Throughout this year, for a variety of reasons, I have been “going down memory lane.” I am thankful that in a rapidly changing world and culture that the memories in my head cannot be changed, re-imagined or deleted. When it comes to November, I go down “memory lane” to various family gatherings through the years, to amazing ministry events in this month, community thanksgiving services in years gone by and the birth of two grandchildren born on my birthday!
It seems like Thanksgiving services, whether in a specific local church or with other community churches, have been replaced or eliminated. I get it — times change — but again, I still have my memories. Usually when we had a Thanksgiving service we did just that — we gave thanks! Thanks to the Lord for His goodness to us, individually, as a community, as a nation even! There were thoughts shared about the nation whose God was the Lord shared, and people gave praise to what the Lord had done in the previous year. Sometimes patriotic songs would be sung — songs that have almost completely disappeared over the past fifteen years — and we sang Thanksgiving songs—as a congregation or as a choir.
One such song I recall singing just about every year was “We Gather Together.” I had always thought this was about the pilgrims gathering with the inhabitants of the New World on that first Thanksgiving in October 1621. Apparently there were 90 Native Americans who attended with 53 pilgrims who had lived of the original 132. The lyrics of the song include three verses:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; He chastens and hastens His will to make known
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining. Ordaining, maintaining His Kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning; Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!
We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant, And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation; Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
In reality, the original lyrics were written in 1597 to celebrate the Dutch and English victory over the Catholic King Philip II of Spain in what is modern Belgium today. Those in the Dutch Reformed Church kept the song alive for centuries before the song made its way into an American hymnal in 1903. Many years later — in 1984 — a fourth verse was written by a guy names Paul Sjolund which said:
With voices United, our praises we offer, to Thee in Thanksgiving, glad anthems we raise.
Thy strong arm will guide us, For Thou art beside us, to Father, Son, and Spirit, forever be praised!
Whether you gather with a church family or with extended family or are just by yourself, commit to giving thanks to the Lord this Thanksgiving. In fact, maybe you can give thanks to the Lord every day this month — thanking the Lord for Himself, His love, His plan of salvation, the forgiveness of sin available through Jesus’ perfect life, sacrifice, death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit, fellow believer’s and on and on and on I could go! I know that many in our spheres of influence are going through challenging times, one antidote to despair in these challenging times is cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving — not just in November, but all throughout the year!
A great song, written twenty-two years ago by Chris Tomlin (based on Psalm 106:1) drives this last thought home for me. Perhaps you hear these lyrics in a different way after reading this column:
Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King; His love endures forever
For He is good, He is above all things. His love endures forever.
Sing praise, sing praise.
With a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm, His love endures forever.
For the life that’s been reborn. His love endures forever.
Sing praise, sing praise, sing praise, sing praise.
Forever, God is Faithful, Forever, God is Strong.
Forever God is with us, Forever.
Forever, God is Faithful, Forever God is Strong.
Forever God is with us, Forever, Forever.
From the rising to the setting sun, His love endures Forever
By the grace of God, we will carry on
His love endures Forever.
Sing praise, sing praise, sing praise, sing praise
My encouragement for you — and for me — is that together we will incline our hearts, our minds, our attitudes, our emotions, yes, even our thoughts, to thankfulness to God for all He has done and is doing! May we be as the Psalmist who wrote in Psalm 69:30 I will praise God’s Name in song and glorify Him with Thanksgiving.”