The Truth About Thanksgiving


1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”


On the last Thursday in November, millions of Americans will take time to observe Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, as a national festival, celebrates that day in 1622 when Governor William Bradford summoned the survivors of the Mayflower to praise God

for their first harvest – the first tangible sign that their pilgrimage had divine ap­proval, that “God was not ashamed to be called their God,” as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it.

Other nations give thanks, of course. The Hebrew people have been celebrating the ingathering of the harvest since the time of settled agriculture in the Ancient Near East. In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in early October because by the end of November it is too cold to be thankful for much of anything. One of the most popular services in a British church, often crowding Christmas and Easter for promi­nence, is Harvest Home. Folk in small parish churches scattered across the English countryside decorate the sanctuary by piling upon the altar the fruits of farm, field, and garden.

Yet for most of us this celebration is an anachronism. There are few people in church any given Sunday who earn their living by working in a field, and probably only a few who own a piece of property appropriate for farming. And yet, we sing about it still. Executives and housewives, secretaries and CEO’s, salesmen and accountants, who have plowed up nothing but the golf course all year, expand their lungs to proclaim:

We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land; but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.

That’s all well and good for your average harvest festival, but the truth about

Thanksgiving, as far as the United States of America is concerned, is that it is intended to be far more than gratitude to God for a good yield of produce. In the United States of America, Thanksgiving is most emphatically a celebration of na­tional origins – for that small company of men and women and children who landed at Plymouth Rock and laid the foundations of a new nation founded on the wise and loving principles of God’s Holy and inspired Word.

The songs we sing at Thanksgiving include not only, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” but also “Land where my father’s died, Land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, Let freedom ring!”

What About the Pilgrims?

Of course, the word “pilgrim” has vastly extended its range since 1620. Wave after wave of pilgrims have surged to the United States of America stubbornly determined to carve out a new life on the North American continent. And whether the pilgrims were English, or Germans, Scandinavians, or Poles… They were seeking liberty to breathe, speak, act, think, and worship in their own way.

There were, therefore, two strains of immigrants that made up the “melting pot” that is America.

  1. There were those who came simply to make a better life. Who can blame them?
  2. But the other strain, making a larger and more creative contribution, were those who came for reasons of faith, not fortune—the Puritans, the Huguenots, the Mennonites, the Moravians, the Waldensians, the Amish, and others. They all, in the language of the New Testament, “showed plainly that they desired a better country” – not only a life without poverty, but a life without fear, a life wherein they could trust and obey God, worship and serve Him according to their conscience informed by the Word of God.

What Is the Truth About Thanksgiving?

But the truth about Thanksgiving is that the pilgrim consciousness disappeared from the national life for a long period of time. It was, in fact, 240 years after the first Pilgrim father sank to his knees at Plymouth that Thanksgiving was reinstated on the calendar and proclaimed as an official holiday; and that was done when things were going badly. Somebody once said that “all nations grow odious in prosperity.” They certainly grow careless. And it took the tragedy of the War Between the States and the scarred spirit of Abraham Lincoln to recall the pilgrim heritage that such a recollection might bind up the nation’s wounds.

Lincoln said: “We have forgotten the Gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and strengthened us, and vainly imagined all these bless­ings were produced by some superior virtue or wisdom of our own. Intoxicated by unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity for redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.” These are words well worth pondering!

The truth about Thanksgiving is that it was a stroke of genius that Lincoln sought to bind up the nation’s wounds by instilling in a divided national heart its former unity. His attempt was to bring North and South, victor and victim, together by recalling their pilgrim beginnings. To this end, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation. He said, “In the midst of a civil war of unequal magnitude and severity… I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father… And I recommend [they] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty’s hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as may be consistent with the Divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.

We all tend to romanticize the past, but it’s practically impossible to over-idealize the Pilgrims. They had tremendous courage in venturing to the New World at all, leaving home-soil and kindred in order to establish an intellectual, educational, and spiritual community in a foreign and sometimes inhospitable land. Within a few short years of landing at Plymouth Rock – back-breaking years of cultivating the soil and coping with the severe New England weather – they were able to establish universi­ties, organize hospitals, print books and accomplish any number of notable and remarkable things. The truth about Thanksgiving is that, for Americans, it is more than a harvest festival – it is a time to remember the sacrifices and accomplish­ments of those who have gone before us.

