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Thanksgiving During Difficulty

By Andy McQuitty

It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but the deepest thanksgiving comes when times are hardest. Deprivation highlights what still remains, and loss reminds us of what is truly worth having. Thus we have the paradoxical inversion in which the richest and most well-off struggle to be thankful, while those who struggle and suffer are usually the possessors of the most grateful hearts. It comes as no surprise, then, that our national Thanksgiving Day holiday was born and built in times of national distress.

It was the backdrop of death, disease, and starvation that made the first Thanksgiving in early November of 1621, so profoundly meaningful. But the first actual Thanksgiving Proclamation in America was issued by the revolutionary Continental Congress on November 1, 1777. In a war which at that point our nation’s forebears stood little chance of winning, these leaders looked up from the gloom of their circumstances to offer thanks to God. Authored by Samuel Adams, the proclamation was one sentence of 360 words which read in part:

    "Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received.... together with penitent confession of their sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor; and their humble and earnest supplications that it may please God through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance....it is therefore recommended...to set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor...acknowledging with gratitude their obligations to Him for benefits received.... To prosper the means of religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth 'in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost'."

After 1815 there were no further annual proclamations of Thanksgiving until the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln declared November 26, 1863, the last Thursday in November, a Day of Thanksgiving. In early July of 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg had occurred, taking some 60,000 American lives, and President Lincoln traveled to the battlefield four months afterward, in November, to deliver the "Gettysburg Address." Deeply moved by the sacrifice of these soldiers, Lincoln first committed his life to Christ while walking among the graves there. He later explained: "When I left Springfield [to become President] I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ."

During that time of internal strife in the United States, and at this turning point in his own spiritual life, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Thanksgiving by the President of the United States of America which included these words:

    “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union...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.”
    —Abraham Lincoln (October 3, 1863, passed by an Act of Congress.)

Over the last three Sundays at IBC, several fabulous preachers at IBC (Barry, Craig, and Jonathan) have reminded us that even in these chaotic and politically divisive days for our nation, we Christ-followers can find encouragement and yes, thanksgiving. Why? Because God is good — all the time. Wise believers know that hard times don’t necessarily signal his displeasure or good times his approval, that even in the fire and flood, he is with us, and that his promise never to forsake or leave us holds true forever. We followers of Jesus can know that all things are working together for the good of those who are the called according to his purpose, that we can trust him in season and out of season, and that even if nothing difficult is testing us now, it most surely will at some point. But we also know that when the storms come we can have confidence that the Sovereign Lord of the Universe who loves us still sits on the throne, that gratefulness to such a God is always appropriate, and that we shouldn’t wait for national crises to humble our hearts and offer it to him.

I’m going to watch the Cowboys go 10-1 Thursday afternoon, and be grateful. But I’m going to be grateful for a whole lot more than just that.

Won’t you join me?

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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