Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, established the annual celebration of Thanksgiving. Lincoln had learned how important it is to stop and thank God even in the midst of great difficulties. Lincoln wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
While many bible passages list things for which we should be thankful, I especially enjoy thinking about the abundance of blessings Paul reveals for the family of God at Corinth. At a time when they were plagued with various problems Paul reminds them of the many blessings they had in Christ. In I Corinthians 3:21-23 Paul wrote, “Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
The Corinthians were evidently limiting their enjoyment of blessings by thinking too narrowly about God’s provisions for them. They need not choose among teachers as to their favorites; all belonged to them! Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (Peter) were all a great blessing for which they could be thankful. The world was their own--as a place in which to live, to serve, to use, and to enjoy as they prepared for heaven.
Life belonged to them in a special way. Jesus came that they might have life abundantly (John 10:10). Life is sacred to the Christian because of its beginning, its meaning, its privileges, and its destiny. Christians, above all others, should understand what life is all about! Peter wrote in I Peter 3:10-12, “For 'He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.' "
Death should be comprehended by the Christian in a way that non-christians cannot understand. The child of God knows that we share in Christ’s victory over death (Hebrews 2:14-15). The Christian is assured that "...God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
Present spiritual blessings should move us to thanksgiving. Redemption through Christ, forgiveness of sins, peace that is beyond understanding, God’s Spirit in our lives, the promise of assistance from angels (Hebrews 1:14), the wonderful encouragement from those who love us... the list could go on. "Things to come" are ours. The joy of happy anticipation (hope) is an on-going blessing that stabilizes our souls. The Hebrew writer writes that our hope is anchored in the character of God (who cannot lie) who has promised us the joys of heaven. Such a hope is "sure and steadfast" and will sustain us until we enter into His presence.
May we truly “count our blessings,” not only in this Thanksgiving season, but that we be those who are “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)
Johnson Oatman, in his song "Count Your Many Blessings" has written:
"So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end"