What Should We Do Now?

Now it’s time to thank God for those things He has allowed us to accomplish. Few beg for new opportunities at Thanksgiving time. Instead we enjoy the rich bounty God has already given. The harvest is in, so to speak. Our salaries for the year are almost made. It is quite clear to each one of us what he or she will have accomplished by the end of the year. Therefore, Thanksgiving is a time of remem­brance, yes—it is a time for gratitude, yes—but it’s also a time of celebration and a time for enjoyment. But let’s do so with an underlying soberness as to the realities which we lift up today and let’s celebrate in the spirit of the hymn writer, who said:

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.

I like the hymn which says, “Now thank we all, our God, with heart and hands and voices. Who wondrous things hath done in whom the world rejoices.”

What Does the Bible Say About Thanksgiving?

Listen to the following Scriptures regarding thanksgiving: Psalm 95:2 – Let us come before him with thanksgiving….

Psalm 100:4 – Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

2 Corinthians 2:14 – But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.

Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Hebrews 13:15 – Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.

The Psalmist says that, “It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord.” It is not just a good thing, it is a wise thing.

The truth is that we have much for which to be thankful. It is good to be thankful for the material blessings that God has given us but is there something else more important for which we should be thankful?

What is the Greatest Gift that God Has Given Us?

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In 2 Corinthians 9:15, Paul says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

We are thankful to God that He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves in sending Christ to die in our place. We are thankful that our good, great and glorious God is also a God of sovereign grace!

What is the Only Appropriate Response to God’s Grace?

One word – gratitude! The more we experience God’s amazing grace the more we are grateful to God. The converse is also true, if we haven’t experienced God’s grace, we aren’t apt to be gracious. Why? Because, we can’t impart what we don’t possess!

Do You Want To Experience More of God’s Grace in Your Life? … Do You Know How?

James 4:6ff says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God…. Come near to God and he will come near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

How Do You Feel When Someone is Exceptionally Nice To You For No Reason Whatsoever?

Indebted? Grateful? We owe God a debt that we can never repay and therefore, we are eternally indebted to God’s grace. There’s not a day that should go by with­out us reflecting on God’s goodness and grace, His mercy and forgiveness and seeking to express an attitude of gratitude in all that we say and do.

How Is It With You?

If you are grateful to God, you will be content; if you are ungrateful, you will be discontent. The choice is yours but the result will invariably follow. Thankful people are happy people; thankless people are not happy. Ungrateful people say, “Why me?” Grateful people say, “Why not me?” Thankful people are positive and optimis­tic; unthankful people are negative, cynical and pessimistic. Thankful people are humble while ungrateful people are more inclined to be proud and not realize how they need God and others. You enjoy being around those who are thankful but it’s not pleasant to be around those who are ungrateful and constantly complaining.

It’s not only a good thing and a wise thing to give thanks to God; it’s absolutely essential for a healthy emotional and spiritual life!

What Is The Best Kind of Thanksgiving We Can Offer To God Throughout The Year?

The best kind of thanks giving is thanks living! – showing our thanks to God by the way we live.

To grow rich in God’s sight, we say our thanks and we show our thanks. Not just in words of appreciation, but deeds. To properly thank God for His gifts we must use them according to His will – 365 days a year!

How Are You Using The Gifts God Has Given You?

“God’s will be done” – with all the material benefits granted us!

“God’s will be done” – with all the natural abilities and spiritual gifts bestowed on us!

“God’s will be done” – with the very life he has given us!

When you think about all He has done and continues to do for us, is this too much to ask?

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” Amen? Amen!

What Is Thanksgiving All About?

T is for our thankfulness for many joys and blessings…

H is for our healthy, happy harmonious homes…

A is for autumn, a time for harvest and abundance…

N is for nature’s beauty, wonder and delight…

K is for the kindness of God and His gracious provisions…

S for our salvation obtained by our great Savior…

G is for the gathering of family and friends…

I for the inheritance and heritage we share…

V is for the God-given vision the Pilgrims held so dear…

I is for the integrity and high ideals in all they planned…

N is for our native country brave and great and free…

G for God’s grace and great goodness to all of us…


Written by Dr. Steven Riser for The John Ankerberg Show, © 2006.

Leave a Comment