Lessons from the First Pilgrims, Early Presidents, and God’s Promises

Ever since our Thanksgiving Day celebration, I have been thinking about the first Pilgrims who came to these shores in the 1600s in search of a new beginning in the so-called “New World.” They were seeking religious freedom, a place to begin again in a land that offered many new opportunities and unknown possibilities. However, they had not realized how difficult life was going to be and the harsh winter they would be facing without adequate supplies. Their voyage itself on the Mayflower was a survival test. After more than two months on the Atlantic ocean, a treacherous voyage that tested and distressed the group of 102 people, they arrived before Christmas in 1620. Then, just after Christmas, a serious contagious illness broke out, and in the next three months, nearly half the Pilgrims had died. Although hunger and thirst stalked them, they never wavered in their purpose. They were able to sing hymns, quoting such words as these from the psalmist: “I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.”


I’m sure the Pilgrims grew weary at times and wondered if the rest of them would survive, but they did not lose heart. They had an indomitable spirit because of their overwhelming confidence in God as their source and strength, their provider and protector, their deliverer and defender. They kept on keeping on. They believed that every human being was made in the image of God and that everyone was of infinite value to their Creator, of such great worth to our Father in heaven that He had given His only-begotten Son to die on the cross for our salvation. They lived with Native Americans who had a different religion, skin color, and culture, setting an example of acceptance, hospitality, and generosity. They shared their material and spiritual blessings. The first record of a Pilgrim feast was in 1621, and they invited their Native American neighbors to share the feast of thanksgiving following an abundant harvest. It was a three-day celebration of eating and drinking to the glory of their God, who had blessed their labors and rewarded their faith, just as he had promised (Hebrews 11:6).

Those first Pilgrims also dared to dream great dreams, knowing the God and Father of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had promised to bless those who kept His commandments and did justly, showed mercy, and walked humbly with Him. We would benefit from learning to live by their great example, knowing that God has not promised to make life easy for any of us as his people, but has promised to be with us always and to work in all things for good in the lives of those who are seeking to live “according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God has also promised to be our “…refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1), our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1), to satisfy us “with good as long as we live,” and to “have compassion on those who fear him” (i.e. who “reverence” him, Psalm 103). God has promised to keep us “from all evil,”  to bless our “going out and coming in, from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121). God has promised that we too can become “more than conquerors through him who loved us” and gave himself for us, and that “nothing in life or in death, nothing in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 14:7-12).

Furthermore, God has promised that every “…slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen, for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). God has promised that “When the righteous cry for help, he hears and delivers them out of all their troubles…The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18). God has promised that when we do not know how to pray or when we are feeling weak and helpless, the Holy Spirit will “…pray for us with sighs too deep for words…interceding for us according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). We know we can trust God to keep all of his promises, for he is trustworthy. Therefore, as believers, we should be able to “Rejoice in the Lord always”, and “…not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to let our requests be known to God. Then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-6).

Did you stop to consider on Thanksgiving Day how rare such a celebration is among the nations of this world? Did you remember how this practice began with George Washington, our first President, who issued the first proclamation in 1789 that a Day of Thanksgiving be observed nationally? Then in 1863, during the Civil War, it was President Abraham Lincoln (six weeks before his Gettysburg Address) who issued a proclamation that there should not only be an annual day of thanksgiving, but also a day of national penitence. I am confident most Americans have either forgotten or never knew that Thanksgiving Day was originally supposed to also be a day calling our nation to genuine repentance. I submit that a confession of sin and authentic repentance is greatly needed at this particular time in our nation’s history, as we have surrendered the inheritance of our fathers and are now suffering the consequences.

It is not only age-old dark deeds that are coming home to roost but current forms of idolatry and disobedience to God’s commandments that have brought us to this dangerous time of reaping what we have sown. The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5 to “not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you will reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own selfish desires (i.e. “to the flesh”), you will reap corruption…but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit…So let us seek to do what is right, so we will reap righteousness at harvest time, if we do not grow weary and give up. Whenever we have opportunity, let us work together for the good of all” (i.e. for the common good).  This spiritual law of “sowing and reaping” is just as inexorable as the natural laws that govern the universe. Too many people, including those in positions of authority and leadership, believe they can sin without punishment. Not to mention, there are multitudes of people in our nation who seem to believe that America is a favored nation, and God will not judge us as harshly as some other nations will be judged for their worship of so many false gods. There is a plurality of gods in our own land: materialism and consumerism. These gods offer possessions, prosperity, pleasure, popularity, and power, all of which are things our human instincts and flesh crave.


Our nation has become more and more secularized, indifferent at best and increasingly hostile at worst to the laws and commandments in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. America has drifted away from the foundation on which it was established, leading to moral and spiritual decline, covetousness and corruption, greed and graft, dishonesty and divisiveness, selfishness and strife, vice and violence, false values, and false dependencies. Surely we need no debates or arguments to convince us of the critical crises that have brought us to this place in our society, where large numbers of people cannot even distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, truth from lies. Yes, we are indeed reaping what we have sown. The alarming number of suicides, an epidemic of drug addiction, the break-down of the family with as many divorces as marriages, an integrity crisis in business and government, sexual abuse and domestic violence (even in the Church and interfaith communities), rampant racism in a climate of anti-Semitism with public demonstrations of white-supremacists, as well as a President who heaps scorn on our intelligence agencies and democratic institutions while empowering the extreme of the far right and weakening the political center, making the possibility of less arrogance, greater tolerance, and more cooperation between Republicans and Democrats less likely (although that will be necessary and essential for achieving greater national stability, security, and unity) all point to corruption.

Nevertheless, as believers, we are supposed to be people of hope who do not lose heart in critical times, who do not grow weary in well doing, and who trust in the sovereignty and promises of God. We remember God has promised to not only forgive our sins but to also heal our land if we humble ourselves before Him, repenting (i.e. turning from our sins), seeking His favor, and praying for His forgiveness (2 Chronicles 7:14). Following the recent political campaigns and elections, it is clear that this is the time for our nation to repent of its divisive and damaging partisan politics, the inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric used by candidates of both parties in their campaign ads preceding the election, and the continuing stubborn refusal to find some common ground that would be for the common good of the American people. Our nation is in need of leaders in government who will be more determined to rise above the self-seeking and self-serving political climate that has caused us to be a weaker rather than greater nation. Let our leaders hear and heed once again these words of Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 proclamation:

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that our bounties should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and voice, by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens, and I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions due to God, for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to God’s tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty 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 unity.”

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