With the American Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I decided to read William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation. In it, this governor of the Plymouth Colony shares his account of the Pilgrims’ voyage to the New World and the early years of their settlement.
The Pilgrims endured many hardships. The two-month voyage aboard the Mayflower was grueling and treacherous. Many of the passengers became extremely ill with scurvy and pneumonia. In their weakened condition, they arrived at their destination right at the start of winter. The shelters they constructed did not keep them warm, and they had little food left over from their ship’s provisions. By the end of winter, disease and malnutrition had taken the lives of nearly half of the colonists.
Still, they kept their focus on God and remained grateful. Bradford wrote in his journal that after disembarking from the Mayflower, “they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.” He noted that even after all the illness and death, those who survived continued to thank God for “his loving kindness, and his wonderful works.”
Their attitude exemplified the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks.”
Admittedly, this verse can seem like a tall order. It helps to understand that we are being exhorted not to give thanks for everything, but in or during all circumstances. God does not expect us to pretend that the trials we experience aren’t painful, or that all the troubles we’re seeing in the world are somehow positive developments. Clearly the Pilgrims weren’t grateful for the deaths, illnesses and harsh living conditions. But through all the suffering, they still saw God’s hand at work among them.
For me, reading Bradford’s journal was a good reminder of the importance of continually being thankful to God, even in the face of adversity. To sustain this mindset, we need to remind ourselves of God’s magnificent attributes, acts of love and promises, as revealed in the Bible. These are things that we can always cling to, that do not come and go depending on our personal circumstances or current events. In particular, reflecting on the following biblical truths has helped me maintain an attitude of gratitude.
Jesus Christ gave His life so we might live
Jesus sacrificed His life so our sins could be forgiven, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God the Father and inherit eternal life (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:18). We can face our days with hope, knowing that God is involved with us personally and that this life isn’t the end of our existence.
God’s rule is supreme
Whether we’re experiencing economic crises, pandemics, food shortages, wars or some other national or global emergency, God is still on His throne (Psalms 47:8-9; Psalms103:19). He sees what’s going on and will intervene as He judges best. He won’t allow anything to happen to thwart His overall plan for us. While Satan is presently “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30), it’s only because God has granted that to him for a limited time within the scope of God’s ultimate purposes.
God’s plan cannot be thwarted (Proverbs 19:21; 21:30; Job 42:2). While God does give us free will and latitude to make our own decisions, He knows how to respond appropriately so that His purposes will go forward.
As supreme Ruler of the universe, God’s power is infinite. His love for us, trustworthiness, justice, fairness, patience, goodness, mercy and wisdom are all integral to who He is. We can put our total confidence in God’s righteous rule and leadership.
God will provide our needs
When we ask God for help, He will meet all of our needs, both physical and spiritual (Philippians 4:19). The solutions He provides may not always be what we had in mind, but God will take care of us. That includes providing sustenance (Matthew 6:31-33), protection (Psalm 91:2, Psalm 91:5-7), healing (James 5:14-16) and guidance and direction (Proverbs 16:9). Even when we get into trouble, God will give us the resources we need to make it through those times (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God won’t abandon us
As long as we haven’t rejected God, He will not fail or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Psalm 37:28; John 14:18). God has a great vision for what we can become, and He will finish the work He has started in us (Philippians 1:6).
Trials are growth opportunities
All human beings face difficulties, setbacks and challenges. Without a relationship with God, problems are just a source of frustration and distress. But when we’re seeking God’s involvement in our lives, He will bring forth good from the storms we face. Hardships can show us where we fall short spiritually, stir us to pray, drive us to study the Bible and help us to develop godly character.
James 1:2 says to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” The suffering itself isn’t what’s joyful, but rather knowing that God is our Master Potter and that trials are a tool He uses to help shape and prepare us for His Kingdom. It’s a blessing to be able to see life’s problems as growth opportunities instead of suffering without purpose.
Eternal rewards will far surpass present suffering
God will grant eternal rewards to those who endure in His ways amid suffering. James 1:12 calls these rewards the “crown of life,” and Romans 8:17 adds that we will be glorified with Christ. The Bible does not tell us everything these rewards entail, but Romans 8:18 assures is that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Any pain we have to endure in order to be in God’s Kingdom will be worth it (see also 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Jesus will return to establish the Kingdom of God
We do not have to hope against hope that somehow technology or science will come up with solutions to the world’s problems, or that the “right” politicians will get into power. The Bible assures us that God the Father will send Jesus Christ to the earth to establish His Kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Micah 1:3; Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7, Revelation 19:16), which is the only way to lasting peace and harmony.
Many today are concerned that nuclear war will wipe out mankind, and while we know turbulent events are ahead of us, Matthew 24:22 promises us that these times will be cut short and that humanity will not destroy itself.
Gratitude is always the right attitude!
Of course, being thankful “in everything” includes the good times too—when we have material blessings like a stocked pantry, a nice home, good health and financial gains, as well as family and friends. Thanking God for the abundance in our lives helps us remember that He is the One who ultimately provides us with everything we have.
When times are tough, we should thank God for His unwavering promises, like those mentioned here, and also remember specific ways He’s intervened in the past. That’s what the Pilgrims did, and it helped them persevere and trust God more fully.
This kind of gratitude will help us too. Thanking God gets our minds off of all the negativity in this world and helps us focus on what has eternal value, reminding us to rely on God’s ongoing helpfulness and kindness and to be faithful to Him.