The Lesson of Thanksgiving

On October 3, 1863, less than two years before he was assassinated, President Abraham Lincoln sent a proclamation to the people of the United States. In part, this proclamation said:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God. …

“No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, 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. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … [they] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

Some of us, it seems, still need to learn more of the lesson of thanksgiving to the Lord. As I perform the responsibilities of a pastor, I visit many people whose lives are so filled with difficulty and discouragement that there is nothing for which they are thankful. But God says His mercies and blessings toward each one of us are more than the hairs of our head. And though we today, like America in 1863, are in terrible trouble, it does not mean that we should not, cannot, be thankful.

On October 20, 1906, Ellen White gave a lengthy sermon to the Oakland Adventist church in California. The sermon was based on Romans 15 and she gave a specific counsel 22 times, in a number of different ways. Do you think if you said something to someone that many times that they might get the point? When you first look at this sermon, one might think that it really doesn’t have much to do with thankfulness or thanksgiving. But sometimes the best way to learn what something is, is to start from the opposite direction. Let’s read Romans 15:1–3:

“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’ ”

We find a tremendous amount of instruction in these three verses. We are not to live simply to please ourselves, but should ask how we can please someone else. We are not to live to make ourselves happy; instead we are to live to bring happiness to others. How you live your life makes all the difference in your outlook on life. Jesus didn’t live to please Himself. He came, with a determined commitment, to do something for us that we could not do for ourselves.

Romans 15:5–7 says, “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” Notice Paul says, “be like-minded toward one another.” If we are following God, we should not be of half-a-dozen different or a great variety of minds. To better explain these verses Mrs. White asks a question and provides the answer:

“What does this injunction entail? It places us under obligation to God. It leaves us where we must understand that we are amenable to Him alone. It leads us to realize that when the Holy Spirit is abiding in our hearts and working through us, we shall love one another, in the place of manifesting animosity toward one another.” The Review and Herald, December 13, 1906

Animosity toward others seems to be a natural trait of our fallen human nature. But when we receive the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we begin to love other people rather than harbor feelings of animosity toward them. “My dear brethren and sisters, God is not pleased with a spirit of criticism and faultfinding.” Ibid. Having a spirit of criticism and faultfinding is the opposite of thanksgiving.

There are many people who have a lot to eat on Thanksgiving Day, but they do not have a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude because they have a completely opposite spirit. We need to ask ourselves if we truly have a spirit of thanksgiving or a spirit of criticism and faultfinding. We cannot have both and if we have the spirit of thanksgiving, there will be no dissension among God’s children.

The strongest evidence of the truth of the three angels’ messages is a people in harmony and unity with Christ and with each other. This would demonstrate that God does have a people in the world because at present, there is only a thin veneer over harmony and unity. There is no real spirit of harmony or unity; the hearts of the people are not knit together. Underneath that veneer there is only dissension and bickering, even among those who claim to be God’s elect.

Jesus prayed in John 17:20–23, pleading with the Father that His followers might be one as He and the Father are one. But so many, while attempting to give the impression of harmony and unity, are filled with dissension. If this describes us, then we must have a new life. We must become dead to self and by the power of the Holy Spirit be made new.

“… keep the mind fixed on Jesus. Keep the heart uplifted in prayer to God. Behold Jesus and what He endured and suffered for us in order that we might have that life which measures with the life of God. How can any of us wear our nerves on the outside, ready to break forth into disaffection if every movement made by someone else is not in exact accordance with our ideas? All this super-sensitiveness is to be put away.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, 363

“… it is time now that we were looking unto Jesus to see whether we are reflecting His image. It is time now that we put away everything that will grieve the Holy Spirit of God–divisions, dissensions, faultfinding, incriminations. God wants us to come to the light, that our light may shine forth in good works. Let the praise of God be in heart and voice.” Ibid., 365

It isn’t enough to just feel thankful; you have to express thankfulness. Thanksgiving and praise will be a large part of the tremendous bliss and joy that the people of God will experience in heaven, because they will be praising the Lord and will be thankful to Him all the time.

“Let us cherish a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving. We want our faces shining, reflecting the glory of God.” Ibid. Then you will speak about God’s goodness and praise His holy name. We will not spend our time dwelling on negative things and the imperfections of others.

