By John Sawyer
Hurricanes. Flooding. Wildfire damage. Social conflict. If you’re able to celebrate Thanksgiving at all, your table might have empty chairs due to COVID-19. And some guests might be struggling with financial problems or job loss.
It’s been a rough nine months! Our emotions are far too raw to merely paste on a smile and go through the holiday motions. But before you give up on Thanksgiving, I encourage you to give it another chance. It might be just what we all need right now.
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Is it possible to turn this annual holiday you’re dreading into an authentic experience of God’s love and grace? Consider the first Thanksgiving in November of 1621. Motivated by increasing persecution, the Pilgrims had set sail from England 14 months earlier. After 65 grueling days of rough seas and storms, the Mayflower finally arrived in Cape Cod. More than half of their group died during that first harsh winter in America. But the following fall, with sincere gratitude to God and their new friends who had helped them survive, they shared a harvest feast with the Pokanokets tribe. This meal was the basis for the holiday we celebrate today. What gave them the ability to be grateful in spite of all the suffering they endured?
1. Unwavering faith in an all-powerful God. Their confidence in Jesus Christ was the foundation of the Pilgrim’s lives. Instead of making them cynical and bitter, their trials had driven them to God in desperation. In his presence, their focus shifted from their difficulties to his love and goodness. The first step toward an authentic Thanksgiving is remembering that God is on his throne. He’s promised to always be with us, he’s for us, and he deeply loves us. We might be surprised to see how our suffering can actually purify and strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
2. Unshakeable commitment to God’s Word. Beginning with persecution in England, and then encountering cynics and crooks in the new world, the Pilgrims had many temptations to descend into anger or self-pity. But the disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading helped them rise above them. I believe authentic Thanksgiving is possible for us too when we let God’s Word change our perspective. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” (Colossians 3:1-2 The Message)
3. Unprejudiced concern for others. The Pilgrims followed Jesus’ command to love all people. Some of their traveling companions feared Native Americans and called them savages. But the Pilgrims knew that all people are created in God’s image. Their respectful treatment of the Pokanokets tribe resulted in learning from them to survive in this new world. Squanto, an English-speaking Native American, taught them how to plant corn, fish, and hunt. The Pilgrims’ gratitude was a bright spot in an often grim history of European colonists’ mistreatment of indigenous peoples. Jesus wants us to love our enemies and pray for those who antagonize us (Matthew 5:43-48).
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So, what do you think? Does it help to know that the first Thanksgiving happened in circumstances as bad or worse than ours today? Jesus said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35). Authentic gratitude comes from finding ways to help others. A Puritan named John Eliot followed the Pilgrim’s example by translating God’s Word into a Native American language (The Algonquin Bible).
You can also share God’s love this Thanksgiving by helping end Bible poverty in the Middle East so, “as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15). Over 32 million Muslims have converted to Christianity. Many are still waiting for God’s Word in their language. Would you prayerfully consider helping?
Bio: Before joining Clear Bible, Inc. (@ClearBibleInc) (formerly Global Bible Initiative) as CEO, John Sawyer (@johnasawyer) served as the chief strategy officer for Grey Matter Group, CEO of the Gravity Alliance and vice president of Bible marketing for Zondervan. He was also a group leader for Global Media Outreach, an online evangelism ministry. He received his theological training from Kuyper College, Grand Rapids School of the Bible, and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. John is passionate about both parts of the Great Commission—evangelism and discipleship–and the foundation of both which is Scripture access.
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