Prayer Targets: Thanksgiving: 1777 & Today; ‘Free to Believe;’ First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” … He said,“Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. [One] when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice… threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him… he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner? … Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-17

Thanksgiving is unique in America. And while many countries have observed harvest feasts and holidays, only a few nations, most notably Canada, celebrate Thanksgiving as a day to truly give thanks to the God of the Bible, and most of those derived their celebration from America.

While four states continue to debate the rightful claim to the first American Thanksgiving Day (e.g., the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, the Anglican settlers in Virginia, the Huguenots in Florida, or the Spanish Catholic in El Paso, Texas), Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. The many hundreds of proclamations by the original 13 colonies, the Continental Congresses, Presidents and Congresses under the U.S. Constitution, and governors in all 50 states, all attest to our nation’s acknowledged dependence upon and gratitude to Almighty God. Not only are American rights and liberties endowed to us by our Creator, we are also the beneficiaries of His eternal law and gospel. We have been entrusted with the responsibility to protect and preserve those benefits so plainly described in our nation’s birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence, and are accountable to the Supreme Judge of the World. But the many historical Thanksgiving Proclamations add to those legal documents to make it clear that the American people owe continual thanks to Almighty God for His manifold mercies and blessings.

America’s Thanksgiving is a uniquely religious event. While it may have diminished just as faith in Americans has waned, it is our duty as believers to honor and revive the spiritual sentiment of this consecrated day.  The faithful should make it a time of genuine thanksgiving to God, not just for the bountiful harvest and material blessings, but also for the spiritual benefits that our Forefathers risked their lives to obtain.  Like those who fled to America for religious freedom, we must join in the quest of liberty to serve God without restraint or persecution, and to pass that liberty on to our children.

Similarly, the children of Israel escaped slavery in Egypt and followed God’s cloud and fire to liberty in the Promised Land. Yet when they arrived, they had to fight for every inch of ground and to prevail over the evil practices of those who inhabited the land.  That fight went on for generations. We must also work to preserve the values of Faith, Family and Freedom in America during these challenging days. We must show God proper gratitude for his aid and assistance.  The first Thanksgivings were just that: times to thank God for survival and the opportunity to carve a new nation from the wilderness where Christian faith would prosper and Religious Liberty would be firmly established.   

God ordained seven major feasts in Scripture and feasting and fasting both have a place in God’s economy. The carefully written, beautifully worded Thanksgiving proclamations from the beginnings of America were filled with biblical thought. They were the “Prayer Targets” to help inspire and guide worshipers across the land in their prayers.  Interestingly, the Puritans observed Thanksgiving as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer.  This continued throughout the War for Independence, with the Continental Congress making 15 proclamations.  About half were calls to prayer and fasting and the other half for prayer and thanksgiving.

Today, we face war with Islamist enemies who have been telling us for decades that they intend to destroy Israel and us. Americans seem to be reawakening and taking notice. It is against this backdrop that we observe Thanksgiving, 2015. Next year we will have national elections, God willing, but for now, we are dealing with a government that is increasingly hostile toward people of faith.  We have faced challenging times before, and God has preserved us. 

During the War for Independence, our future as a fledgling nation was in doubt only a year after the ink had dried on the Declaration.  Defeat after defeat left even the signers of that Declaration discouraged.  As the British advanced, the Liberty Bell was taken down from Independence Hall.  Congress fled.  Our capital city of Philadelphia was lost.  Yet God granted us an astounding victory over the British at Saratoga, which brought the French in as an ally and turned the tide of the war.  Below is the text of the Continental Congress’ November 1, 1777 national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, as printed in the Journals of Congress.

The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, to set apart a day of public thanksgiving, brought in a report; which was taken into consideration, and agreed to as follows:

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion. (Journals of Congress; October thru December 1777, p 854).

As you observe Thanksgiving this year, allow the Continental Congress’s 1777 “Prayer Targets” to guide you. They are every bit as timely and relevant today as then. And as you pray, keep the blessing of Religious Liberty we have enjoyed on the forefront of your mind, our greatest treasure next to our relationship with the Lord, and our families. Ask God for resolve to return from the holiday committed to doing your part to preserve religious liberty today – most importantly, to pray for and to insist that your Congressmen co-sponsor and vote for the First Amendment Defense Act – the only means of timely ensuring that Bible-believing Americans will not be further harassed, persecuted, fined and otherwise punished for simply practicing their faith in God’s word, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman (see previous Prayer Targets that outline FADA (Nov. 18; Nov. 11).

Also, please mark your calendar for “Free to Believe:  How Your Church Can Impact the Culture,” January 16, 2016, 9 AM to 1 PM ET. This is a live broadcast training event intended for churches, prayer and action groups, and other Christian church and school groups whose members want to know how to stand more effectively for religious liberty amid our changing and challenging culture. Pray for Tony Perkins, who will be the host!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you for praying!

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