I have always been impressed with Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of a National Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, particularly given its context. The Civil War was still raging; men by the thousands were dying, and many more grievously wounded. Yet, Lincoln, a man of faith, could see the many ways in which the nation had been blessed even in the midst of a terrible war. He encouraged his fellow citizens to join him in a day of thanksgiving to “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
We currently are not enduring another civil war, but the tenor of our public discourse contains hints of the same hostility that brought our forefathers and mothers to do mortal battle against one another. Lincoln notes in his proclamation that this hostility had its roots in sin. God was angry, he wrote, and he was dealing with the sins of the nation. Yet, he was merciful as well. As Jesus said,“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45 NIV)
Lincoln’s proclamation takes a balanced and very honest view of our nation and of humankind. We have much for which to be thankful, none of which we could produce on our own without divine assistance. And we are all sinners, towards whom God’s anger is completely justified. Lincoln’s proclamation, at its heart, is similar to that of the Apostle Paul who wrote,
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (I Timothy 1:15-17 NIV)
Recognizing we have been shown mercy despite our sinful condition should lead to both humility and thanksgiving. Humbled by gifts so undeserved and thankful they were given anyway.
The totality of the Christian faith really can be boiled down to two essential traits of our hearts—humility and thanksgiving. Humility in face of the fact that we deserve and are entitled to nothing. We are rebels in our hearts toward the Almighty God, our Creator. Our natural bent is to want our way, not his. Yet, despite this, he has shown each of us incredible mercy. Both Paul and Lincoln recognized this. And both had the same response—thanksgiving to the Lord, both for his mercy and for his many blessings bestowed!
When we recognize our dire need for God and are humbled, not only will we be thankful, we will also be much less prone to judge others. True humility puts us on the same level as others. Yes, we will have differences, and often we will be right while others are wrong, but humility will prevent us from being arrogant. Even if we are right or much more accomplished than others, we are still deserving of divine punishment. Humble people recognize this.
And the more we recognize this, the more thankful we will be. Like those rescued from a fire or a storm, thanksgiving will flow easily from our lips toward the one who saved us.
As we observe this week our nation’s Day of Thanksgiving, may it be a time of profound humility in light of our sinful condition, as well as an effusive time of thanksgiving to our Lord for his great mercy towards us. You and I don’t deserve it. None of us do.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen!