Thanksgiving: Reflection, Gratitude & Warning
by Harry Osborne
From its origin with the Pilgrims, the Thanksgiving holiday in our country called upon all to thank God for His provisions in a new land. Though many today seek to rewrite that history, making the Indians the object of the Pilgrims' thanks rather than God, the clear fact of history is that those early settlers looked to God as their Provider and Sustainer. They saw themselves as being like the Israelites who were sustained by God through a difficult journey and provided for in a land of promise. The Pilgrims saw themselves as leaving a land of spiritual bondage where they were denied the ability to worship God as they believed the Scriptures commanded. The main blessing they sought was not material in nature, but spiritual -- the freedom to worship God without governmental interference. Upon finishing their first year in a new land, the Pilgrims still found themselves in a harsh environment with many obstacles before them and missing about half of their original number, but they still were thankful for His care which allowed them to live in a place where they could worship God freely. While we recognize their beliefs were not always in harmony with God's word, we should respect the priority they placed upon serving God and their thankfulness to Him. That is the heritage upon which our forefathers established the national holiday we celebrated a few days ago. Since the Pilgrims looked to God's guidance of the ancient Israelites as a model for their actions, it would be good for us to reflect upon what the Israelites were taught about the gratitude owed to God and the warning that accompanied the blessings to be enjoyed. The book of Deuteronomy contains a record of Moses teaching the Israelites just before they went into the promised land. They had seen a previous generation die in the wilderness as a result of unbelief. The new generation had been sustained by God in the wilderness in a way that taught them to humbly look to God as their director in all things. In the new land, Moses told them they would be blessed and he called upon them to remember Him from whom all blessings flow: Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you (Deut. 8:1-10). Before anyone can properly appreciate abundant blessings, he needs to be humbled both by hardship and the sustaining hand of grace. That lesson is as essential for every generation to learn today as it was for Israel to learn in the wilderness. We do a disservice to our children and to ourselves if we seek instant gratification for all desires without experiencing the humility of deprivation and the gracious hand of help in time of need. It teaches us to look beyond ourselves -- and it ultimately teaches us to look to God. In every trial and hardship that humbles us, we should be thankful for the opportunity given by God to learn patience and faith (Jas. 1:2-8). In every undeserved blessing we receive, we should recognize that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (Jas. 1:17). Whether with individuals or a nation, this principle is true. But the sad fact is that many forget with the blessings what they learned by the humbling -- they forget their need for God. Moses warned Israel of old about this tendency borne of prosperity: Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end -- then you say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth." And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the LORD your God (Deut. 8:11-20). That ominous reminder should send a chill of soberness up the collective spine of this country! What a vast difference between the Pilgrims' open acknowledgment of and dependence upon God and our present-day denial of God's place in any aspect of public life! To the Pilgrims, the right to worship freely was central. They celebrated the fact that God had given them all things and they dedicated their blessings to furthering their service of Him To our society, the right to a godless lifestyle now seems the preoccupation. Our courts have declared that there can be no tolerance of God in our schools and no place to remember His law in public places. How utterly tragic and how foreboding of our downfall if we continue in this path. While most if not all of us would "Amen" the need for our country to heed the warning which comes with our blessings, are we equally insistent upon the need for us as individuals and families to heed the warning inherent in our blessings? Brethren, we need to take a long, honest, soul-searching look at ourselves and the effect our abundant blessings have had upon us. Have they caused us to give more to the Lord's cause and those in need or whetted our appetite for material greed that subordinates spiritual things as we give greater and greater emphasis to pursuing our own wealth and ease? Have our blessings caused us to purify our lives in service to God, or have they caused us to justify our carnality in service to self? Do we use the gifts God has granted us mainly to grow in knowing Him and bringing others to know Him, or do we use most of them for entertainment and luxury that excludes God from a place of priority in our daily lives? Have our hearts been lifted up along with our bank accounts to forget God? To dismiss the personal application of God's warning about prosperity not only brings our nation closer to the precipice of disaster, it blinds and numbs us in oblivion to reality as our souls journey closer and closer to the Judgment. How sad it would be to let our blessings lead us to a fiery place in hell when they should have helped us look humbly unto God to direct us, our families and others towards a heavenly home. Let us all reflect thankfully and soberly upon the blessings we have received from God and heed the warning inherent in them.