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Words of Life

A Season of Gratitude

By James Randall Robison November 30, 2014 Words of Life

As the turkey leftovers go into the refrigerator and the Christmas decorations come out of the attic, it’s important to realize that these two holidays are inextricable linked. Without Christmas, there is no Thanksgiving. When the early American settlers gathered in New England with their Native American friends, they shared in the thanks with those around them, as many of us did last week, but they didn’t give thanks to each other. They gave thanks to God Almighty, the Creator, Divine Providence, who is the Father of the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

As Ulysses S. Grant proclaimed on October 5, 1869: “It becomes a people thus favored to make acknowledgement to the Supreme Author from whom such blessings flow, of their gratitude and their dependence – to render praise and thanksgiving for the same, and devoutly to implore a continuance of God’s mercies.”

Most of our presidents understood this. Every single one, in fact, acknowledged it in some official capacity. Even President Obama’s recent invocation of Exodus (even if cynical) in his executive order speech on immigration tacitly conceded the supremacy of the God of the Bible. So as we enter into this heavily commercialized, often controversial season, I want to encourage you with the words of our past leaders so we can continue to give thanks as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

George Washington was one of the most devout Christians in our political history. As our first president, he took the oath of office with his hand on an open Bible. After being sworn in, the crowd in New York City applauded as church bells rang out. He opened his inaugural speech by declaring his first official act to be “fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aide can supply every human defect.” This was the same man, the great leader, general, and executive, who wrote in his personal prayer journal, “Make me to know what is acceptable in Thy sight, and therein to delight, open the eyes of my understanding, and help me thoroughly to examine myself concerning my knowledge, faith and repentance; increase my faith, and direct me to the true object Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life….”

His successor, John Adams, continued the practice as he considered one of the qualifications for office to be “a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service.” He went on to say, “May that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its Government and give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of His providence” (Inaugural Address, March 4, 1797).

And so the tradition continued, through Thomas Jefferson who admitted, “I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations” (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805).

In times of crises, our leaders have turned to God for help. In 1860, President Lincoln told his friend and Illinois state superintendent Newton Bateman, “I know there is a God, and that He hates the injustice of slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and a work for me, and I think He has, I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right, because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt offered his public prayer during great and terrible battle of D-Day, June 6, 1944: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”

In modern times, President Kennedy proclaimed, “Let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men” (Presidential Proclamation, November 5, 1963).

President Reagan declared in his first inaugural address, “We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer” (January 20, 1981).

Thanksgiving is past, but our gratitude must continue. Christmas will soon be upon us, and may the Spirit of Christ always be upon each of us. And in this sacred season, “while in gratitude we rejoice, we should humbly pray that we may be worthy of a continuation of Divine favor” (Calvin Coolidge, October 26, 1927).


James Randall Robison (Randy) writes and produces for LIFE TODAY. He is the author of God Wants You To Be Happy and Rise Above: How To Go Faster, Farther, and Higher In Your Faith. Follow him on Twitter @jamesrrobison and Facebook.

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