rule and reign over creation; God’s provision of food and shelter; God’s position as the ruler over all kingdoms and the universe; and God’s defeat of all our enemies–foreshadowing the defeat of Satan.
I enjoy singing Chris Tomlin’s modern interpretation of this psalm, especially at Thanksgiving. He simply calls it Forever.
3. My Story – When I travelled across the U.S. with Caleb Project in 1991, my team made a commitment to spend weekly time in focused thanksgiving. We spent an hour every week remembering God’s faithfulness, protection and action throughout the previous week. We took turns writing down the many specific words of thanks we offered during those rich times of prayer. At the end of our 3 month tour we had filled a journal with hundreds of prayers of thanksgiving.
To this day I try to spend time in regular prayers of thanksgiving. Keeping a journal gives you something to reference when you become overwhelmed by your present circumstances.
A New Thanksgiving
A friend of mine, born and raised outside the U.S., commented yesterday that she wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving, as it’s an American holiday. Internally I was sad, because the original intent of Thanksgiving was not to be a day of national gloating in our victories and blessings. Instead, Thanksgiving is a day when people of all nations can acknowledge the blessings of being loved by the eternal God. Of course, we can do that every day and every week–we don’t really need a holiday. But the national holiday provides an annual reminder to become people of thanks.
Darlene Zschech of Hillsongs wrote a beautiful song of thanks called Worth is the Lamb.
Your Words of Thanks
Instead of just filling up on football, food and fellowship this year, I encourage you to take time to write your own psalm of thanks. Perhaps use Psalm 136 as a model. Maybe even write a song, if you’re so inclined. I’d love it if you would post your psalm here. Here is mine:
A Psalm of Thanks
by Phil Mershon
I praise you for your infinite mercy
I thank you for the depths of your love
I worship you for making me holy
For giving me life through your blood
I thank you for your perfect provision
For work, a house and family
I praise you for your wise direction
For leading me home by your grace.
Thank you for your love
It endures forever
Thank you for your grace
It surely knows no end
Thanks for sending
the Holy Spirit
I thank you for your never ending love.
I thank you for the friends you have given
I’m grateful for prayer and Your Word
I praise you for your Holy Communion
And all the ways you show me grace
Thank you, Asante, Gracias and Merci
There aren’t enough words to help me say thanks
Danke, shukran, shia shia, spasiba
All the world can give you thanks
Time for your psalm