A Pilgrim’s Choice: How to Make Thanksgiving a Way of Life, Stop Complaining, and Unlock Fullness
The end of the renaissance movement was a century away. Household tales would not begin to appear in print as “fairy stories” for another seventy-some years. But the princesses of those stories knew a secret. And the tellers of those stories preserved it in hearts.
And those who became pilgrims to the new world perhaps knew it best of all.
What the Pilgrims Knew
Europe was stirring. The first signs of enlightenment bubbled just under the surface. The landscape was much changed now, the people even more so. No one could dictate the truth to them anymore. Not really. They had little choice but to submit to corrupt rulers, but they could think for themselves - and they were.
Those belonging to the family of God especially longed for a life where they could walk freely with their Lord. They hoped for it so much so that some of them had already gone searching for it. To these, it was worth the risk of their lives, and even their children's lives.
The first 102 British pilgrims to America had made a perilous journey. Across the vast sea, they struggled severely in the new world. Dangers and lack of nourishment nearly destroyed them all. By the first winter’s thaw, they had buried 44 loved ones.
But God had not forgotten them. Gradually, the path had unfolded. They found 20 acres of cleared land in an area where there were no hostile Native Americans. God also divinely appointed a friendship with Squanto, who became their interpreter.
They had a choice. Surely they wrestled with their human nature pulling them toward bitterness and despair. But their lives had been filled with trouble before, and they had learned the secret to fulfillment despite their circumstances. They chose to be grateful for what they did have, and they knew it was much.
At long last, the summer’s crop renewed their hope. They were going to make it. Their sacrifices were dear, but by God’s grace and mercy, they had secured a chance for those who would come after them. It would be a hard life, but one where they could worship God freely, and that was worth it all.
To show their gratitude, they did the thing they had come to do.
Governor William Bradford decreed a day be set aside for feasting and prayer. Monday, December 13 marked the beginning of a three-day celebration filled with prayers, sermons and songs of praise. More than 80 Native Americans joined the pilgrims in their games and festivities. They contributed wild turkeys and venison.
And in the sharing between the two people groups, something more precious than food and friendship was passed along. Seeds were planted in hearts for the gospel.
(This Thanksgiving, learn the true story of the founding of our nation with Kirk Cameron's documentary: Monumental: In Search of America's National treasure.)
The Biblical Principle of Thankfulness
God commands that His children give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess 5:16-18) Since His commands are for our good and improve our lives, thankfulness is no different.
The obedient act of thanking God creates a spiritual reaction. The reality of our circumstances becomes clear, and our perspective instantly changes…
What we have transforms into more than enough. Big problems shrink or vanish. The right path becomes evident. Chaos stills. Anger dissolves. Peace arrives. Our demand for justice turns into acceptance. We are reminded that our enemies are deeply loved by God. Our small blessings become big - big enough to fearlessly share. Hope wins.
As we recognize and acknowledge the truth, supernatural gratitude is released in our hearts so that even if we did not feel it before, we can now. The feeling is the abundant fullness of life promised to God’s children, and it changes everything.
At the same time, our response of gratitude becomes a glowing testimony to the secular world around us, which is our whole purpose as a holy people set apart.
Become Thankful in 3 Steps
It is one thing to know we should be thankful, and even want to be, but it is another to put it into practice. The truth is that it is not easy to change our attitude. How do we cultivate a grateful heart in the middle of heartache? Or injustice? Or chaos? Or want?
The first step to mastering any biblical command in life is to focus our minds on Jesus.
If our minds are focused on ourselves, on our ambitions or even our character, we will not bust through the barrier. On the other side is the place where we identify with God’s purposes. It is called contentment. We only get there by surrendering all.
This concept is really quite simple. As Christians, we belong to God, and we are at His disposal to be used for His purposes in the world. We are not for our own purposes. It is not about us.
Once we are surrendered to God’s purposes, our circumstances impact us much less. It is only our own purposes that are most affected by our circumstances. Since God is in control, all things work out according to His purposes, and we are content with that.
Next, the Bible gives two reasons to be thankful, and true gratitude begins with acknowledging them.
Psalm 136:1 reads: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
God’s goodness and His love are reasons enough to be thankful. Apart from God, there is only death.
When we are focused on Jesus, it is easier to remember His love and goodness from times past. These experiences add up, and as long as we remember them, we feel peace, and our faith becomes more genuine. (Ps 30:1-12; 1 Peter 1:6-7) We know God is good. God loves us.
From Job to Paul, heroes of the faith recognized this, and they praised God even in the most distressing circumstances. (Ps 28:6-7; Job 1:21)
They made a choice. The pilgrim’s choice…
So, lastly, as we know He is faithful, we choose to trust in our loving God and in His goodness no matter what happens to us or around us.
When our circumstances are less than ideal, even tragic, the only way to avoid complaining to the Lord, to stop bitterness, to instead cultivate a grateful heart - is to trust God's goodness.
The bigger picture is that we have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing. (Eph 1:3) We are saved and set free from sin and death! God’s purposes are higher than ours, and He is in control.
In reality, self-pity is of the devil. It catapults us back to the other side of the barrier, where we can be swallowed up by our discontentment. If that happens, our negativity spreads into all that we touch.
So, again, that's...
Step 1: Eyes on Jesus
Step 2: Acknowledge His love and goodness.
Step 3: Trust His love and goodness.
