I was recently doing morning devotions with my children, pondering the upcoming holidays. I was trying, like all good homeschooling moms, to weave in some wonderful history lesson that would help bring meaning to the Scriptures, and also somehow benefit the rest of our homeschooling lessons. I was thinking about Thanksgiving and how much I wanted to not only make my children aware of the reason for our American holiday—to celebrate the pilgrims’ first harvest—but to also show the greater reason for rejoicing that day. Our forefathers were not only thankful for the meager crops that were gleaned that first year of breaking and working this new land’s hard soil, they were also thankful for the new relationships formed with the natives living in the land who had selflessly helped them. Also as they remembered the suffering that they had endured, they were grateful to have ultimately survived.
They weren’t sharing in their abundance of food, but of life. They really didn’t have an overabundance of crops that first harvest. They barely had enough, and compared to what they had one year prior, it was much to be thankful for. That first year had brought the death of one out of every three people that had journeyed to that new colony. Every person that sat at that first celebratory table was grieving the loss of a family member. Many had lost their entire families through that first harsh winter and the year of back-breaking labor. But the ones who sat at the table that day were alive. And they knew the abundant life that Christ had promised. They had set their hearts toward the freedom promised in following after God’s word and truth, and after great suffering, they now sat in the fullness of knowing the reality of God’s promises.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, in as much as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. I Peter 4:12-13 (KJV)
As the colonists sat there, they were celebrating a turning point in their journey. They were no longer wayward pilgrims setting out to find a place to worship their God without persecution. They were setting down roots in a place where they were able to freely worship. They were able to rejoice in all their suffering, both through the persecutions that had driven them to this land and the loss that had accompanied the journey. Through suffering, they had seen God’s glory and experienced His grace. Their newfound freedom wasn’t just in a new land—it was in a new life. A life filled with persecution and pain, sorrow and loss, hard work and harvest. A life filled with the hope of eternity set into their hearts regardless of their surroundings or circumstances. They had sought after their God and had been rewarded with an abundance of Him!
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)
The pilgrims were experiencing an abundance of life in Christ, which Jesus had promised. This life is also promised to us today. When we can give thanks to God for wherever we may find ourselves in life, we will experience the great power of the Holy Spirit of God allowing us to live life abundantly. We can begin to move in the fruit of that Spirit which is the harvest of thanks given unto God for the trials we endure.
I looked at the year my own family has just lived out. We have had many blessings, and much pain. We’ve buried those we loved very much. And we have welcomed new family members with rejoicing. We have seen dear friends move away and faced the uncertainty of my husband’s retiring from the military. But through it all, regardless of whether it seemed we had pain or plenty, we have plodded along rising each day trusting that our God has a plan for us. We have, as a family, chosen to give thanks to God regardless of our circumstances.
Thanksgiving, the holiday, seemingly is the thanks for the pilgrims’ first harvest. But I would suggest that the thanks given by the pilgrims to their God, brought about the harvest of the fruit of the Spirit within their lives! We do give thanks for the many gifts of God, but more often than not, giving thanks brings forth the greater gifts—the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control. These are the things that I think were celebrated that day, so many years ago. The sacrifices and sufferings of Christ first laid down that we might know how to walk in the way He calls us to walk through our own trials. As we walk through trials, we might learn to give thanks and find our strength for our journey through His Spirit with an abundant harvest.
As we seek the harvest of the fruits of the Spirit within our own lives and the lives of our children, let us purpose to give thanks this holiday season. May we rejoice in our lives, wherever we are. May we purpose to set an example to our children as we set our tables this season—just as our forefathers did so many years ago. Give thanks and watch the abundant fruit grow forth and the fields ripen with the harvest we are called to work and enjoy.