As we approach Thanksgiving, most of us are probably thinking about the Pilgrims, or at least referencing them in some way. Instead of focusing so much on the Pilgrims’ “thanksgiving meal,” it would probably serve us far better to contemplate their great faith in God. The Pilgrims’ theology was revealed through their many hardships. Their first governor, William Bradford, when explaining how the colonists survived the winter, said it was in spite of “all their weaknesses and infirmities.” He wanted his readers to give God the glory so that “in like cases might be encouraged to depend upon God in their trials (1).” The Pilgrims knew the Word of God so well that it radically changed their perspective on life. They were strong not because they were some kind of super-humans, but because of their trust in God. They were a humble people who gloried in God as their strength.
The Pilgrims surely modeled the faith of the holy men and women of old from Scripture who looked forward to the promise of Christ’s coming. Although they were pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13), they longed for the “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
They believed God’s promises through the eyes of faith. Some were tortured, mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated (Hebrews 11:36-37). They were men and women of whom the world was not worthy (11:38).
There was so much they couldn’t see, and yet they trusted in a faithful God.
Strength In God
Numbers 13 and 14 tell the story of two groups of people – those who had faith in God in the midst of difficult circumstances, and those who failed to see Him. In these chapters, Moses sends 12 spies into the land of Canaan to survey it. When the spies return, 10 describe what they see: giants, walled cities, and a people who were much stronger then they were. The spies tell Moses and the people of Israel, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are (13:31).”
But 2 of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave a very different report. They did not argue with the other spies or deny the fact that they were “grasshoppers” in the sight of the mighty men of Canaan. But their overall perspective was filled with hope: “Do not fear the people of the land…the Lord is with us; do not fear them (14:7,9).”
Same circumstance and yet two different perspectives.
The Scripture records that the 10 spies gave a “bad report” (13:32) but Joshua and Caleb exuded a “different spirit” (14:24) and they were blessed by the Lord. So what was the difference between these two groups of men? The difference was not in their circumstances, but Who they saw (or failed to see).
The 10 spies saw the obstacles and the giants. Minus God.
But Joshua and Caleb saw more than that. They saw God.
The 10 spies said, there are giants!
Joshua and Caleb said, but we have God! (2)
The 10 spies were faithless.
Joshua and Caleb had faith in God.
The 10 spies didn’t believe God’s promise that He would bring them into the land.
Joshua and Caleb remembered the promise and knew that somehow God would make a way.
Ordinary People, Big Faith
I’ve thought about this a lot the past couple months and it has brought much conviction to my heart. Life is hard. Trials are many. Death is real. How many days do I forget to say, “But God!”
Just like Joshua and Caleb, I know the God of Israel, the One who, “Looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything (Job 28:24)” and who “Has gathered the wind in his fists (Prov 30:4).”
Yet, I’ve been like the faithless spies so many times.
And we’ve all been around people like the faithless spies.
How saddening is it to be around the single woman who is dejected and bitter and says, “I’ll never get married. I’ll never be happy.”
How discouraging is it to be around a young mother who complains constantly about the dirty diapers, the surprise pregnancy, and her lack of “me time.”
How disheartening is it to be around the mother with grown children who tells you to “Enjoy it now, because it isn’t going to last.”
But how different it is to be around a woman who sees God at work in her circumstances. Have you ever been around a godly woman like that? She doesn’t sugarcoat her circumstances or pretend like everything is perfect, she is real and honest and yet full of faith.
The single woman says, “Yes it is hard and I am often lonely and I long to be married, but God is a refuge for me and I have grown in my faith in ways I never would have imagined were possible.”
The young mother says, “There are days when I don’t think I can change another diaper, but then God meets me right where I am and I understand his grace in a new way,” or “We were definitely surprised by this pregnancy but I know that God is the giver of life and I trust His perfect timing for our family.”
The mother with grown children says, “I remember when mine were young. It is very busy, but enjoy every minute. Things change, but every age and stage is a gift.”
Or the mother who has a rebellious child but with tears in her eyes says, “I never give up hope because I know who God is, and He is working out all things for my good and His glory.”
These are women who live in the land of giants, yet see through the eyes of faith.
Who Do You See?
I don’t know what trials you may be going through this Thanksgiving, but do you see Christ? Is your heart set on this world or do you view yourself as what you are, a sojourner and a pilgrim? While loneliness may flood your heart or sorrow abound, believe His promises. Strength is found in Christ, look to Him. May we say like Joshua and Caleb, and all those ordinary pilgrims of old, Do not fear, God is with us!
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5 (NIV)
(1) These quotes from William Bradford and the faith of the Pilgrims are from The First Thanksgiving by Robert McKenzie. I absolutely loved this book!
(2) – I learned these truths from Numbers 13 and 14 in a counseling class taught by Dr. Stuart Scott at Southern Seminary.