Faith arises when a person hears God speak a promise and then responds to that promise by believing that He will do what He said He would do. So real faith is relational, not conceptual. Its founded on the character and power of the Person who spoke to us, not on our own determination to affirm a truth and refuse all doubts. And by its very nature faith usually focuses on the future, but there are also areas where we must exercise faith toward the past by believing God did what the Bible says He did. I think faith is meant to be much simpler than we tend to make it. Many of us have tried to generate faith by confessing a truth and persistently pushing all doubts out of our minds, and indeed there are times when we will struggle against doubt while waiting for an answer. But its in that struggle that relational faith shows itself to be different from self-generated conceptual faith. The person who has heard from God is able to fall back on a simple but immovable fact, But I know He said this and I trust Him! Their confidence is based on the Person who spoke to them. In whatever way he or she heard Him speak, and there are many different ways this can happen, a level of trust was formed which is so strong they are able to keep believing even when the answer turns out to be very different from the one that was expected.
No human response better expresses genuine faith than thanks. When we thank God we are recognizing Him as the Source of the good things in our lives (Jas 1:17). Saying thank you acknowledges that we are indebted to Him, that He gave us something good we didnt deserve. It announces that a blessing has arrived, that a promise has been fulfilled. And when such answers come, it is only right to turn to Him and give thanks (Lk 17:11-19). But it is also possible to thank Him for things that havent happened yet, or to choose to thank Him when events are unfolding in a way we dont understand. In those moments we focus our thanks more on who He is than what we can see. The arrival of what He has promised is confessed to be as good as done (Ro 4:16-22). It might be said that faith is never more real than when it gives thanks to God in the darkest hours (Ac 16:23-26).
The pilgrims at Plymouth must have had this kind of faith because otherwise how could they have given thanks to God in the midst of such adversity. They thanked Him for His loving care though they had just endured a great struggle, both physical and spiritual, and were undoubtedly going to endure more. But they didnt condemn themselves and decide that the hardship was their fault, nor did they accuse God of failing to protect them. They focused on what He had provided, not on what they lacked. And because of that attitude joy arose. They didnt mutter thanks; they celebrated Gods goodness with a great feast, especially focusing on the fact that those who had died would be waiting for them in heaven. It would have been so easy to become bitter toward God because so many had died. But they didnt. Why? Because they had a genuine relationship with Him. They still trusted Him. They saw the situation they were in as a spiritual battle. They saw the sickness, the troubles, even the deaths as painful but necessary elements in winning that war. They didnt fixate on whether or not they got just what they asked for, but on the eternal plan of God in which He will make all things right. In other words they thanked God not only for preserving some of them from dying, but for the certainty of heaven for the dead. They thanked God by faith. They honored Him as faithful after incredible hardships and as victorious when the war wasnt over yet. Like Abraham and Sarah before them these pilgrims didnt see this earth as their final destination. They too were looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10).
Remembering their story
Peter Marshall, David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977, pp.106-144.
Puritans and Separatists
There were two movements of fanatics in the Church of England: Puritans who wanted to purify the church from within while continuing to submit to church authority and Separatists who believed the Church of England was corrupted beyond any possibility of purification. They believed the church could only be under the headship of Christ, not the queen. They wanted to separate from the official church and conduct their own worship services. They wanted to remove the liturgy and replace it with primitive preaching, teaching, singing and a personal encounter with Christ. The danger was that they would start a movement which was beyond the control of the bishops. When Queen Elizabeth died, her successor James I (KJV) gave the bishops a fierce hand to crush the Separatists. They were hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges and driven underground. They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied on. Persecution finally reached the point where they sought religious asylum in Holland (paraphrased from The Light and the Glory).
They came to the city of Leyden as near-penniless foreign immigrants. They qualified for only the most menial labor and had to work extremely hard just to survive. By 1619 after nearly a dozen years of toil, they finally decided they had to move again. Their life was so hard: 1) almost no others were coming from England to join them; 2) their life was aging them pre-maturely (working 12-15 hours per day) (if they did not move soon they might become physically unable to do so); 3) their children were being worn down and lured by the temptations of the world around them and 4) they wanted to carry the light of Christ to remote parts of the world. Increasingly they came to believe that America was the place God wanted them in spite of the reports of suffering that had reached their ears. They knew that the death rate at Jamestown colony was still well over 50 percent.
But getting to America was another question. Just the cost of transporting them would be enormous, to say nothing of the expense of sufficient food supplies to last them until they could grow and harvest a crop. And they also needed a fishing boat and tools. So families sold their homes and all their immovable possessions, and they looked for a group of investors to sponsor them, which led to an involvement with greedy, dishonest men. The Mayflower, the ship that was hired by their sponsors, could only take a third of their 600 plus congregation. That meant that their pastor John Robinson would have to stay behind with the main body of the flock. So it was decided that elder William Brewster would be their teacher and acting pastor until such a time as Robinson could come over. When the time came to depart, Robinson declared a day of prayer and fasting to prepare them for the voyage. Then at the end of the day they had a farewell dinner with goose and pudding and singing their favorite psalms. The next morning as many as could went by barge to the harbor at Delfshaven. William Bradford wrote, They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things (comfort, safety) but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits. On the dock John Robinson slowly knelt, and all the others followed his lead. As he invoked Gods blessings, tears came to all their eyes, and even the young men wept unabashedly. Quickly they boarded the ship (the Speedwell) and the crew cast off. They sailed to Southampton, England and joined the 90-ton Mayflower. There were about 80 strangers, also sailing on the Mayflower, brought into the project by the investors. After several failed attempts the Speedwell was left behind and the number was reduced to those who could be squeezed onto the Mayflower. By mid-August, 1620, they got underway (paraphrase from The Light and the Glory).
Narration (The Light and the Glory, pp. 117-144)
A national holiday
Even though the pilgrims hosted the first thanksgiving dinner in America, the holiday itself wasnt formally declared for 170 years, until after the Revolutionary War had been won and our American Constitution had been adopted. In 1789 Congress approved the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, and then recommended a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to thank God for blessing America. President George Washington declared November 26, 1789 as the first national day of prayer and thanksgiving to the Lord.
Another 75 years later, after the Civil war ended, President Abraham Lincoln established the last Thursday in November as a day to acknowledge the gracious gifts of the Most High God bestowed upon America. Every president did the same until 1941 when Congress officially made Thanksgiving a national holiday (paraphrased from an article in the National Liberty Journal, November, 2004, written by David C. Gibbs Jr. and David C. Gibbs III, entitled, The True Origin of Thanksgiving).
Celebrating Thanksgiving (suggestions)
1) Its a national holiday, not a family holiday. As a nation we thank God for all He has provided, recognizing Him as our Source.
2) Dont eat alone, if possible. Add places to your table and invite those who might not have a place to go. Or invite someone to join you at a restaurant. Have turkey (or venison) unless youre allergic or a vegetarian.
3) Spend time discussing the good things God has done this year and the promises in the Bible for which you are especially thankful.
4) Pray for our country, our church, the church worldwide, those enduring persecution, missionaries and our leaders (national, denominational, congregational).
5) Have a blessed day!