Are We Thankful?

A look at the gratitude of the early pioneers.

J.R.S. is managing editor of the Ministry.

A recent visit to Massachusetts' restored Plymouth village brought God's leading of pioneer men and women in past years into focus. A casual survey of the early events connected with the founding of Plymouth Colony discloses two seemingly unrelated elements prevalent among these stalwart settlers. One was an unrelenting wave of hardship, disappointment, privation, and persecution which consistently plagued them. The other was a spirit of praise and thanksgiving which permeated their lives in spite of outward adverse circumstances. One gets the impression that the more trou­bles these people had the more praise and gratitude they gave to God.

In spite of betrayal and 'persecution in England; in spite of leaving homes and pos­sessions behind when they fled—first to the strange country of Holland; in spite of be­ing forced to learn new trades; in spite of a forced landing on the cold forbidding coast of New England rather than the more ac­commodating climate near the mouth of the Hudson River; in spite of death claim­ing 44 of the 102 settlers before six months had passed—these people continually thanked God for the blessings they had. Their mature Christian experience helped them to sense the blessings attached to pres­ent, though calamitous, circumstances.

Consider their landing place. Because of storms which drove their tiny ship far north of their original goal, they landed at a spot where Indians formerly had lived and cul­tivated the land for years. Some unknown disease two years before had caused the en­tire tribe save one to die. This fact in itself is remarkable. Of the thousands of miles of primitive wilderness coast line where they could have landed, the Pilgrims cast anchor at a place where land had already been cleared and cultivated!

A second blessing came in the form of a mild winter for that region. The end of December on the Massachusetts coast line is not the best time to start building houses, but the winter weather of 1620 permitted building to go forward.

Another remarkable blessing was the friendship of certain Indians whose names, like Cyrus', were known by God before birth. In the spring of 1621 an Indian named Samoset walked boldly into their set­tlement exclaiming in good English learned from British fishermen, "Welcome! Welcome!" The Pilgrims were naturally terrified. Samoset's next visit proved to be a miracle blessing. He brought with him another Indian named Squanto. Some his­torians claim that Squanto was the only one left of the wiped-out tribe that had once lived at Plymouth. Furthermore, Squanto had been carried as a captive to England, where he learned a good amount of Eng­lish. After his return he joined Massasoit's tribe some thirty miles to the west. Squan­to's visit brought together Massasoit and Governor Carver which resulted in a solemn treaty that endured for more than fifty years. This treaty declared that Pilgrims and Indians should live as brothers, doing everything possible to aid one another.

Squanto along with Hobomack, another Indian, made his home with the colo­nists and practically saved them from de­struction by acting as their guide and in­terpreter. He taught them how to plant corn with a shad "as soon as the oak leaves were as big as a mouse's ear."

Recapitulate a moment. A cultivated spot in the wilderness! One Indian survi­vor who had learned English as a captive in England joining the Pilgrims, bringing about a peace treaty, then teaching them how to live in a strange new land. I won­der how many times the Pilgrims praised God for His direct leading in small but ex­tremely important details.

If the early colonists had counted only the hardships during that first year, a sol­emn funeral-type memorial meeting would have been held rather than a joyous thanks­giving service.

Feast of Tabernacles

Other countries for centuries have had harvest festivals similar to the American Thanksgiving Day. God's Word is not with­out precedent for these special Thanksgiv­ing seasons. The Feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths, R.S.V.) sank its roots deeply into the platform of joyful praise and appreciation. This happy festival was celebrated at the end of harvesttime. Moses describes this seven-day celebration in Exo­dus 23:16: "And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingath­ering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field." This was one of the three festivals which required the attendance of all He­brew males. Jesus attended this feast (John 7:2, 14). It came at the close of the agricul­tural year and also was commemorative of the children of Israel's wilderness wan­derings. After the Babylonian captivity rather elaborate rituals were developed in connection with this feast. The morning hour of worship found the people marching round the altar holding willow branches in their hands, praising God. This was done once each day and seven times on the sev­enth day. One of the priests would take wa­ter from the Gihon spring which flows through the Kidron valley to the Pool of Siloam. To the chanting of the words, "Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3) the water was mixed with sacrificial wine and poured out beside the altar into a conduit which flowed down to the Kidron valley. This act was accompanied by in­strumental music and the singing of psalms.

It was during Christ's visit to this service that He stood up and declared, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." A spirit of praise and thanksgiving was evident during the entire feast.

Conscious Effort Necessary

The thanksgiving spirit need not be lim­ited to a particular day or days. Conscious effort is necessary to cultivate a spirit of consistent thankfulness. Ministers of the gospel ought to be leaders of this type of activity. How often do we thank God for the privilege of being a minister of Christ? What work is more rewarding than dealing with souls? I have never met a man who left the ministry voluntarily or involun­tarily who claimed to be much happier and contented in some other line of en­deavor. True, we are pummeled by prob­lems, frustrated by enormous amounts of activities shunted our way, and disorgan­ized by emergencies. But thank God for such a wonderful variety of problems which usually end in blessings.

