I want to revisit Thanksgiving for a moment. The great fall festival of feasting and football is past us now, but I fear that many people missed the whole point of the holiday. I can tell you that in the context of my job, I spoke to plenty of people who didn’t sound very thankful. I was reflecting on what I am thankful for and why, and it brought me back to the impetus for federalizing the holiday in the first place.
Some form of Thanksgiving had been a common custom both in the United States as well as many other cultures by the time Abraham Lincoln made it official. In the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving decree because he felt that if the citizenry were spiritually adrift, they would not be able to call on the assistance of God in their plight (“the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” James 5:16b). In his proclamation, Lincoln pointed out the good, accepted the bad, and asked that everyone be thankful for it all. See if you can relate with me as I try to apply this to myself…
What do I have to complain about?
– I don’t have a whole lot of money right now
– There are some people that have frustrated me as of late
– I’m not particularly satisfied with my current career path
– I could stand to lose some weight
– The wrong guy got elected
– I wish my fantasy football team was doing better right now
Please understand I offer the previous list to make a point. I have personally complained about these (and other) things either internally or to friends and family. Normally I would relent from mentioning them here, except I hope for you to find a common ground in what I’m working through. Do you see any of these things in your life, and more importantly, have you moaned or groaned about them lately?
These are real issues that do or have bothered me. Lincoln had some real issues that he was facing, too. His happened to be horrific death and destruction in the country which he was chosen to lead. In either case, the decision to have a right attitude before God and men does not lie in resolving the issues, but changing how we look at them.
1. Find the good / God’s grace
Every good gift is from above, but so many of those gifts are ignored or taken for granted. Lincoln pointed to the expansion of the nation, peace abroad and away from the battlefields, and general prosperity. Let me see if I can find any good in my life:
– We have enough money to meet our needs without major debt
– I have family all around that loves me
– I have a job
– I have no serious health concerns
– Our election cycle did not end in riots or bloodshed, as happens in other parts of the world
– I have a winning record in my fantasy league
I wonder why it is hard for us to dwell on the good gifts that we have. I would be willing to wager that if we are honest with ourselves, we might find that it is pride. To acknowledge good gifts from above is to acknowledge that we had nothing to do with everything good in our lives. God is in control and he delivers his grace in the measures that he chooses. It is a humbling thing to recognize that we are powerless to better our condition.
2. Accept the bad / God’s mercy
If we stop at the first step, we are merely “Pollyanna’s” who cover up the bad news with any good news we can find. We still need to address the root cause of our complaining, which happens to be a familiar problem… pride.
Why do we complain? What is the attitude of a complainer? What we essentially are saying is that we deserve better than whatever it is we are stuck with. That is a total lie. We most certainly do not deserve better. Here’s an excerpt from Lincoln’s proclamation:
“And I recommend to [the citizens of the U.S.A.] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to [God] for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged”
Lincoln essentially states the reason that our country was mired in a bloodbath was due to it’s “perveseness and disobedience”. Now, lest you say he was only referring to the South, consider his second inaugural address in which he was expected to declare victory of the righteous North over the unrighteous South:
“The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ “
Lincoln does not absolve the North of culpability in the cause of the war. In allowing slavery to continue as long as it did, the country was sowing destruction that it was now reaping. He didn’t complain because he knew the country had it coming. Even still, we deserve worse.
For the wages of sin is death. Painful, eternal separation from a loving Creator. And I want to whine about money. How dare we?
We should thank God daily we aren’t sent into the pit of destruction for what we have done to Him and His Son.
Please remember Thanksgiving. Consider that you have been saved from so much worse and you have been given so much better. Let that drive your attitude and live a life that proclaims the mercy and grace of our Loving Lord the entire year.