In 1863, the Civil War was in progress when Abraham Lincoln made a Thanksgiving Day proclamation asking U. S. citizens to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise.” Special days of thanksgiving had been observed in the colonies for centuries beginning with the pilgrim thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Wampanoag people in 1621. It wasn’t until 1941 that Congress finally designated the fourth Thursday in November as “Thanksgiving Day” thus creating a federal holiday. What are the benefits of thanksgiving, and I don’t mean just the holiday?
A person’s belief system affects how they observe and participate in the holiday. As America has become more prosperous and science and technology have made our lives more comfortable, we have bought into the idea that we are the sole controllers of what we have and what we will have in the future. “Survival of the fittest” has led to a mindset that we must be the fittest in every area of life. Some religions have adopted this mantra to justify the extermination of those who are not part of their faith. Genocide, abortion, euthanasia, racism, and abuse of all kinds are rooted in the mindset that “survival of the fittest” produces.
God has always encouraged His children to view thanksgiving as essential. In Leviticus 22:29, God told the Israelites to participate in a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Jesus Christ in Matthew 5-7. turned the notion of survival of the fittest upside down. He gave statement after statement about behaviors and beliefs that did not promote the survival of the individual but submission to and promotion of others. In Ephesians 5:4, Paul takes all of the loose talk, crudeness, and covetous behavior and says, “Instead let there be thanksgiving.”
So what are the benefits of thanksgiving? I don’t mean just the holiday but the daily and weekly way we think and act? Look at the living things all around and the stars and planets in the night sky. Look at family and friends. Look in the mirror and reflect on how blessed we are to be alive. A person who is not looking to how they can subdue someone else or get what someone else has is a person who is at peace. When Jesus calls us to live at peace with everyone, turn the other cheek, give to others, and show mercy and gratitude to others, He calls us to the real, meaningful things in life.
Nobody likes to be involved in stress, fighting, bickering, and war. As long as “survival of the fittest” is our key to living, those destructive drives will be a part of our makeup. They jeopardize our health, our relationships, and our joy at being alive.
A key to joyous living is one of the benefits of thanksgiving. An attitude of gratitude should be a daily, hourly activity. Pause to give thanks every time you eat. Spend some time looking at your family and those around you. For the past four days, we have talked about faith in God as a foundation for our lives. With that faith, you can be thankful that God has made you a person who doesn’t have to live in fear of death and dying. Rejoice in the knowledge that this life is only a small snippet of our total existence.
— John N. Clayton © 2020