Scripture Readings: Psalm 136:1-26 • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
November 23, 2014 • KSYC 103.9FM (Yreka, CA) • Download this devotional (PDF)
Hello, and welcome to another edition of our Sunday Focus on the Bible. My name is Nollie Malabuyo, Pastor of Big Springs Community Church in Montague. Today, we take a break from our study of Biblical mountains. Instead, we will meditate on a holiday that is dear to the hearts of all Americans: Thanksgiving Day.
Let’s go back some 400 years ago, in Plymouth, England. A group of 102 men, women and children wanting to escape religious and civil persecution in England, left for the New World in September 1620. After arriving in what they called the Plimouth Colony in Massachusetts, they hastily settled in for the harsh winter, with little food and provisions. Because of this extreme hardship, by the next summer, there were only 50 survivors left who enjoyed a good harvest. On December 13, 1621, the Pilgrims began a three-day harvest festival of wild turkey, duck, geese, venison, lobsters, clams, bass, corn, vegetables, and dried fruits, together with 90 Wampanoag Indians. This harvest thanksgiving festival was actually preceded by a few other thanksgiving services held by new settlers in the New World: 1564, Huguenots (French Reformers) in Jacksonville, Florida; 1607, English settlers in Maine; 1610, in Jamestown, Virginia; and 1619, in Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia. Although these were also thanksgiving services, the widely-held first thanksgiving festival was the one in the Plimouth Colony.
In 1789, after President George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, America celebrated its first Thanksgiving Day. Then in 1863, President Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of November as the annual Thanksgiving Day.
Throughout America, Christian churches have Thanksgiving services, and the hymn that is traditionally known as the Thanksgiving hymn is “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing.” This hymn speaks of the Pilgrims’ thankfulness to God for redeeming them from sufferings and persecution by their enemies. It started out as a secular Dutch folk song given Christian lyrics about 1597 after the Protestants defeated the Roman Catholics in a battle in Holland. In 1894, it was translated into English for a choir. From then on, it became a fixation on Thanksgiving Day:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
Psalm 136 is a psalm of thanksgiving. It might as well be our Thanksgiving Day anthem. Its opening verse sets the theme of thanksgiving to the LORD for his goodness, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Throughout this psalm, the refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever” is repeated. What good things does he thank God for?
In verse 4, the psalmist mentions all of God’s creation, “to him who alone does great wonders.” These “great wonders” include the waters in verse 6, “to him who spread out the earth above the waters”; and “the sun to rule over the day” in verse 8. God also redeemed his people from Egypt, just as he saves his people today from sin, “to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt… and brought Israel out from among them” (verses 10 and 11). Verses 16 and 17 is a thanksgiving for guiding them through all the difficulties and temptations throughout their 40 years of wilderness wandering, “to him who led his people through the wilderness.” Today, he leads his people through sufferings and temptations in this world. Finally, in verses 21, 22 and 25, the singer thanks God for provisions of land and homes, “and [he] gave their land as a heritage”; and for food, “he who gives food to all flesh.”
Today, we are thankful for so many good things that God has given us. But the Bible says that we are to be thankful not only when God sends us good things, but also when sufferings and trials come. So the Apostle Paul encourages us, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18). As we look forward to turkey, football, and family this Thanksgiving Day, here are some prayers of thanksgiving used by many Christian churches all over the world.
A General Thanksgiving: MOST gracious God, accept our thanks and praise for all that You have done for us. We give You our heartfelt thanks and praise for the return of seed-time and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings of Your merciful providence bestowed upon our nation and people.
We thank You for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life. For the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. For setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank You even for those disappointments, failures and broken relationships that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on You alone.
Above all, we thank You for Your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying on the cross, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to life in your kingdom. For the gift of Your Spirit, that we know Christ as Savior and Lord, and make him known to the world; and through him, at all times and in all places, may we give thanks to You in all things. And, we ask that You give us a just sense of these great mercies; such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before You all our days.
A Thanksgiving For Rain: O GOD, our heavenly Father, by whose gracious providence rain descends upon the earth, that it may bring forth fruit for the use of man. We give You our humble thanks that it has pleased You to send us rain, to the great comfort of us Your unworthy servants, and to the glory of Your holy Name.
A Thanksgiving for Plenty: O MOST merciful Father, by Your gracious goodness You have heard the devout prayers of Your people, and turned our want into abundance. We give You humble thanks for this Your special bounty; asking You to continue Your loving-kindness unto us, that our land may yield us her fruits of increase, to Your glory and our comfort.
A Thanksgiving for a Recovery from Sickness: O GOD, You are the giver of life, health, and safety: We bless Your Name, that You have been pleased to deliver your servants from bodily sickness, who now desire to return thanks unto You, in the presence of Your people. You are gracious, O Lord, and full of compassion to the children of men. May our hearts be duly impressed with a sense of Your merciful goodness, and may we devote the rest of our days to a humble, holy, and obedient walking before You.
A Thanksgiving for Peace, and Deliverance from our Enemies: ALMIGHTY God, a strong tower of defense unto Your servants against the face of their enemies; We give You praise and thanksgiving for our deliverance from those great and imminent dangers that surround us. We acknowledge that it is of Your goodness that we were not delivered as a prey unto them; and we ask You to still continue Your mercies towards your Church, that all the world may know that You are our Savior and mighty Deliverer.
LET US PRAY: ALMIGHTY God, who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly pray that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Your favor. Bless us with industry, prosperity, learning, and purity of life. Save us from discord and violence, and from pride and arrogance. Preserve us from public calamities, pestilence, and famine; from war, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; and especially from national sins and corruption. And if you so choose to send us these things to remind us of your sovereign rule and of our evil ways, forgive us of our sins and restore us when we repent. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with wisdom those in authority, that justice and peace may prevail. Make us strong and great in the fear of God, and in the love of righteousness. In prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in trouble do not permit our trust in You to fail.
And we humbly pray that, enjoying Your gifts in contentment, we may be enabled by Your grace to use them to Your praise. We thank You especially for Your great love in sending Your Son to be Your people’s Savior, and in calling us out of our sins into fellowship with him. And may You always fill us with Your Holy Spirit, through Whom we may grow continually in thankfulness toward You, into the likeness of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, with Your and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.