Even Ingathering Becomes Delightful!

Have you ever stood by a mass produc­tion assembly line and watched a slave-like worker tighten four or five nuts on each successive machine as it slowly trav­eled by on a conveyer belt? Think of dedi­cating your life to this type of work eight hours a day, forty hours a week, and for forty years—the minimum number of years for maximum sustentation! Compared to this even Ingathering becomes a delightful occupation. This may sound a bit face­tious, nevertheless it is factual. Why let our minds fool us into thinking that the minis­ter's work is largely drudgery? If it be drudgery it is because we make it so by thinking it is so.

Life is a series of comparisons. Black is black compared to white. A man is tall only by comparison. Why not try comparative tactics on your own life? But make sure that you do it with the masses, not the minorities. Follow this formula and you will be startled at the numerous blessings coming your way.

From Curtains to Fly Swatter

On Friday evenings our family worship centers on praise and thanksgiving. Each member of the family is called upon to state several blessings received during that week. When my children were younger it was difficult to stop them from enumerating a large number of blessings. One daughter in particular would begin expressing thankfulness for the knives and forks, dishes, rugs, curtains, beds, fly swatter, blinds, windows, ad infinitum. I never stopped her, for this all-inclusive inventory of past, present, and future blessings agitated my own soul into a thankful mood. After all, how many of us ministers have ever gone to bed hungry? From a weight standpoint perhaps many of us should! But I refer to unavoidable hunger owing to a lack of resources. How many of us are with­out a roof over our heads? Space forbids further questioning; but why don't we sit down and begin to really count our bless­ings. Then let us begin a program of con­stant thankfulness. God is honored by every expression of praise and thanksgiving. He declares: "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23).

Even Funerals Have Their Rewards

Material blessings are great, but greater still are feelings of well-being resulting from spiritual ministering. How do you feel after spending time praying for the sick or finish­ing a day filled with visitation and Bible studies? What about the evangelist who collapses in bed from exhaustion after the grand opening night? What kind of feeling do you have when a tiny tot's hand encir­cles your finger while pleading for another story about Jesus? Think of that young cou­ple you just married. Do you remember the assuring glance you gave them as they stood together at the altar? They were frightened until you smiled and spoke. Do you still hear their words of appreciation for such a lovely service? Even funerals have their re­wards. Words are so useless at times, but just your presence as a servant of God helps the mourning ones to face the bitter­ness of death courageously. Mull over your baptismal services. No sweeter joy in the world comes to a man who tenderly buries lost but found sheep into the symbolic rit­ual of death, burial, and resurrection. This is pure, unadulterated, unsurpassed joy! There is no work in the world that can yield such pleasing emotional effects as those resulting from experiences described above. And to think that we are paid for this!

Ministers of the Advent Movement, into our hands God has committed the greatest and most glorious message ever given to His servants. The marvelous prophecies, the hope of the soon coming of Jesus Christ, the blessed Sabbath truth, the invaluable counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy—all of this plus more are ours to communicate to those who are lost in sin. How can we help praising God with grateful hearts that we are ministers with Him! Think of being privileged to do the same type of work Christ did—a work which will vibrate through eternity, not perish in the post-millennial purification fires.

Let the downhearted and discouraged start a campaign of gratitude. Remember that gratitude deepens as you give it expres­sion! Remember that sacred joy brings life to your soul and body. There is actual life-giving power in an attitude of gratitude and cheerfulness. It has a tremendous ef­fect on your whole being. God's ear eagerly waits to catch some word of appreciation —not only for what He has done for you personally as a Christian but for the fact that He has entrusted you with the high honor and responsibility of being a co-la­borer with Him.

Even those under most severe circum­stances like the Pilgrim fathers can find many things for which to be thankful. God gave us the choice of being thankful for our own benefit that we may keep all of His gifts and blessings fresh in our mem­ory.

Certainly difficulties will come. If they didn't, we could never experience true joy and happiness. Sinful beings must have trials and problems in order to develop faith and patience which ultimately will cause a spirit of thanksgiving. We have everything to live for now and forever. Let us make the best use of our time but not in doleful faultfinding, not with a gruesome search for perplexity, but rather, let us go forward rejoicing in the Lord for His tem­poral and spiritual blessings to us. Ever remember: "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."—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 244. Soon the antitypical Feast of Tabernacles will be ours to enjoy—a true thanksgiving holiday.

J. R. S.

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J.R.S. is managing editor of the Ministry.

November 1965

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