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Abraham Lincoln and the Meaning of Thanksgiving

NOTE: This is such a powerful Thanksgiving message, we are reposting it again in 2017.

A note from interlinc President Allen Weed: My long time friend and co-laborer in youth ministry Ron Boehme sent me his Thanksgiving post this morning. His insights on President Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation blew me away! With Ron’s permission and our editor’s kind readjustment, Ron’s thoughts are here as a Guest Blog Post.

These thoughts and application points will be foundational for our family discussions over the next couple of days. I hope you will find them equally as helpful. Jesus Christ is the same – 1863, today and forever! Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family, and the kids in your youth ministry.


Thanksgiving is a uniquely biblical holiday (should we go back in time and rightly rename it a “holy day?”).

It is not simply a day off, with turkey and trimmings, time with family members or a good football game. Yes, it can involve all these elements, but it is much more than that.

Thanksgiving is a “reality reminder” day: There is a God. He is awesome, loving, and just. And everything we have and hope for comes directly or indirectly from him.

At least once a year we should “re-center” our lives and spend a day giving thanks to Him.

Abraham Lincoln, our most respected president, understood that truth. Here is his reminder, during a grim time in American history that can help us navigate our own.

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Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Lincoln has been out for over a year and is currently ranked at number two on the New York Times best-seller list (amazingly his new book Killing Kennedy is number one–and both are excellent reads).

Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, starring David Day-Lewis, is also out in theaters this week and is getting excellent reviews. I am looking forward to seeing it as my “movie of the year.”

What made Lincoln a great president was his clear, uncompromising faith in God and his view that history is being guided by a Being who is worthy of our prayers, devotion, and thanks.

Here is his text for an 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. I would encourage you to read it slowly to get the depth of his thinking. In between paragraphs, I will comment on his wisdom.

Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

Lincoln reminds us that we tend to “forget” about God. Do you forget him in your daily life and struggles? Lincoln rightly reminds us that God is our “source” of everything good in our lives. He says that our gratefulness to God should “soften our hearts” and make us aware of God’s watchful providence in our lives. Is your heart soft toward God and his blessings? Do you realize that a Loving God is watching over your life as well as guiding the affairs of nations?

“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”

Lincoln is grateful that even during our nation’s darkest war, there was a peace and harmony in the world that only God could create and maintain. If left to ourselves, everything would explode or fall apart. But God keeps the world together with his ever-wise and loving care.

“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Despite the war and national travail, Lincoln is grateful that America is a fruitful, growing nation in which he expects a “large increase of freedom.” Do you expect same? Does your faith go beyond the horizon of your personal circumstances and national problems to thank God for his abundance?

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Abraham Lincoln understood sin–and God’s anger against it. If you love people and truth then you must hate evil and its destructive forms. But he also knew that God was gracious–and that ALL the great things in America have come via his grace and mercy. Do you consciously realize that truth? Do you give God credit for all the good things in your life?

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”

I love Lincoln’s word choices here. Solemnly–don’t joke away Thanksgiving or fail to give God serious thought. Reverently–with respect, prayer, and admiration. Gratefully–it only has meaning when it is directed toward someone. Gratefulness in general is just pleasant feelings. Gratefulness to God grows a loving relationship with your Lord and Savior.

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Lincoln asks all Americans to observe Thankgiving day–whether they are atheists, pantheists, or believers in God. It will benefit all because, whether they believe it or not, God is there. You may not see the sun for the clouds, but it is there and you couldn’t live without it. Even more so with God in whom you live, breathe and have your being (Acts 17:28). He exhorts all Americans to the double barrels of joy–thanksgiving and praise. One recognizes what God does and the other, who he is. He is our Father whose home is in the Heavens (the ultimate destination of his children).

“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His 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 Hand 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, tranquillity and Union.”

Lincoln finishes his Proclamation with three distinct admonitions:

1. That we have repentant hearts over our “national perverseness and disobedience.” What would Abraham Lincoln think of the evolution of those sins today? Do you care? Do you grieve over America’s perversion and turning away from God? In 1863, the president of the United States encouraged our citizens to repent.

2. That we reach out to the needy, hurting, and unfortunate in our society. God cares–so should we.

3. That we pray that God would heal and restore us to Him. Have you personally prayed today beyond bowing your head before the turkey is served? Were your prayers passionate for your family and nation?

“In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.”

“Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.”

“By the President: Abraham Lincoln.”

There’s no mention here of the phony definition of separation of Church and State. Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States, calls all Americans to repent, thank God, praise Him, and serve others.

Will you act upon his timeless words?

Happy Thanksgiving–in the year of our Lord 2012 and of the Independence of the United States the Two-Hundred and Thirty-Sixth.

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