For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful For God's Providence

I know it’s two days before Thanksgiving, but by the grace of God we hope to be at Grandma’s house for the big day, so now is as good as time as any to drop a few thoughts about the whole thing.

Most of us know the facts about those hearty Christian families setting out across the vast sea to find a land in which they could worship freely and serve God according to their conscience instead of according to the whims of kings and corrupt church leaders.

We know that those first couple years in this new land were very difficult to say the least. But those that survived pressed on, and after 3 years, the governor of the new Plymouth Colony, William Bradford issued that famous decree calling all citizens of the colony to gather for worship and the giving of thanks.

What’s interesting about that first proclamation, and I know you’ve heard this before, is how God-focused it was. “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest . . . and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us . . . (and) has granted us freedom to worship God . . . " He called for “all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones” to gather at the meeting house “there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.” The day was set aside for recognizing and appreciating the providential hand of God at work.

And down through the years, the official Thanksgiving proclamations continued to mention that. The first official proclamation from the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777 began: “FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received…” Actually, that one goes on to speak specifically of the “merits of Jesus Christ;” language that has grown increasingly sparse. But anyway…

The first presidential call for a day of Thanksgiving by George Washington in 1789 begins with similar language: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…”

Official Presidential statements were off and on for several years, and then in 1863 President Lincoln issued what was to be the first in an unbroken series of autumn proclamations of thanksgiving. Even in the midst of a civil war he recognizes “the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.” His proclamation calls for a” day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

Do you notice a pattern here? At the heart of all of these statements of thanksgiving is a recognition of the Providence of God. God’s providence specifically mentioned 3 times in that first Congressional statement, and in nearly all the presidential proclamations for the next hundred years.

As recently as 2007, George W. Bush issued a proclamation reminding us to be “ever mindful of the many ways we have been blessed,” and that “Our country was founded by men and women who realized their dependence on God and were humbled by His providence and grace.” Again the focus on God’s providential hand.

What, then, are we to be most thankful for? I would say, the continued Providence of God. By definition, God’s providence is simply “that preservation care and government which God exercises over all things that He has created in order they may accomplish the ends for which they were created.” We may not always see that hand, but it’s there.

The Easton Bible Dictionary ends the article on Providence with: “The mode of God's providential government is altogether unexplained. We only know that it is a fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions; that this government is universal, particular, efficacious, embraces events apparently contingent, is consistent with his own perfection, and to his own glory.” Again, in simpler words, we may not understand it, but we know it’s there. And that should give us confidence and cause us to be truly thankful. To know that God’s hand is at work still, and His people ought to be looking for it, and depending on it, even when things look like they’re out of control. God is still God; He is still King; He is still on the throne; and His people can take great comfort and encouragement from that truth.

Quite honestly there are days I struggle with that. Like many of you there are times when I really question things. What exactly is going on? What is God doing? It seems like so much wasted effort some times. Sometimes it seems like we’re just beating our heads against a wall. I don’t know what the plan is.

But I do know there is one. And our responsibility is to remain faithful. To keep serving and doing what God has called us to do, and trust the Providence of God to accomplish the plans of God; knowing that indeed His plans will prevail. His purposes will succeed. His will, will be accomplished because He said so.

I don’t know who said it, but someone once put it like this: “God writes with a pen that never blots, speaks with a tongue that never slips, and acts with a hand that never fails.” Knowing that should give us great confidence, and cause us to truly bow our knees in gratitude and thanksgiving. His providence has led the church all these years. His providence led our founding fathers to this land. His providence has continued to bless us with the freedom to worship and serve Him. And it is our duty, as our forefathers repeatedly said, to thank Him for that providence.


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