Tips to Maintaining Thankfulness
Thankfulness is not meant to happen only in spurts. The best way to make a lasting lifestyle change is through prayer. (If you need some help, check out this article on learning to pray using the Lord’s Prayer.)
In addition, making small commitments at a time yields better results than big changes all at once. For me, the following actions have worked the best, and I recommend them.
First, leave yourself reminders in the form of Scripture. Notes on the car visor, office computer monitor or bathroom mirror are good locations. Psalm 118:24 is a good Bible verse to start with: “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Others are here.
Next, instead of trying to remember to thank God every single time you pray (and accidentally letting your thanks become monotonous or insincere), set aside a day of the week to reflect on the Lord’s blessings and praise Him for them. The day that you honor the Sabbath is a good time. (If honoring the Sabbath is also difficult for you, check out this encouraging article.)
Next, another great time to go through the three steps to thankfulness is when the feelings of negativity first wash over you. In the moment, instead of only praying a “help me” prayer, which is self-focused, try a “thank you” prayer. Practice shifting your thoughts to Jesus, to His love, faithfulness and goodness. You will soon find yourself able to respond to painful circumstances with a godly attitude rather than reacting to the pain.
Finally, when you do not know what to say to God, you can pray Scripture. God is honored when we acknowledge His gifts in our lives, but sometimes it feels redundant to just say “thank you” over and over. Look to the psalmists for help learning to praise God. Even psalms that start with sorrow or anger end with praise and thanksgiving, and we can learn from that. (Here are 10 psalms you can use.)
It takes time, effort and sacrifice, but if we desire a faith aglow with God’s peace and fullness, cultivating a grateful heart is worth it.
Unlock the Secret Now
Do not wait!
There will always be something to complain about, but there is always something to be thankful for, too.
When we choose to be grateful for what we have, and to be obedient to God by thanking Him for it, our focus moves off of our pain and selfishness. That is why the Bible repeatedly instructs to give thanks to God. (1 Thess 5:16-18; Phil 4:6) It is intended to be the way of life for the Christian. It is healthy and beneficial. It unlocks the fullness of life. (John 10:10)
What are you waiting for, pilgrim?
How to Celebrate Thanksgiving as a Christian
The original pilgrims came to America from a starting point that is not yet relatable to us. Their world was one of severe religious persecution. Their quest was born out of desperation. Their hardship was the likes of which we have never known. And their faith puts the American church today to shame.
But Christians of our time are seeing a major shift across our nation. Our culture is becoming much more intolerant of the Christian worldview. When Christians truly follow Jesus in America today, we are in fierce opposition to our society. Many Christians are recognizing the warning signs and are readying themselves to stand firm when pressed. Others are becoming serious about their faith for the first time.
But the darker the darkness, the brighter our light, and the more the world can see the truth. Never is there a greater testimony than when Christians endure persecution for the sake of Jesus. Never has there been a more important time in our lives than now to shine.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to “our benevolent Father.” In 1941, Congress ruled that the fourth Thursday of November be a legal holiday, Thanksgiving day.
In our society now, giving thanks to God is overlooked even on Thanksgiving. That day is nothing more than a time to feast. But Christians have a choice.
The pilgrims filled their first Thanksgiving celebration with fellowship, generosity, and service to one another. They spent the time listening to sermons, praising the Lord, and praying together. They broke cultural barriers and shared the love of God with strangers-become-friends. Their grateful hearts set spiritual darkness ablaze with light, and God was glorified.
The first Thanksgiving was about responding to God’s love and goodness with acknowledgement and praise. It was all about Jesus. Like all holidays today, the purpose is becoming lost. Let us make Thanksgiving about Jesus again.
What will you do this Thanksgiving to light the darkness? How will you guide those who gather with you back to Him? (Here are some ideas for a humble, old-fashioned, Christ-centered Thanksgiving.)
The Fairy Tale Princess and Thanksgiving
Medieval fairy tales preserved clues into the times and minds of those who told them. The fairy tale princess has a character of impossible goodness. She is often thrown into terrible circumstances, yet there is hardly any complaining to be heard. She exhibits gracious acceptance of her injustice making the most of it while even serving others. Once restored to her proper position, she need not punish her persecutors. Consequences naturally befall the deserving villains.
The fairy tale princess is not just a static character with nothing to learn. She has a deeper story. She is a product of real life injustice, tragedy and suffering, and she has made her choice. Those who told fairy tales taught others how to bravely respond to circumstances in life that were out of their control. Trials and testing are required to attain a life of joy. Such a life is possible for the people who choose goodness and love rather than succumbing to anger and bitterness. The characters in the stories that practice deceit, unkindness and self-pity never reach that goal.
So, whether it was intended or not, spiritual truth was known and taught in European households for centuries. Severe hardship was a way of life, but children were given the secret to cope with their circumstances. They did not have control of much, but they did have a choice to make.
The Puritan pilgrims were of the ilk that knew the secret, and they were prepared to be brave. Impossible was possible for their Savior, who still lives in the yielded and submitted hearts of His children today.
Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, worship God with reverence and awe. (Heb 12:28)
These posts reveal how to live Kingdom life in today’s world. See why fairy tales are real and you can awaken to kingdom to living in your own life here. Shine, and teach your children to shine. Subscribe below to keep learning the parallels of fairy tales and Kingdom life. God bless.
Meg Grimm is a Christian writer on a mission to bring the wonder of fairy tales and folklore into modern life. She has authored several books exploring folk medicine from a biblical perspective.