Psalm 100:4-5

It’s not just about pilgrims and turkeys

Thanksgiving Day has become as much about gathering together for football games, parades, and feasts as it is about giving thanks to God. And hey–we’re not knocking any of those things. But has the original purpose of the day been lost?

As Molly Jean and Lawrence mentioned, United States president Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the third Thursday of November a national “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” And while details of the legendary “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 are sketchy at best (debatable at worst), President Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation is a concise and definitive source for the meaning of this holiday.

Here are some quotes and facts from Lincoln’s proclamation that may inspire you to put the ‘thanks’ back in Thanksgiving. (Read the full transcript of the proclamation here.)

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

These are the first sentences of Lincoln’s proclamation…which was written squarely in the middle of the American Civil War! Abraham Lincoln was the president of only half a country–because the southern half had formed their own nation and was currently at war with the northern half. 

What were the ‘extraordinary bounties’ to which Lincoln refers? In the next paragraphs, he spells them out: Despite the Civil War, no outside nations attacked, and order remained in the country outside of the battlefields; also growth continued in terms of settlement, population, and industry.

Instead of focusing on the extremely difficult position he was in, or the terrible things happening to the nation, Lincoln decided to notice the blessings and–more importantly–to recognize from whom those blessings came.

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.

This Thanksgiving, take a few moments to play Abraham Lincoln in your own situation. You might be in the middle of a huge struggle and trying to hold it all together. There may be a lot at stake. Even so, focus on your blessings and give God the credit and the thanks he deserves for them.

Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.

(Psalm 100:4b-5a NLT)

Questions for Group Discussion

  • Why is it important to give thanks to God? 
  • Is it wrong to want to eat a lot on Thanksgiving Day? Is it wrong to watch a lot of football on Thanksgiving?
  • How can you put the thanks back in Thanksgiving this year?

“I Hereby Proclaim…”: Challenge

You may have been impressed by President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation establishing Thanksgiving Day in the United States. On the other hand, you may need to read the full transcript (a 5-10 minute read) to form an opinion.

After reading Lincoln’s, write your own proclamation including the following elements:

  • A brief introduction. (One paragraph.)
  • Explanation of what you are thankful for and why. (Be as specific as possible.)
  • A conclusion stating what you will do to show your gratitude. (In Lincoln’s, it was to establish a national day of Thanksgiving.)