Thanksgiving in Troubled Times  

The Prayer Life of Abraham Lincoln

    This is a little show I wrote for Thanksgiving dinner at my church. All music is taken from Ken Burns' The Civil War soundtrack album, with track information noted. If you perform this, note that the music selections were copied from CD to .WAV file and heavily edited (usually padded by repeating sections) to produce music that ran the proper length behind the live-action script. In performance, all "Abe" quotes are done in a low, old "Abe" voice. (Duh!) (This was written in 1996, in those dark hours of corruption and national depair. Tweak it yourself for today if you want to perform it!)
Although it is technically (C) 1996, Andrew Bartmess, performance rights are freely granted provided all Glory is given to God, and this boxed message is visible on any printed hardcopy or electronic reprint.


(MUSIC UP AND UNDER: Flag of Columbia [1:15])

    We stand on the edge of the distinctly American celebration of Thanksgiving. For some, it is a celebration of abundance, more than "turkey day." But for those in the church, we must always recall that it is God to whom offer our thanksgiving. For prayer tonight, I read from "The Believer's Daily Treasure", a devotional book published in 1852 by the London Religious Tract Society, a book once owned and carried by Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the United States.


"In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

First Thessalonians, 5:18

Praise to God, immortal praise,

    For the love that crowns our days;

Bounteous Source of every joy!

    Let thy praise our tongues employ!

(Bow head and begin prayer)

    Almighty Father, let us pause in our abundance and give thanks. Our troubles are often just inconveniences; our worries are survivable when we recall that You hold our lives in your gentle hands. As we pause to thank you for our lives and blessings, let us remember how blessed we are compared to most, and thank you constantly for what we do have. Amen.

(Music out, long pause. FX: Drum Rift from CD Track #1. Music up and under: Ashokan Farewell [2:00])

    Abraham Lincoln, the man, is one of the most recognizable figures in American history. Physically, he was a imposing man, six-foot-four, with coarse black hair and a face that one might kindly call "craggy." Behind his weathered and warn face was a man of deep sorrows and great laughter. He once told a somber friend, "Why don't you laugh? With the funeral strain that is upon me, if I did not laugh, I would die." He was known by all as a marvelous story teller, and above all, enjoyed a good joke.

    Once at a debate, when a political rival called him a "two-faced man", Lincoln said: "I leave it to my audience. If I had two faces, would I wear this one?"

    Abe used to recall that he attended his first formal dance in Springfield, Illinois, because he wanted to meet Mary Todd {who he later married.) "I said, Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worst way! For years after that, Mary would tell her friends that I certainly did just that!"

    Lincoln also loved the story of the two Quaker women discussing the civil war and the leaders of the North and South:

"Who does thee think will win the war, Mr. Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?" said the first.

"'Twill be Mr, Davis," said the second. "He is a praying man.

"And so is Abraham a praying man," said the first.

"Ah, but the Lord will think Abraham is joking!"

    Abe presided over the Civil War, when the very existence of our nation was at risk. He buried several children, survived the mental illness of his wife, and stood tall while the nation fought and nearly destroyed itself.

    What helped him endure this chaos? Laughter helped ease the pain, but in the stillness of the White House, late at night, only one thing supported his weary heart. That thing was a belief in God's plan for the nation and its people, and a deep sense of thanksgiving for all that God had done for man.

(Music out, new music up and under: All Quiet on the Potomac [1:45])

    Sometime after 1847, a friend gave Lincoln a small devotional, entitled "The Believer's Daily Treasure". Lincoln, though not a "going-to-meeting" man, was an avid Bible reader, and his written letters and speeches are filled with biblical quotes and reference. He must have valued the book for it was signed inside the cover with his name, and very few books in his collection were so signed.

    On the title page of the book was a short phrase that echoed Abe's love for the Word of God; "The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold or silver." That love for the written Word of the Scriptures would appear again and again in Lincoln's writings.

    Famed clergyman William E, Barton scoured Lincoln's recorded words, and from those documents, formulated a "Statement of Faith" from Lincoln's own pen.

I believe in blessings and comfort from the Father of Mercies to the Sick, the wounded, the prisoners, and to the orphans and widows.

I believe it pleases Almighty God to prolong our national life, defending us with His guardian care.

I believe in His eternal truth and Justice.

I believe that the will of God prevails; without Him all human reliance is in vain. With-OUT the assistance of that Divine Being I cannot succeed; with that assistance I cannot fail.

I believe in praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

I believe that I am humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father. I desire that all my works and acts may be in according to His will; and that it may be so, I give thanks to the Almighty and seek His aid."

Abraham Lincoln

(Music out, music up and under: Angel Band [1:30])

    Lincoln saw gratitude to God as being a foundation to one's relationship to the Almighty.

February 2nd

Gratitude to God

"And one of the ten lepers, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice, glorified God."

Luke 17:15

What thanks I owe thee, and what love

    A boundless, endless store

Shall echo through the realms above

    When time shall be no more!

