Of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon us, and for which we should offer him praise and thanksgiving, near the top should be his gift to us of his Holy Word, the Bible. King David offered this proclamation in Psalms 56:10, “I praise God for his word to me; I praise the Lord for his word.” Just what is it about the Bible that causes such jubilation?
The Bible and the Puritans
The Word of God has power to encourage and heal us. In spite of their severe hardships, the days of Thanksgiving instituted by the Pilgrim settlers in the 1600s were rooted in Scripture. It was common for them to sing a hymn at their thanksgivings that was written in 1551. Its title is “All People that on Earth do Dwell.” They generally referred to it as “The old 100th” since it was based on the 100th Psalm and was part of their psalter. The first verse proclaims,
All people that on earth do dwell, Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.
There are also instances of them reading or quoting other Scripture passages, especially the 100th Psalm itself, which says,
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
The use of Scripture in the early days of America called people to remember the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and to not lose hope in the midst of difficulty.
Thanksgiving was a time to do an azimuth check on Christian behavior and, if necessary, recapture or develop a Biblical attitude of gratitude.
That is the power of God’s Word.
It is important to remember that no matter how strong we are, God is stronger still. As Service Members, we are trained to give our best to every mission, and although functioning as part of a team, to nonetheless be self-reliant. But sometimes we are tempted to think that mindset spills over into dealing with issues in our personal lives. We try to do things in our own strength and ignore the power that our Heavenly Father offers to us. This is why the writer of First Chronicles gives us this order, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (16:11). We can seek the Lord most readily through a study of His Word to us. King David says to God that, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). When the going gets tough, the tough turn to God’s Word.
What if we are struggling through a particularly difficult and dark set of circumstances with no end in sight? Can the Bible really make a difference? By way of example, consider the actions of our Commanders in Chief during the two World Wars.
The Bible and the First World War
America entered the first World War in 1917. Most of our Service Members who were heading overseas to fight had never left the state in which they were born. It was an unsettling time for many, and they faced a gruesome war in Europe.
To address those concerns, the YMCA printed pocket Bibles to be given to our Troops. The Commander in Chief, Woodrow Wilson, a man dedicated to prayer and daily Bible reading, wrote a preface for those Bibles. Here is what he said.
“The Bible is the Word of Life. I beg that you will read it and find this out for yourselves, read, not little snatches here and there, but long passages that will really be the road to the heart of it.
You will find it full of real men and women not only, but also of the things you have wondered about and been troubled about all your life, as men have been always; and the more you read the more it will become plain to you what things are worthwhile and what are not, what things make men happy, loyalty, right dealing, speaking the truth, readiness to give everything for what they think their duty, and, most of all, the wish that they may have the approval of the Christ, who gave everything for them, and the things that are guaranteed to make men unhappy, selfishness, cowardice, greed, and everything that is low and mean.
When you have read the Bible you will know it is the Word of God, because you will have found in it the key to your own heart, your own happiness, and your own duty.”
– Woodrow Wilson
Clearly President Wilson understood the power that the Word of God can and does play in our lives, and so commended his Military to commit themselves to its reading.
The Bible and the Second World War
President Roosevelt also understood the power of reading the Bible.
In 1941, before the United States was bombed at Pearl Harbor, America was pledging its support to Great Britain. Roosevelt sent his ambassador to London and told him to say these exact words (from Ruth 1:16) to the British leadership, “Whither thou goest, I will go. And where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Even to the end.” That Bible verse had an enormously positive impact on the leadership of that nation at a time when they were feeling isolated from the rest of the world because of the war. President Roosevelt used the Bible to demonstrate the sincerity and depth of his convictions to stand by the British in their hour of need.
In 1942, as the destruction and death toll of WWII grew in Europe and the Pacific, Roosevelt had our government print and issue pocket New Testaments to be available to all our Service Members. On the first page was a letter from him that said simply:
To the armed forces:
As commander-in-chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many diverse faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel, and inspiration. It is the fountain of strength and the highest aspiration of the human soul.
-Very sincerely yours, Franklin D. Roosevelt
In his 1944 presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamation, in the continuing throes of the Second World War, President Roosevelt reached back to the first Thanksgiving. He recognized the power of God’s Word and offered Americans this challenge:
“To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.”
President Roosevelt acknowledged that true strength and healing can only come from God as recorded in the Bible.
The Year of the Bible
But we should not limit our Bible readings to just hard times, or even just holidays and church. Reading the Bible every day should be a normal part of our spiritual fitness training. The Apostle Paul tells us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
This truth inspired President Ronald Reagan on October 4, 1982 to sign a bill making 1983 the “Year of the Bible.” He wrote,
“Now, therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, in recognition of the contributions and influence of the Bible on our Republic and our people, do hereby proclaim 1983 the Year of the Bible in the United States. I encourage all citizens, each in his or her own way, to reexamine and rediscover its priceless and timeless message.”
And many people have and are examining and discovering the priceless and timeless message of the Bible.
The Bible and Me
When I was 17, God used his Word to confront me in my sin. I learned that through Jesus Christ my sins could be forgiven, and that I could have a new life. I gave my life to Jesus Christ, and have not looked back. I have since devoted my life to helping others come to know Jesus and to discover the power of God for their lives through the regular study of his Word. I was called by God to go to seminary, then pastor a church for three years, then to spend 30 years as an Army chaplain. As a chaplain, I used the Bible to bring Soldiers to God, and God to Soldiers. I saw lives healed and changed through the power of God’s Word.
Since I retired from the Army in 2012, I have had the privilege to work with the Armed Services Ministry (ASM) of American Bible Society. I have overseen the writing of many of the Bible based materials that ASM offers for free to Military, Veterans, and their families. I also get to travel around the country to tell our story, but more importantly, to hear the stories of lives changed because they developed a regular discipline of Bible study.
The Bible and You
Once in a while we hear from some of those whose lives have been changed by using our materials to get into the Word, and it is such a great encouragement to us. Let me share just a few of those unsolicited and unedited recent testimonies with you. Each of these came to us recently after the person completed one of our Bible engagement programs.
One Veteran wrote, “I’ve increased my knowledge and want to get to know the stories of the Bible and Jesus. I’ve turned around my attitude about life and have encouraged others to read as well.”
A Marine wrote, “I reflect on my life and have changed a lot about myself. I feel more at ease and humble and no longer in pain.”
I particularly like this comment from an Air Force member who completed the Military Bible Challenge. In answer to the question as to what difference this challenge made in your life, they answered, “To be more positive and let God take control. This was a workout!”
We get dozens of testimonies every month from folks just like you telling us about the incredible difference God is making in their lives because they committed to meet him every day in his Word. You can be one of those people by exploring this website and beginning an online study or ordering a study for your own such as the Military Bible Challenge.
In the Thanksgiving season, I am always asked what I am thankful for. For sure, I am grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who delivered me from my sins and who walks with me every day. I am grateful for his Word which he uses to teach me about him, about myself, and that he uses to direct my path. I am grateful for my family, friends, and for the privilege of living in a free country. I am especially grateful for our Military who protect that freedom, and for our Military Families who make so many personal sacrifices to follow their Service Members. And yes, I am grateful to the Armed Services Ministry for its commitment to deliver the Word of God into the hearts of every member of the Armed Forces.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. As you give thanks to God wherever you are in the world, I encourage you to include a Scripture reading in your celebration. I would recommend using the 100th Psalm as a nod to the early Pilgrims and in gratitude to our God. I also offer you this heartfelt blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)