Do you know what happens to the person who dwells on the negative or the imperfections of other people? They actually take on the imperfections they dwell upon. It is astonishing that in the process of studying the defects of character in someone else, we will become like those defects as well.

“We may make mistakes, and we may have to ‘admonish one another.’ But there has come into the churches at Oakland and the surrounding community a spirit of backbiting, of faultfinding and evil-speaking, which demonstrates that you are not converted. Words are uttered that never should pass the lips of a Christian. My brethren and sisters, when you have nothing better to speak of than something about the faults of others, remember that ‘silence is eloquence.’ Cease to dwell upon the shortcomings of others. Keep the tongue sanctified unto God. Refrain from saying anything that might detract from the influence of another; for by indulging in these words of criticism, you blaspheme God’s holy name as verily as you would were you to swear. I am instructed to present these things before you, that you may see how you dishonor the name of Christ Jesus.” Ibid., 367

“When I feel oppressed, and hardly know how to relate myself toward the work that God has given me to do, I just call upon the three great Worthies, and say; You know I cannot do this work in my own strength. You must work in me, and by me and through me, sanctifying my tongue, sanctifying my spirit, sanctifying my words, and bringing me into a position where my spirit shall be susceptible to the movings of the Holy Spirit of God upon my mind and character.

“And this is the prayer that every one of us may offer.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, 267, 268

This cannot happen as long as we retain a spirit of criticism and backbiting. If we want to be receptive to the influence of the Holy Spirit, we must develop a spirit of thanksgiving so that the Holy Spirit can change our minds and enable us to speak differently than the people of the world speak. The time we have been given is to be used to glorify God.

Paul describes in Romans 15:14–16 how we are to strive together. We need to learn to work together, strive together in prayers to God and not be looking for faults in one another. He says that instead of entering into conversation that tends to tear down, speak a word of encouragement. Our talent of speech is to be sanctified by God and cleansed from every form of negativity and faultfinding.

Do you know someone with the disposition to quarrel and find fault? This is very serious.

“I feel an intense interest regarding every faultfinder; for I know that a quarrelsome disposition will never find entrance into the city of God. Quarrel with yourself, but with no one else; and then be converted. Confess your sins right here where you are, before you return to your homes. With words of confession, humble your hearts before God.

“When you are tempted to speak unadvisedly, be on guard. If someone else approaches you with words of criticism regarding one of God’s children, turn a deaf ear to every such word. If you are spoken to harshly, never retaliate. Utter not a word. When under provocation, remember that ‘silence is eloquence.’ Silence is the greatest rebuke that you can possibly give a faultfinder or one whose temper is irritated. Keep your eye fixed on Jesus. Keep your eye on the One who never finds fault with you, only to lay before you perils from which He would deliver you.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, 271

“The Lord is anxious to save us. He is anxious that everything separating us from Him should be put away, that our hearts may beat in unison with heaven. It is time to be in harmony with God. Let us spend a little while in clearing the King’s highway. If we have been indulging in the sin of telling others’ faults, let us confess it before the Lord and before our brethren.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, 378

Brothers and sisters, the time is coming when probation will close and if we haven’t overcome this kind of character, we will be lost. “When probation ends, it will come suddenly, unexpectedly—at a time when we are least expecting it.” Last Day Events, 230. It won’t matter if we are Sabbathkeepers. The people who crucified Jesus were Sabbathkeepers. We need to be right with God today, because if we delay, it will be too late.

At the end of her sermon to the Oakland church, Mrs. White offered a long prayer. I will not share the entire prayer, but here are a few lines from it:

“Our heavenly Father, we come to Thee this evening, as our only Refuge, as our only Helper, as the only One who can save us from ourselves. Thou alone can break the iron bands of the heart. Thou alone can cause the blind eyes to discern what sin is.

“Oh, my Father, my Father, the blindness, the terrible blindness, that comes over the people, that they do not discern what manner of character Thou can accept and what Thou wilt be compelled to reject! Oh, that Thou would impress upon all the terrible nature of sin, and how Thou dost regard sin.

