Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: When the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving, they were saying something important about God. Here’s Barbara Rainey.

Barbara Rainey: When they publicly gave thanks we have to think who was watching. The children were watching, but there were also Indians watching. And the Indians, of course, were unbelievers. I think we have a responsibility as Christians in this country to give thanks and to publicly declare, “God is good, and He is the one who is protecting us and providing for us.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, October 29.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The Scripture tells us over and over and over again to remember the deeds of the Lord and to give thanks to the Lord for the wonderful things that He has done. As we approach this Thanksgiving season, that’s what we want to encourage you to do as part of our Revive Our Hearts' family.

I know that many of you have families and are thinking now about what you’ll be doing over the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe you’ll be traveling to visit with relatives. Maybe you’ll be staying at your own home this year.

But wherever you’re going to be, whatever you’re going to be doing, I hope that one important part of your Thanksgiving celebration will be taking time as a family to recount the deeds of the Lord and to rehearse the story of the first Thanksgiving.

And here to help us this week think about how we might prepare to do that is my friend Barbara Rainey. She and her husband Dennis are the founders of FamilyLife Today, a partner ministry with Revive Our Hearts.

Barbara, thank you so much for your heart for this message and for what you’ve done to help us understand it.

Barbara Rainey: I’m really delighted to be here, and I do have a great love for Thanksgiving and this holiday.

Nancy: You were a history major in college, and I was not. You were much more interested in history at that time than I was. But now I wish I’d paid more close attention because as I read books like the one you’ve written on Thanksgiving and on the early Pilgrims, I realize how many important evidences there are in history of the hand of God, the faithfulness of God. And that strengthens my own faith.

So you’ve written this terrific book Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember. And we want to encourage all of our listeners to get a copy of this for their families. In fact, when it first came out I ordered so many copies to give as gifts to my friends and FamilyLife ran out of copies that first Thanksgiving. I don’t know if you remember.

Barbara: Yes, I do.

Nancy: But I’ve given lots of these away. It’s a great gift for a family, for friends of yours. You actually tell the Thanksgiving story in a way that doesn’t sound like a history lecture. You make it come alive.

Barbara: Well thanks. I wanted it to be something that children and families could read and enjoy together and not be boring because kids tend—and even adults—to think that history is boring. But it’s not when you know the people.

Nancy: Well it isn’t boring, and it is a read aloud book. It can be read to smaller children, to older children. There’s a fuller version or a more condensed version based on the attention span and age of your children. But I want us to pick up today with some more of the story.

We talked yesterday about the Pilgrims coming to the new land and the ordeal that they went through. But the ordeal wasn’t over once they got to the new land.

 Barbara: That’s right. In today’s thinking when you arrive somewhere the trip is over, and you have a home or a hotel or something waiting for you. And if you can just stop for a second and picture these Pilgrims arriving after two months at sea, they were exhausted. They were worn out. Many of them were sick.

And they stepped on shore and there was nothing. Wilderness. It’s November. The meeting house was built. They had several setbacks. The roof caught on fire and all of their arms and ammunition were stored inside, but nobody was hurt. They were able to rebuild.

But all of this was going on in the middle of the winter in December and January. They were outside every day in the cold and the rain and the snow and the wind trying to build this shelter for them and their families. So it was quite an ordeal for them to endure.

Nancy: And then they had a lot of sickness that first winter as well.

Barbara: That’s right. Starting in January they began to get sick and many of them began to die. And at one point Governor Bradford wrote in his journal that they were dying two and three a day in February. That is just staggering to me.

They would keep all of those who were sick in the meeting house that was completed. He wrote that at times there were only one or two who were well enough to care for those who were sick. They would bring them a little bit of broth and try to help them with some comfort.

But again, no central heat, windows that were probably very drafty. The logs were probably drafty. To me it’s a wonder that any of them survived at all.

Nancy: In fact, the ones who died were mostly adults. Most of the children survived. Fifteen of the nineteen women actually died. Only four of the original couples were preserved. So you had these children who had to be taken in by adoptive parents.

Barbara: That’s right. So it was not only difficult, but it must have been incredibly sad to see friends and family members dying at that kind of a rate and to wonder who was next. And would anyone be left?

I’m sure their faith wavered. I’m sure they said, “God, why did You bring us here?” Much as the Children of Israel said in the wilderness, “Why did you bring us here to let us die?” I’m sure they felt that as they saw one another dying, and they were burying friends and their family members daily.

Nancy: Yet through all this period they saw evidences of the providence of God. When we speak of God’s providence in their lives or ours, we mean that God sees ahead what is going to happen, and He makes provision for His people in advance.

God had gone before even to this new land. Even as to where they landed, there was providence in that wasn’t there?

