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The pilgrims prayed. God answered.

pilgrim thanksgiving prayer
Getty Images/ princessdlaf

It was on Nov. 9, 1620, that the pilgrims finally heard the cry that they had been praying to hear, “Land Ho!” They had endured the mockery and criticism of the national church back home as they truly tried to live for Christ. In England, they were called separatists, and they had first fled to Hollandin order to worship freely.

After nearly 12 years of prayer and seeking God, longing for a better life, they then left Holland to sail off to New England on the famous “Mayflower” to start a new colony, which their pastor first called “The New Jerusalem.”

They launched out on Aug. 5, 1620. In the thrilling book, The Light and the Glory by Yale graduates and historians Peter Marshall Jr. and David Manuel Jr., they describe the voyage:“It added up to seven weeks of the hell of an ill-lighted, rolling, pitching, stinking inferno, the kind that brings up the sins that had lain buried for years — anger, self-pity, bitterness, vindictiveness, jealousy, despair. All of these surfaced sins had to be faced, confessed, and given up to the Lord for His cleansing. No matter how ill they felt, or how grim the daily situation, they continued to seek God together, praying through despair and into peace and thanksgiving.” The ship’s documents tell us the one-room housing them below deck was only about 20 by 60 feet!

Having to deal with the ship’s crew, which was for the most part non-Christian, was an ordeal in itself. These seasoned sailors entertained themselves by making sport of the often sea sick and suffering pilgrims, calling them “psalm-singing puke-stockings.” The mockery only stopped when one of the ringleaders suddenly took ill, dying the very next day.

Deaths on the voyage itself were very few; however, one of the passengers named John Howland nearly paid with his life when a couple of days into a big storm he decided to bolt to the upper deck, ignoring Elder Brewster’s order to staybelow. What John did not realize is that the violent waves were tossing the Mayflower so severely that he was thrown right into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. By a miracle of God, one of the ropes from the sails trailed through the water past his wrist. He was able to grab the rope, and the crew rescued him. Although he was blue and became sick for several days after they pulled him aboard, he survived the ordeal, never again going topside without permission.      

Not long after the Mayflower reached the halfway mark, they found themselves in a violent storm. Can you imagine what it would be like to be inside the belly of a wooden ship that was being so violently tossed by the waves that anything that was not fastened down was falling over, oil wall lanterns swinging so violently some could have snuffed themselves out, or the constant risk of one possibly breaking and starting a fire?

While people were screaming and praying and, children were crying in fear, there came a deafening cracking sound! The big cross beam that supported the mast of the ship had split and was hanging down. The pilgrims cried out “Yet Lord, thou canst save!” As they were praying, William Brewster remembered that the printing press, which he had brought along, had a giant screw jack in the middle of it.

Hurriedly it was located and when the jack was put in place it met the huge beam and pressed it back in position. Brewster, Carver, and Bradford questioned Captain Jones on the Mayflower's ability to complete the voyage. He expressed confidence, reminding them that they were already closer to New England than to England. Therefore, trusting in their God, they continued on.

Oh Lord, may our prayer today be “Please do not let the prayer fueled sacrifices of the early Pilgrims only be found in America’s history books! Please Lord, even as they believed that ‘Thou canst save’ then, may we also believe “Thou canst save now!” May we consider the pilgrims’ heroism precious and their diligence in prayer a perfect model to follow even in everyday life with everyday challenges!

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is

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