By Dr. Geraldine R. Bowie
“I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalms 34:1)
Giving thanks to our heavenly father for his many blessings is something we should do every day. However, in our nation a special day, Thanksgiving Day, has been designated to give thanks. Let me give you a brief historical review of how this all came about.
The first time of celebrating was done by Pilgrims in 1621 at Plymouth, Mass. These were devout people who had endured great hardships. Many of them had lost loved ones in their process of coming to America and building their lives here. To celebrate their good harvest following many of the hardships and deaths they had incurred, their chosen Governor, William Bradford, called for a day of feasting. This was the first Thanksgiving; it was attended by about 40 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans (Indians). That was the first Thanksgiving in this country.
However, Thanksgiving was not proclaimed a national holiday until much later at the persistence of a woman named Sarah Hale. President Lincoln appointed the last Thursday of November, 1864, as Thanksgiving Day; but it was not ratified by Congress as an official American holiday until 1941.
Even though the importance of giving thanks began in this country in its early beginnings, giving thanks is often spoken of in God’s Word as far back as in the time of Moses when God gave Moses instructions for the Feast of Harvest. Deuteronomy 16:15 saying specifically, “Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.”
Over and over again in God’s Word we read of the importance of praising God for His goodness. Psalm 107: 8 says, “O that men would praise the Lord for His wonderful works to the children of men and verse 27, “And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving and declare His works with rejoicing.” In Colossians 3:17 we read, “Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
A story is told of a son driving home for the first time from college. He began having car trouble and had to stop in a town several hundred miles from his home at a service station in a strange town. He called his parents to let them know what had happened to his car and where he was. His mother was worried; she had thought about the many bad things that could happen: the mechanic might cheat him in repairs because he was a stranger and obviously young, someone could hurt him, etc. She told him her fears while talking over the phone. His father, who was a minister, took the phone from his nervous wife and asked to speak to the owner of the service station. His wife noticed how friendly the conversation seemed to become. Naturally the wife was anxious because the conversation sounded, from what she was hearing, like old friends catching up on events. When her husband hung up the phone, he turned to his wife and said that their son would be on his way very soon. The father went on to say, “Remember when I preached in Macon last year, the owner of the station belongs to that church and he remembered me and promised to make our son’s car his priority.” The husband told his wife that our son is in good hands and he will be taken care of. The wife’s anxiety left, and she began to thank God because out of all the places he could have stopped he stopped at the perfect station where he would be cared for by a friend—a friend they didn’t know they had. Her anxiety was for nothing. God tells us in his Word, “And it shall come to pass that before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:24) We can count it a blessing that we serve a God who often provides for our needs even before we know that we need them.
An area we often neglect when counting our blessings is when problems or bad circumstances occur in our lives. Story is told of a man who was a handy man; he could barely make ends meet. He was very poor but was always joyful and praising God. Unfortunately, many of his neighbors and some people around him did not like the fact that he was always praising the Lord even though he lived in dire circumstances. He was always upbeat and praising God. One winter day this man had done enough odd jobs shoveling snow and spreading salt on ice to secure enough money to finally buy that steak he had always wanted for so long. So off he went, happily, to the butcher to purchase the steak. Unfortunately, when he came out of the meat shop he slipped on a patch of ice and fell. The package he had containing the steak flew out of his hand. Just at that time a big dog came along and picked it up and ran off with it between his teeth. Some of his neighbors saw this and began to taunt him by saying, “Well what are you going to say to God now that what you worked so hard for is gone–that steak you had wanted for so long.” Instead of being angry or upset, the man replied, “I don’t have the steak and I don’t have the money to buy another one, but I thank God I still have my appetite.”
We may not have all we want, we may not be able to do all we used to do; but we still have much to thank God for. We still have blessings to count. Yes, trials are blessings too. We need an attitude of gratitude. Oftentimes the problems and the trials we go through make us stronger and better displays of God’s glory. To make this fact clearer, let me use the analogy to a bar of steel. A bar of steel is worth $5. When it is worked or beaten into horseshoes, it is worth $10. When it is made into needles, it is worth is $350. When it is worked into penknife blades, it is worth $32,000. If it is made into springs for watches, it is worth $250,000. Just think of what a drilling and beating that poor bar of steel must undergo to be worth a higher value. The more it is manipulated, the more it is hammered, and the more it passes through the fire, the greater the value.
On the campus of Cornerstone University, every autumn the university gives a big Thanksgiving Feast. The students really love it and they play a special game at their tables. They challenge each other to name something they are thankful for in three seconds or less without repeating what someone else had said. Anyone who hesitates is out of the game.
There are all kinds of things that the students could choose to gripe about, but these students chose to be thankful. While there will always be things to complain about, if we look carefully, we will see that there are always blessings to be thankful for. Like the students, we can make the choice to have an attitude of thankfulness.
Those who suffer most are capable of yielding the most. Sometimes it is through pain that God can get the most out of us. The Apostle Paul is a good biblical example, for we read in II Corinthians how he had asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh. God did not; He told Paul instead that His grace was sufficient and that His strength was made perfect in weakness. Paul’s response to God’s answer to him was, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Like Paul, we often go to God with our requests for help and release from bad circumstances; but how often do we go to Him and thank Him for the lessons we can learn from these problems.
The famous theologian, Matthew Henry–the author of the famous commentary on the Bible, was once mugged and robbed of his wallet. He wrote in his journal about the incident: “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life; third, because although they took all of my money, it was not much; and fourth, I am also thankful because it was I who was robbed, not I who did the robbing. “ Count your blessings and choose to have an attitude of gratitude, even in bad circumstances.
In counting our blessings, first and foremost we thank God for his love shown by sending His Son to die for us. Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And then we can be thankful for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit and God leaving his written Word.
A secret to happiness is counting our blessings while offering thanks to God. This special reading sums this up nicely: “Happiness is something you create in your mind, not something you search for but can’t seem to find; not something that’s purchased with silver and gold, not something that force can capture and hold; it’s just waking up and beginning each day by counting your blessings and bowing to pray; it’s giving up thoughts that breed discontent and accepting what comes as a gift heaven sent; it’s giving up wishing for things you have not and making the best with whatever you’ve got; it’s knowing that life is determined and planned, and that God holds the world in the palm of His hand; and it’s by completing what God gives you to do that you find contentment and happiness too.”
Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire; if you did, what would there be to look forward to? Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn. Be thankful for the difficult times; during those times you grow. Be thankful for your limitations; they give you opportunities for improvement and will also help you to be sensitive to others. Be thankful for each new challenge which will build your strength and character. Be thankful for your mistakes; they will teach you valuable lessons. Be thankful when you’re tired and weary because it means you have given your all. It’s easy to be thankful for the good things; yet, a life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are thankful for the setbacks. An attitude of gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Let us decide to find a way to be thankful for our troubles and they can become our blessings.
Johnson Oatman, Jr., wrote the hymn “Count your Blessings” in 1897. It is considered one of his finest hymns and is sung all over the world. This wonderful hymn is one of encouragement. It encourages us to acknowledge that we have problems–not to ignore them, but to bring them to God in prayer–no matter how big or small.
It will surprise you what the Lord hath done
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done