    John Jay, grandson of the nation's first Chief Justice of the Supreme court, and contemporary of Lincoln, recalled seeing him constantly carry a small black book and consult it often. Jay believed it to be a pocket New Testament, or indeed it might have been very devotional in which Lincoln signed his name. In those days, though there seemed little in his liŁe to bring happiness, the devotional counseled that in the midst of trial, there was joy.

July 26th

Joy, the Duty of the Believer

"Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous, and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. "

Psalm 32, Verse 11

Let those refuse to sing

    Who never knew the Lord

But children of the heavenly King

    Should speak their joys abroad!

(Music out, music up and under: Marching Through Georgia (Lament) [0:55])

    Lincoln and his family owned several bibles, and Abe read them often, frequently quoting it in private conversations and public addresses. In response to a bible given as a gift from a congregation in Baltimore, he said, "In regard to this great book, I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man." Abe's study of the bible shows up again and again in his life; of 702 words in his Second Inaugural Address, 266 of them were quoted direct from Scripture. Don't you wish we could hear this kind of living witness today! Though he sometimes struggled with the shortcomings of man, Abraham Lincoln never doubted the Word of God.

    "Take all this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith," Lincoln said of the bible to a friend, "and you will live and die a better man."

(Music out, music up and under: Lorena [1:40])

    In 1849, Lincoln's second son, Edward, died from diphtheria, after a prolonged 52 day illness. On the day of burial, Reverend James Smith of First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, preached. (Lincoln gave the pastor his highest praise, calling him "A good storyteller.") In his youth, Smith was a wild young man and scoffer at religion. As a grown man, the pastor was author of "The Christian's Defense", a rebuttal to infidels and atheists. Lincoln was so impressed with the pastor that he later attended revivals at the church and served in several capacities, but when asked to join, "couldn't quite see it." Though he possessed a rock-solid belief in the Scripture, Lincoln frequently saw frail humans fail to live up to the high calling set by Christ's example, and felt he could never find a church where Christ's deep love was truly presented in living form.

    Some attacked Lincoln's faith because he never joined a church. A political opponent once charged that Lincoln was an "open scoffer at Christianity." But while Abe could never quite bring himself to embrace one specific denomination, he had a steadfast belief in God and His will.

    "I have never denied the truth of Scripture; I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion."

    "When any church will inscribe over its altars, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior's condensed statement for the substance of both Law and gospel, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,' that church will I join with all my heart and soul!"

(Music out, music up and under: Weeping Sad & Lonely [0:36])

May 21st

United Praise

"Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

Colossians 3:16

Teach us, though in a world of sin,

    Heaven's blessed employment to begin,

To sing our great Rededmer's praise;

    And love His name, and learn His ways.

(Music out, music up and under: Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier [2:15])

    Through the "War between the States", Lincoln was the lighthouse of the Union, fighting to keep the nation together. And he feared that America had turned from God's word, and that the Almighty might turn from his people.

    "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown...but we have forgotten God," he lamented in one proclamation in 1863.

    These times were hard, and Abe prayed a lot. "I have been driven many times upon my knees in the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." A guest of the White house once recalled going into the hallway one night to investigate a strange noise, only to find the President face down on the floor, praying.

    Abe Lincoln suffered deep bouts of depression, as brother fought brother, but through all, he relied and thanked God Almighty.

    One verse from his Devotional speaks almost prophetically of how short our lives on this Earth can be. For Abraham Lincoln, who by the end of the war would fall to an assassin's bullet, the book spoke of the Joy that awaits us in our "Father's House.

February 20th

Non-Conformity to the World

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

1st John 2:15

Why should our poor enjoyments here

    Be thought so pleasent and so dear

And tempt our hearts astray?

    Our brightest joys are fading fast

The longest life will soon be past;

    And if we go to heaven at last

And tempt our hearts astray?

    We need not wish to stay.

    The war served only to pull Abe closer to God. It is believed that in the end, after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln accepted Jesus as personal Savior. He reportedly told a friend that he was not a Christian when he left his home, nor was he one when his son died, "But after I went to Gettysburg, and looked down upon the graves of our dead heroes, ..then and there I consecrated myself to Christ."

(Music out, music up and under: Battle Cry of Freedom [1:40]

May 1at

To Show Forth the Praises of God

"Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who had called you out of darkness into into His marvelous light."

1st Peter, 2:9

Not by your words alone,

    But by your actions show

How much from him you have received

    How much to him you owe.

    It fell to the President, in 1863, to make a national statement about Thanksgiving. In a spirit of gratitude to God, he presented a public announcement that says as much about Lincoln the man as it does about the times he lived in. And today, this government-issued, government-approved statement of faith makes a strong testimony of thanks to God Almighty. This then, is Lincoln's "Thanksgiving Proclamation":

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people, I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also thou who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart, and observe the last Thursday of November as a day for Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

Abraham Lincoln

(Music out)



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