Along with the feasting and games involving the colonists and more than 80 friendly Indians (who added to the feast by bringing wild turkeys and venison), prayers, sermons, and songs of praise were important in the celebration. Three days were spent in feasting and prayer.
From that time forward, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a day to give thanks to God for His gracious and sufficient provision. President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November, in 1863, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father. In 1941, Congress ruled that after 1941, the fourth Thursday of November be observed as Thanksgiving Day and be a legal holiday.
Scripturally, you find things related to the issue of thanksgiving nearly from cover to cover. You find individuals offering up sacrifices out of gratitude in the book of Genesis. You find the Israelites singing a song of thanksgiving as they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Later, the Mosaic Law set aside three times each year when the Israelites were to gather together. All three of these times [Unleavened Bread (also called the Feast of the Passover) (Exodus 12:15-20), Harvest or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36)] involved remembering Gods provision and grace. Harvest and Tabernacles took place specifically in relation to Gods provision in the harvest of various fruit trees and crops. The book of Psalms is packed full of songs of thanksgiving, both for Gods grace to the Israelite people as a whole through His mighty deeds, as well as for His individual graces to each of us.
In the New Testament, there are repeated admonitions to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving is to always be a part of our prayers. Some of the most remembered passages on the giving of thanks are the following:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).
It is also interesting to note that one of the charges brought against mankind universally is that, although we have an innate knowledge of God and of His provisions to us, we are unthankful (Romans 1:18-21). This is brought out in one pastors attempt in trying to illustrate the importance of sharing with those having less than we have. He had asked the children to come to the front and sit in the front pew on both sides of the church. Then he began to hand out a few M&Ms to the children on one side and none to the children on the other side. After doing so, he stood back and asked if they noticed anything wrong. One child, on the side having the candy, piped up, and indicating the child next to him, said, Yeah, you gave him three, and you only gave me two! So, too often, instead of noticing all that we have been given and being thankful for it and sharing it with others, we focus on what we dont have instead.
Of all of Gods gifts, the greatest one He has given is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid our sin debt, so a holy and just Judge could forgive us our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift. This gift is available to those who will call on Christ to save them from their sin in simple but sincere faith (John 3:16; Romans 3:19-26; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:13; Ephesians 2:8-10). For this gift of His Son, meeting our greatest need, the Apostle Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
We, like the Pilgrims, have a choice: in life there will always be those things that we can complain about (the Pilgrims had lost many loved ones), but there will also be much to be thankful for. As our society becomes increasingly secular, I am afraid that the actual giving of thanks to God during our annual Thanksgiving Holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting. May God grant that He may find us grateful every day for all of His gifts, spiritual and material. God is good, and every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). For those who know Christ, God also works everything together for good, even events we would not necessarily consider good (Romans 8:28-30). May He find us to be His grateful children.