Barbara: There really was. And it’s so wonderful to see that it’s true and that increases my faith. But for instance as we talked about yesterday, the ship was blown off course. They landed in Cape Cod rather than Virginia. So they were able to be under different rules and different governing.

But another thing that happened—there were lots of things, but one of the thing I talk about in my book—is that they discovered when they landed on Cape Cod that no one lived there. The Indians that had previously occupied that land had all died of a mysterious plague that no one knew how they got it, where it came from.

But the land that they arrived on was unoccupied, and it had been for four years. No one had come back to claim it, so there was no struggle. They didn’t have to conquer it in the typical sense that we think of. The land was just there and waiting. They were able to settle easily and freely and without any opposition.

Nancy: God had prepared a place.

Barbara: God had gone ahead and prepared a place for them.

Nancy: Then we come to the first harvest, October 1621. William Bradford who is the 30-year-old governor of the colony there declares that Plymouth should now hold a Thanksgiving festival and invite their new Indian friends. Describe for us what that first festival was like.

Barbara: Well, William Bradford was a very strong believer and had great faith in God. He understood the Old Testament and the whole history of Israel in feasting and how God set aside times of feasting to celebrate what God had done in His provision.

He suggested that they have a day of thanksgiving. At that day of thanksgiving, they invited the Indians to come and join them because one of their goals was to be on very good terms with the Indians, to be friends, to reach out to them and to share the love of Christ with them.

So the first Thanksgiving was a time for both people groups to come together and to celebrate. And, of course, they celebrated in very different ways. But the Pilgrims wanted to honor God and give Him thanks for His provision and for bringing them through the harsh winter and across the Atlantic and all of the things that they had seen God deliver them from.

Nancy: What was some of the food that they had at that first Thanksgiving?

Barbara: The Pilgrims had venison, and they had fish and probably some lobster and crab that they had gotten out of the bay. They also had eel and oysters, which is an interesting addition to a Thanksgiving meal. I don’t think my children would like that too much if I served them that.

They had turnips and cucumbers, onions and carrots, cabbage and beets, things that they had grown in their crops. They also had fruits and berries and things that grew in the wild that they were able to harvest and have.

One of the things that they learned that first Thanksgiving that my children always found fascinating was they discovered from the Indians what popcorn was. That was something that was brand new and was one of the things the Indians provided as their contribution to the Thanksgiving feast—popcorn.

Nancy: And they actually made popcorn balls.

Barbara: They actually made popcorn balls. I’m sure they’re not quite what we picture, but nonetheless, they mixed the popcorn, poured syrup over it and it kind of stuck together.

Nancy: So that may be something your kids would enjoy adding to their Thanksgiving feast.

Barbara: That would be something that kids might enjoy adding.

Nancy: So they came together and before eating they did what they had made a habit of doing not only in the good times but also in the hard times—thanking God.

Barbara: That’s right. The Pilgrims had a habit, which we would do well to adopt as well, of giving thanks always in all circumstances good and bad. And this was one of the good ones. So before they ate they began by giving thanks to God for all that He had done and the ways He had provided.

Shortly after the first Thanksgiving that November a ship arrived bringing more passengers to join the colony. But that ship didn’t have extra provisions. They didn’t have things that they could trade with the Indians for more food.

So they went from plenty back to poverty almost overnight. So that second winter they had very little to eat. People got sick again. There were people that died. Not as many as the first year because they had better living accommodations.

But again, the second winter was very, very difficult.

Nancy: That’s the time where we have this legend about the rations being reduced to five kernels of corn a day.

Barbara: Yes, and I did not find documentation for that. I tried really hard and even talked to some of the historians in Plymouth, and they said they don’t have it either.

Nancy: But we know it was a hard time.

Barbara: We know it was a hard time. And even if it wasn’t five kernels of corn a day, even if they had twice that much, still they had very, very little to eat and to survive on.

Nancy: Yet amazingly, at crucial points where they were at utter desperation, God would send some sort of provision. You talked about one ship that arrived with some bartering materials that they were able to use to get some more corn from the Indians.

Barbara: That’s right. God did continue to provide. This ship just showed up unexpectedly. They were able to barter for more corn with the Indians. They were able to do some fishing, some digging for clams and some lobstering to be able to supplement what corn they did have. So God watched over the people and provided and cared for them. Even though their rations were meager they were able to survive.

Nancy: Now we don’t have any record of there being a feast or festival the second year. But as we come into the spring of 1623, we see another expression of God’s providential care for His people. And I love this story.

At this point each family had been given a little parcel of land to farm, to plant. And they worked hard. But shortly after they planted their crops, there came weeks of drought. So this was another time of desperation. Tell us how God moved providentially, miraculously to provide for them even coming out of that drought.

