Worship: The Real Thanksgiving Story


Many people are out-of-town as they travel through the night to meet up with their families. Most of us will go to bed late & excitedly sleep in tomorrow morning knowing there will be no school or work to be done! In the afternoon we will gather around tables, stuff ourselves with turkey & watch football with those closest and dearest to us. As wonderful as all of this is, there is more to Thanksgiving…

To understand, we need to jump into a time machine & go all the way back to the year 1620, to Plymouth, England & to a group of people who were originally known as the “Pilgrims” & later called the “Puritans.” The Puritans were Christ followers who desired to live pure lives of worship unto God & who believed that the Bible was their sole authority that it applied to every area of life.

However, in their native country of England, the Puritans were not allowed to worship God freely as the government demanded that they submit to the official state religion with all of it’s rules and regulations. Therefore, the Pilgrims were persecuted harshly…

Upon hearing of a “New world” where they could find religious liberty and worship God freely, 102 Pilgrims boarded a cargo ship called the “Mayflower” & left Plymouth, England on Sep 6, 1620 and headed for this new world that would later be called America.

pigrims on boat

For over two months, the 102 passengers braved the harsh elements of a vast storm-tossed sea. There was only one main cabin on board which stood five feet tall, so passengers who were taller than five feet could not stand upright for 66 days! There were two pregnant mothers and many children on board a ship that was completely dark and freezing at night. As the voyage pressed on, the Pilgrims became increasingly wet, cold, sick and dirty as most of them wore the same clothing the entire journey. To make matters worse, they were becoming infested with fleas and lice! Imagine the snoring, coughing, seasickness, babies crying, diapers smelling & body odor… Because they were not able to preserve fruit or vegetables, many of the Pilgrims acquired a condition know as “Scurvy,” which rotted their teeth & gave them bleeding gums due to a lack of vitamin C. The Pilgrims had made biscuits to eat throughout the long voyage which had turned hard as rocks along with moldy cheese & dried beans. Because roaches and maggots had infested their food, the pilgrims preferred to eat in the dark so they couldn’t see the little creatures. By dipping the hard biscuits into their coffee it softened the hard bread, only to find the maggots swimming in the top of their coffee. A newborn baby and three men – including the captain of the ship, died of disease before they ever reached their destination.

All the Pilgrims could do was pray…

Finally on November 9, 1620 – 66 days later, a shout of “Land Ho!” was heard. They had arrived to the New World – the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.pilgrims landing

Upon landing, the first thing the pilgrims did was gather together in prayer. Pilgrim leader & later Governor William Bradford recorded in his journal…

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees, and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof…”

After the prayer service, the Pilgrims began building hasty shelters. However, unprepared for the starvation and sickness of a harsh New England winter, nearly half died before spring. Of the 102 original Pilgrims that had left England a year before, only 53 were left. If that wasn’t bad enough, now the pilgrims lived in fear of un-friendly Indians!

However, God had heard their prayers and sent help from a very unlikely source – an Indian named Samoset from the Wampanoag Tribe. While living as a slave in Spain, Samoset had become a Christ follower and learned to speak  English! Within a couple of days he brought his friend Squanto along who also spoke English! The Indians and Pilgrims signed a peace treaty and the Indians taught the naive Pilgrims how to fish, plant and hunt, thereby ensuring their survival. When the fall of 1621 began to set in, a year after they had arrived, they had reaped a bountiful harvest and preserved enough food to allow them to survive the coming winter. The grateful Pilgrims declared a three-day feast, starting on December 13, 1621, to worship, celebrate and thank God for His goodness with their Indian friends. The pilgrims gave God thanks for: Plenty of food, shelter, survival from sickness, peace and help from the Indians and most importantly – freedom to worship God! This meal today is thought of as the first Thanksgiving.

First ThanksgivingIn 1789, America’s first President George Washington declared Thanksgiving to be an official day of thanksgiving & prayer in the United States…

“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… Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789. . . that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Thanksgiving” asthe act of giving thanks; a prayer expressing gratitude; a public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness.

Sixteen different times in the Old Testament, the Bible tells us to “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever!”

To “Give thanks” to the Lord is the Hebrew word “Yadah” which means to “Praise!” To “Praise” the Lord is to “Worship” the Lord!

The Pilgrims were persecuted in their homeland because they worshipped the Lord. The Pilgrims left everything behind and journeyed to the New World suffering through some of humanities worst conditions and perils so that they could worship the Lord freely! The pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving feast with the Indians was a three-day worship service where they “Gave thanks to the Lord, because he was good and because His love endured forever!”

To truly celebrate Thanksgiving according to its history, is to worship the Lord!

Q What will you give the Lord thanks, praise and worship for on this Thanksgiving?

– Derek

2 thoughts on “Worship: The Real Thanksgiving Story

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