The True Lesson of Thanksgiving

Story by

Katherine Bussard

Ex. Director & COO

If obedience to God costs you all the things of the world, would still obey and praise Him? 

The pilgrims did just that—and God abundantly blessed their faithfulness. 

In the early 1600’s, there was a local congregation in the small town of Scooby, England, where faithful believers dared to faithfully worship and live in accordance with the Word of God rather than following the state-approved religious practice. Among them were men like William Brewster, John Robinson, and William Bradford. In the face of persecution and pressure to “go along to get along,” these brothers in Christ remained steadfast. They sold everything they owned, said goodbye to life-long friends, and moved their families and businesses to Holland, where the Dutch promised them the opportunity to openly and freely worship God and disciple their children in the ways of Word. At first, life in Holland seemed like a welcome reprieve. They found homes, established honest businesses, and, as William Bradford recorded, “their godly carriage & Christian behavior was such as left a deep impression in the minds of many.” However, even while their light shone brightly to the secular culture around them, many began to notice the world creeping into their homes. After a decade with the Dutch, the faithful from that small English congregation observed that, “many of their children…were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant an dangerous courses…tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the grief of their parents, and dishonor of God.” 

The English separatists questioned whether they were truly effective ambassadors of their eternal kingdom in a land where a godless culture was claiming their children and invading their homes. They committed themselves to prayer and fasting and found “a great hope and zeal…for the propagating and advancing of the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.” 

As William Bradford wrote, “Whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them,” they resolved on what was to be a harrowing journey. They began making preparations to sail to the new world. They took on a lifetime’s wages in debt to charter two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. After attempting to set off twice on the stormy autumn seas, the Speedwell quickly proved unworthy of the voyage, and a 102 passengers crammed aboard the Mayflower in space not much larger than a volleyball court. After 66 days and many miracles at sea, they arrived on the Atlantic coast, more than 460 miles north of their original destination in the frigid New England winter of 1620.  Treacherous weather prevented them heading south to the Virginia Bay Colony, so they settled in Plymouth Harbor and began building shelter. Had they landed just a few years earlier, they would have been murdered by hostile natives, but a mysterious plague had whipped out the Patuxet Indians in 1617. The illness was so grave that other neighboring tribes were afraid to settle the land. The pilgrims didn’t know it at the time, but in this way, God provided a safe place for them to call home. 

Before leaving the ship and setting up a settlement in an untamed wilderness, the pilgrims gave thanks to God and rededicated their mission to His glory. They set up a form of self-government that became the predecessor to our Constitution, known as the Mayflower Compact, pledging their efforts to the “Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith.” This document was the first expression of civil government that recognized the Biblical relationship between man and government and applied Biblical truth to civil affairs. 

It took them over three months to build enough shelters for everyone to live on land, but they worked diligently. Their clothes were inadequate for the climate, many suffered illness, and they lacked food and survival skills for the harsh northern climate—but they did not waver in their faith or mission. During the first three months, more than half of their company perished. However, on March 16th, God led a native man named Samoset into their camp. He spoke broken English, but saw they needed help, and soon returned with the only surviving member of the Pautexet tribe, a brave named Squanto who happened to speak perfect English. In 1605, Squanto had been captured by explorers and taken to England as a slave. In 1614, Captain John Smith rescued him and returned him as a free man to New England, but he was again captured, this time by slave traders who took him to Spain, where some local friars bought him in order to rescue and free him and then introduced him to Christianity. Had he not been captured a second time, he likely would have died with the rest of his tribe. However, by time the friars were able to afford his passage home, the illness had passed. He befriended Samoset’s tribe, but God ultimately led him to English-speaking pilgrims who shared his Christian faith. He lived among them and taught them to fish and live off the land. That autumn, thanks to God’s blessing and His instrument, Squanto, the pilgrims had a robust harvest. They invited the neighboring native tribe to feast with them for three days as they gave thanks to God. 

As Governor Bradford recorded, “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversities. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever. Yes, let them which have been redeemed by the Lord, show how He hath delivered them.” 

In the years that followed, the pilgrims enjoyed unprecedented freedom of worship and liberty. They discipled the next generation in the Gospel and evangelized all who came in contact with them. They built a government system based on Scripture. When a slave ship tried to land, they freed all the captives and returned them to their native land and criminally charged the slaveholders (Barton). They worked hard and repaid the debt they had taken on to finance the settlement 20 years ahead of schedule. The children of the pilgrims knew just how much their parents sacrificed to disciple them in the faith and they also witnessed God’s faithful provision time and time again. They carried the Gospel to the native peoples who lived around them, and together they built a thriving society that honored God.  

Hundreds of years later, we remember their success and live in a nation that is still shaped by some of their values—but the most important things the pilgrims taught us are too often forgotten. We may celebrate the harvest with feasting—but do we truly give the Almighty His due praise? Like the pilgrims, we owe everything to our Lord and Savior who has redeemed and delivered us from sin. Our existence also depends on Him, and while many of us live with comfort and plenty, we must remember that every good gift comes from Him. We should also remember that no matter what challenges we face, God is providentially preparing us to accomplish His good purpose of our lives. We, too, have a culture that desperately needs the Gospel light. We, too, have churches, homes, and children that need to be discipled in the Word. We, too, must recognize that obedience to His will is worth sacrificing, “whatsoever it should cost.”  We, too, must know that in every season, our God is faithful, good, and worthy of our praise. 

From all of us at the Faith and Freedom Resource Library, Happy Thanksgiving! 

May you rejoice always in the goodness of our Lord!

All quotes based on William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation

About the Author

Katherine Bussard
Ex. Director & COO
As Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Salt & Light Global, Katherine works to disciple servant-leaders in all walks of life, equipping them to share the redemptive love and truth of Jesus. She facilitates training in good governance for communities around the state, mentors other Christian women in leadership, and champions sound public policy. In speaking, writing, and serving, Katherine seeks to encourage the body of Christ to see all of who they are what they do through God’s Word. Katherine resides with her husband and partner in Kingdom service, Jeff.

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