Barbara: Well, the Pilgrims did what they always do. They began to wonder what God might be teaching them, but they moved immediately to pray. So after these weeks had gone by and they kept praying for rain and waiting for rain and watching for rain and hoping for rain, after a while Governor Bradford said, “We need to come together collectively and intercede and ask God to deliver us.”

So they had a day of fasting and prayer. Everyone gathered in the meeting house.

Nancy: A day of fasting and prayer.

Barbara: That’s right.

Nancy: This is in the new world. Talk about separation of church and state. That would be unheard of today.

Barbara: Of course it would.

Nancy: But fasting and prayer for rain specifically.

Barbara: They were virtually fasting anyway because they had so little to eat. And so for them to give up food for another day they were desperate and they knew that this required desperate measures. They wanted to demonstrate their dependence on God. So they chose to have a day of fasting and prayer.

They gathered in the meeting house and they prayed all day that God would deliver them and would provide rain. It’s a wonderful story of how God answered their prayers. And not only did He answer their prayers by bringing rain, but He brought the kind of rain that they needed.

Nancy: They’d had twelve weeks of drought and then within 24 hours there is what kind of rain?

Barbara: A soft, gentle rain is how they described it. It wasn’t a thunderstorm. There was no hail. There was nothing violent about this rain. But God brought a gentle rain that lasted for days that revived all of their crops.

It was such a wonder and such an amazing demonstration of God’s provision, His answer to prayer. But it was also a testimony to the Indians.

One of my favorite parts of the story is that the Indians whose crops were also suffering were doing their war dances and their incantations and consulting their witch doctors and trying to get rain in the way they normally got rain.

But the Pilgrims did it in another way, and God answered the Pilgrims’ prayer so clearly that the Indians were amazed. And it was a very clear demonstration to the Indians that the God who the Pilgrims worshiped and served was different than the God they served.

They saw the difference and they admired it. And I think they were drawn closer to understanding who the God was of the universe from that demonstration.

Nancy: The wonderful conclusion to that story is that the Pilgrims didn’t just go on enjoying the harvest. But when the harvest came, the bountiful harvest in August or September of that year, they once again stopped to thank God, to give Him glory, to give Him credit for what He had done.

So they had another second thanksgiving feast.

Barbara: That’s right. They did. So that fall the Governor decided that they would have another thanksgiving feast to celebrate what God had done in delivering them and in reviving their crops and giving them an abundant harvest.

They had a much better harvest that year than they had had the previous two years, enough that they knew they would survive through the next winter. So their harvest was increasing a little each year and that gave them great hope for the future.

Nancy: One of those Pilgrims was a man named Edward Winslow who was writing reports back home to England. Some of those letters have been preserved. I love the quote from one of those letters that you use in your book. He said:

We thought it would be a great ingratitude if secretly we should content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that which by private prayer could not be obtained.

In other words they had prayed through these weeks of drought. And it was when they came together corporately, publicly to pray that God had answered their prayers.

So he said, “We prayed publicly. We had better thank God publicly.” He said:

Therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise with all thankfulness to our God who dealt so graciously with us.

So we see there the Christian roots of this Thanksgiving holiday. It is not a pagan holiday. It is not a secular holiday. It’s not just a great thing to have an extra long weekend. That’s a blessing. But it’s meaningless if we lose sight of the purpose for which it was established and the roots that gave us this important day.

Barbara: I couldn’t agree more Nancy. And when you think about this particular Thanksgiving, this second one in 1623, when they publicly gave thanks, we have to think who was watching. The children were watching. The adults who had decided to do this were setting an example for the children.

But there were also Indians watching. And the Indians, of course, were unbelievers. And so I think we have a responsibility as Christians in this country to continue to celebrate Thanksgiving and not just celebrate it in the way that everyone else does but to celebrate it in the way that God intended for us to, to give thanks and to publicly declare, “God is good. We worship Him. He is sovereign, and He is the one who is protecting us and providing for us.”

I hope that there will be unbelievers, those who don’t know Christ, who will see us as Christians celebrating Thanksgiving in a different way, in a way that gives glory to God and that they might be drawn to Him as the Indians were with the Pilgrims.

Nancy: So tell us how this works at the Rainey household. I know you for the last few years have invited me to join your family for this special Rainey family tradition, and I’ve not been able to do it yet.

So describe for us and our listeners what that’s like.

Barbara: Maybe this year it will work.

For a long time when my youngest was say five or six we would sit fairly calmly around the table.

Nancy: As calmly as a family of six children can sit.

Barbara: That’s right. But they were all mine, and they knew that they did not get any food until the story was over. That was sort of the bargain. The story comes first. We write what we’re thankful for and we pray. Then we get to eat. So there’s no food until then. So it’s sort of motivating.

