Giving Thanks to God—Then and Now

As Americans, and as Christians, we have much to be thankful for. Thanksgiving Day is a time to consider the things we’ve been blessed with and to give thanks for them. But why does such a day exist? Where did it come from? And to whom should we offer thanks? A look at the experience of the ones on whom this holiday is based can shed light on the meaning of this day we celebrate each year. On September 16, 1620, one hundred and two passengers set sail from England on a 90-foot ship called the Mayflower. A good number of the party were believers, now known as Pilgrims, in search of a new life in a new world. Fleeing religious persecution in England, the Pilgrims were searching for a place where they could live and worship God according to what they had seen in the Bible. Full of hope and expectation that the Lord would bless them, they set off for the New World. Making for the Colony of Virginia, established by England several years earlier, they encountered rough storms and winds. The frail Mayflower was battered and wrenched off course by some 500 miles. Amazingly, the ship and most of the passengers survived the harrowing crossing, and the storm-shattered vessel floundered into the sheltered but deserted waters off the coast of what is now Massachusetts. The Pilgrims arrived in winter on the cold and craggy shores with grateful thanks to God, but without much else. This was the seemingly unpromising beginning of the Plymouth Colony. Governor William Bradford gave an account of that arrival:
“Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof…But here I…stand half amazed at this poor people’s present condition…Being thus past the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles…they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies…And for the season, it was winter; and they that know the winters of this country, know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast…For, which way soever they turned their eyes, save upward to the heavens, they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects.”
By the end of that first, cruel winter, half of the people had died. But spring and help from the Native American Wampanoag tribe seemed to promise a new start. Over the next years, as the Pilgrims struggled to survive, they continued to look to God for their comfort and supply. When two years later, for example, an early summer drought threatened their crops and their lives, they organized a day of fasting and gathered together for prayer, sermons, and singing. The Lord honored their gathering and sent rain, reviving both the crops and the hearts of the people. In response, the Pilgrims honored God, their gracious Provider, as they had on previous occasions, with a solemn day for giving thanks. They worshipped God with thanksgiving for His faithful, ongoing care for them in the new land of their freedom. This Thanksgiving Day, as we gather around dining tables with our friends and family, may we remember the price our nation’s forefathers paid to freely worship God in this land. And may we follow their example in thanking God for all He has blessed us with today—this country, its freedoms, our fellow Americans, our friends, our families. Above all, let us thank our loving Father not only for blessing us with many outward things but also for loving us and sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. How we thank Him for securing for us an eternal salvation and freeing us from the fear of death! We thank Him because He Himself is the greatest blessing in the universe. May God continue to bless America as He has since our forebears first set foot on these shores. And may He bless each of us with more of Himself as our rich portion. From all of us at BfA, have a warm, happy, and blessed Thanksgiving.