“Yet, there are hearts that are becoming more and still more hardened, less and still less sensitive. By familiarity with sin, we lose our sensitiveness as to how awful it is. I pray Thee Lord that they may not go on hardening their hearts any longer.

“I pray Thee that this awful manifestation of self may be broken up. I pray Thee that self may be crucified, and that self may die, in order that there may be a reconversion in the midst of us, and that souls may be brought to humble themselves before Thee, and be reconverted. Break up this hardness of heart! I pray Thee, to melt and subdue the soul. Help them to remove the stumbling blocks out of the way, and to take themselves out of the way. Wilt Thou, Lord, break up this coldness, this iciness, this frozen-heartedness!

“Oh, give them no rest, day or night, until they see the necessity of transformation of character; until they see the necessity of clearing the King’s highway. Oh, help us to be converted. Thou hast a whole heaven of blessings that Thou art waiting to pour out upon a people who are ready to receive it, and use it.” [See Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, 379–382.]

We must learn to have a spirit of thanksgiving, a spirit of praising the Lord and not one of finding fault with everything and everyone. We can spend our entire lives studying and talking about all the many things that are wrong in this world, but we will spiritually destroy ourselves if we do, and we won’t be ready for heaven.

“To praise God in fullness and sincerity of heart is as much a duty as is prayer. We are to show to the world and to all the heavenly intelligences that we appreciate the wonderful love of God for fallen humanity and that we are expecting larger and yet larger blessings from His infinite fullness. … After a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, our joy in the Lord and our efficiency in His service would be greatly increased by recounting His goodness and His wonderful works in behalf of His children.

“These exercises drive back the power of Satan. They expel the spirit of murmuring and complaint, and the tempter loses ground. They cultivate those attributes of character which will fit the dwellers on earth for the heavenly mansions.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 299, 300

This is the experience that will fit us for heaven because part of getting ready for heaven is praising the Lord in a spirit of thankfulness, appreciating the love of God and what He has done to save the human race. We should have regular praise meetings in our homes, just as Jesus did when He worked in the carpenter shop each day. “His praises seemed to drive away the evil angels, and fill the place with sweet fragrance. He carried the minds of His hearers away from their earthly exile to their future, eternal home.

“All this has its lesson for us. We also may commune with God in words of holy song. Our house of worship may be very humble, but it is none the less acknowledged by God. If we worship in spirit, and in truth, and in the beauty of holiness, it will be to us the very gate of heaven. As lessons of the wondrous works of God are repeated, and as the heart’s gratitude is expressed in prayer and song, angels from heaven take up the strain, and unite in praise and thanksgiving to God.” The Review and Herald, October 24, 1899

What is heaven like?

“Heaven is full of joy. It resounds with the praises of Him who made so wonderful a sacrifice for the redemption of the human race.” Heaven, 63

The angels of heaven understand, in a way we do not, the condescension Christ made to come down to this world as a human being. They know what He went through. They know all about the cross and when they see what God has done to save us, night and day, they praise the Lord for His wonderful love. Don’t you think we, too, should be praising the Lord for what He has done for us?

“Should not the church on earth be full of praise? Should not Christians publish throughout the world the joy of serving Christ? Those who in heaven join with the angelic choir in their anthem of praise must learn on earth the song of heaven, the keynote of which is thanksgiving.” My Life Today, 359

Friends, I want to be praising the Lord. I want to be involved in the song of heaven, do you? It won’t matter whether you can carry a tune in this world or not if you know how to praise the Lord and give Him thanks for what He has done for you. If it is worthwhile for the angels to praise the Lord for what He has done, shouldn’t we do the same?

Remember, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was not something that He was required to do; it was not something that He had to do. He could have left us here and we all would have perished. He didn’t have to save us, but He chose to do it because He was willing to do anything so that we would not have to die.

“Jesus will receive you, all polluted as you are, and will wash you in His blood, and cleanse you from all pollution, and make you fit for the society of heavenly angels, in a pure, harmonious heaven. There is no jar, no discord, there. All is health, happiness, and joy.” Heaven, 63

Do you want to live a life that never ends in a place where you will always feel the freshness of the morning? It is difficult for us to understand God’s love, but we can ask Him to put within our hearts a spirit of praise so that we can sing the song of thanksgiving to our Saviour.

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.