Nancy: But it’s cooking while you’re doing the story.

Barbara: It’s cooking, and they could smell it, so it was motivation for them to be quiet and not interrupt and not have to get up and go to the bathroom and not complain or pick on their brother or sister sitting next to them because they knew that would only make it last longer.

We sat around the table, and I read the story. As the kids got older, I began to have them read portions of it. We would pass the book around the table and let them be a part of reading the story. It kept their attention better. It allowed them to participate. It wasn’t something that they could just be passive and sort of take a little nap. So we passed the book around.

Then after reading the story everyone had a card or some kind of a piece of paper and a pen on their plate. We all made a list of five things that we were thankful for. Some years many of us wanted to make more than five, so we limited it to five things that we were thankful for.

Nancy: And there was something else on that plate.

Barbara: There was something else on the plate, which relates to the five things you’re thankful for. There’s a tradition that I mentioned in the book that on that second Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth that each colonist had five kernels of corn on his or her plate to remind them of the time of starvation they had come through where God had provided.

I don’t know if that’s true. But even if it isn’t true, it’s a good visual reminder for us and it’s a good way to say, “We have so much and they had so little.”

So on our plates we all have in addition to a note card and a pen we have five kernels in the center of our plate. Then we each write down five things that we are grateful for at Thanksgiving. We then take a small little basket, a little glass dish, and we pass it around the table. We drop in a kernel of corn and each one of us reads off our card one thing that we’re thankful for, and then it goes to the next person.

So it goes around the table five times, and we each read what we’re thankful for. Then we pray together at the end and give thanks to God for not only the things that we’ve listed but just His abundant goodness to us day in and day out.

Nancy: And you’ve actually kept many of those cards over the years from when your children were small and then as they got older. You talk about the one year that one of your sons gave thanks to God for a particularly challenging blessing.

Barbara: That’s been one of the things that I did not expect as I started doing this with my children. I wanted them to know the story, and I wanted them to be thankful for it. But I didn’t realize how not just meaningful but how, I guess the word is, bonding it would be for our family to verbally share those things with one another.

One year as we went around the table, we had discovered that our son Samuel had a form of muscular dystrophy and a neural muscular disorder. He had gone from being a top ranked tennis player in our state to not being able to run at all.

We’d had him to some specialists. It was a very, very hard time in his life. He was only 13 at the time. He was still trying to work out his own faith, much less understand why God had allowed him to have this.

But one of the things that he wrote on his card that year was he wrote, “I am thankful for MD [muscular dystrophy] and Mayo Clinic,” because we had had him to Mayo Clinic.

And all of us as a family when he wrote that—and of course we all know in the back of our minds that that was very much a part of our family that year. But nobody knew if he would bring it up, if he would put it on his card, if he would verbalize that.

When he did there was just this collective pause as we realized how profound that was and how good that was for him as a 13-year-old to give thanks to God for something that was very difficult. Athletics was what he was best at. He wasn’t great in academics, but athletics was Samuel’s strength, and God took it away.

He was still very much in the middle trying to figure out what he was good at. What did God want him to do? And we didn’t have answers to that for many years to come.

So for him to say, “I’m thankful for what God gave me for this disease,” was very, very meaningful. It was moving. It was just a very profound moment in our family.

I’m grateful we had this tradition because it helped Samuel verbalize a thankful heart for God’s sovereignty in his life. And he might not have had the opportunity to do that otherwise.

Nancy: So Barbara, you’ve done a great service not only to your children and your grandchildren as you’re passing on this legacy of thankfulness, but you’ve done a great service to the Body of Christ by providing this beautiful book with beautiful drawings and paintings and artwork, beautifully written, telling the Thanksgiving story in a book called Thanksgiving: A Time To Remember, a time to recall the wonders of the Lord in giving us this land and to be challenged by the faith of our Pilgrim fathers.

Don’t skip over Thanksgiving. Don’t let it pass you by. Don’t let it get swallowed up with parades and football and turkey and miss the reason for that season—giving thanks to the Lord and teaching your children how to do that.

So I want to encourage all our listeners to get a copy of this book, to order perhaps an additional copy as a gift for a friend. So as we prepare our hearts for Thanksgiving, let’s be intentional. Let’s say, “Lord, this is a great opportunity to recall what You’ve done, to give thanks to You, and to teach our children to be grateful to You as well.”

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss and our guest Barbara Rainey have been inviting you to plan ahead for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and make it a spiritually meaningful time.

To order the book you’ve been hearing about, call us at 1-800-569-5959. Ask for the book Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember when you make a donation of any amount, and we’ll make sure you get your copy. Or donate and get the book Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember when you visit our website

Nancy has written a new book. Learn about it tomorrow when Barbara Rainey joins Nancy to talk about Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.