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The origins of Thanksgiving

Psalm 107

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!

His faithful love endures forever.

Like most American Holidays, Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) was founded by Christians. Not only was it founded by Christians it’s origin story is one of revival and salvation coming to a desperate, humble and prayerful people totally reliant on their faith in Jesus.

Most think of thanksgiving as simply Pilgrims thanking the Natives of the new world, for teaching them how to farm and harvest at Plymouth Colony. This is only half true. Yes without the help of the Native Americans the pilgrims would have had a terrible time adjusting to the new world where the Mayflower landed. Yes, the pilgrims were certainly thankful for the help and graciousness of their new friends, no doubt about it. These brush strokes of the story don’t paint the full picture of why we stop to give thanks as a nation for one day each year. The origins of thanksgiving is a faith filled story that reveals the heart of the Pilgrims and the intentions of their colony at Plymouth.

William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony, writes in his memoir his own first hand account for the reason for the first Thanksgiving. He also explains that the purpose for the Mayflower’s trip was to establish and spread the gospel in the new world. The Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower as missionaries prepared to give their lives to preaching the Gospel in what we know today as America.

Bradford goes on to say that in the summer of 1623, the Pilgrims carefully planted crops of corn were in danger of a severe drought. This drought lasted from the beginning of March until the middle of July. If the drought continued and their corn was destroyed, the Pilgrims undoubtedly would have died from starvation. These English missionaries had been led by their zeal for God into a wilderness situation.

As the pilgrims saw that their withered crop of corn was about to die from extreme heat and dehydration, they had only one choice. Braford and other leaders of the colony decided to call a day of solemn assembly and prayer to Jesus for salvation. Like the many days prior, the scheduled day of prayer was marked with heat and clear skies from early morning until the end of midday. Then evening came, and to the praying Pilgrims and Native Americans who were watching in amazement, clouds formed and it began to rain. It shocked the Natives because they knew pop-up rain storms in summer usually come as a torrent that can typically damage weak crops, such as the pilgrims dying corn. This was not the case for the Pilgrims. Bradford describes this rain as a gentle sweet rain that completely soaked the dry ground. As the corn was revived, the Natives watched as the Pilgrims rejoiced and praised their God who had undoubtedly sent a reviving rain. This caused Bradford and the other grateful colony leaders to declare a day of thanksgiving. This day would become the annual holiday that you and I celebrate each year.

Although history revisionists typically omit these details from Bradford’s memoirs in their retelling of this sacred Holidays origin, the reality is our great nation has always been founded on prayer and dependence on God.

When desperate men and women come to God in prayer and humility, He is faithful to send reviving rain.

The same is true for today. Like Bradford and the other Pilgrims when we place our salvation and hope solely in God and humble ourselves; He is faithful to send us the reviving rain and reveal Himself through us to those around us, who don’t yet know Him.

So how does this apply to us today? Obviously it gives us a new perspective on this wonderful Holiday. May I suggest that this story also gives us a new perspective on the way we view the crisis and unfavorable events we find ourselves in? Maybe God has led you to a place where you have no other choice but to humble yourself and lean totally on Him. If this is the case then your humility in the midst of the trial is an opportunity to reveal Himself to unbelievers around you. Sometimes in the kingdom faith looks like trusting in no other option but crying out to the King. As we do this we are then given the opportunity to step back and give thanks while He does what only He can do. What would our nation look like if we drew from the experience of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. What if we stopped relying on the institutions and schemes of man, and simply humble ourselves before God. What would it look like if we truly became a desperate praying people solely dependent on our King Jesus. My guess is that God would do what He has always done. He would send the reviving rain.


Pastor John

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