Recently I heard of a family that has a common but meaningful Thanksgiving tradition—they go around their Thanksgiving table and each one states what he or she is most thankful for. The only issue is they don’t want to offend anyone by talking about being thankful to God so they are just generally “Thankful.” To me, that seems to miss the point of Thanksgiving. The holiday was always intended to express our thanks to our Creator.
So I did a word search on my computer Bible program. I punched in the words “give thanks” and I found that the Bible tells us who we should be grateful for. The Scriptures repeatedly uses expressions like, “Give thanks to the LORD” (Psalm 33:2) and “I will give thanks to your name, O LORD” (Psalm 54:6). Also, “We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks” (Psalm 75:1) and “give thanks to His holy name” (Psalm 97:12). The New Testament adds more specificity: “We give thanks to the God, the Father of the Lord Jesus the Messiah” (Colossians 1:3). The Bible is clear—our Thanksgiving should not just be a nebulous feeling of gratitude but a clear expression of thanks to our Creator, the God who made us and loves us.
But besides telling us who we should be thankful for, the Bible also tells us why we should be thankful to God. Here are some examples. We should give thanks to God because “He is good” and “because His faithful love endures forever.” Also “for His wonderful works” (Psalm 107:8, 15) and because God “has answered me” (Psalm 118:21) when I prayed. Other reasons given are for God’s “judgments” (Psalm 119:62) found in the Bible, for God’s “truth” and for God’s “word” (Psalm 138:2), because God forgives and “comfort[s]” (Isaiah 12:1), because God “accomplished wonders” and fulfilled “plans formed long ago.” Psalm 116 is an entire song of Thanksgiving because God spared the psalmist’s life. The apostle Paul adds that we should be thankful to God “for His indescribable gift” a reference to the Lord Jesus and His provision of salvation (2 Cor 9:15). Here’s what the Bible is saying—our thanksgiving to God must be specific and precise. We need to ask what the Lord has done for us and then thank Him for it specifically.
My little word search taught me another aspect of biblical thanksgiving—how we should express our gratitude to God. We need to thank God wholeheartedly (“with all my heart” says the Psalmist, Psalm 9:1), by singing (Psalm 30:12), and by declaring God’s praise “to all generations” (Psalm 79:13). We also thank Him by offering gifts of gratitude or thanksgiving offerings (Psalm 54:6) and by worshiping the Lord in community, what the Psalmist calls “making known His deeds among the peoples” (Psalm 105:1) and praising Him “in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1). Another way to express gratitude is by teaching our own children to give thanks. Hezekiah said, when declaring his gratitude to God, “a father will make your faithfulness known to his children” (Isaiah 38:19). We should take all these specific actions to say thank you to God.
As I read through all these passages, I also learned when I was to be grateful. Repeatedly, the Bible says “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” Paul adds, “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18) and “we ought always to give thanks” (2 Thess 1:3). From now to eternity, thanksgiving should be on our lips. In good times or bad, in times of plenty or in times of loss, when our lives are terrific or when we are struggling, God remains good and worthy of our gratitude. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”
The most interesting lesson I learned from this word search is that thankfulness should not be limited to a specific day or holiday. Rather, a thankful heart needs to be part of who we always are. Let’s not limit our gratitude to Thanksgiving Day but instead give thanks to God every day, especially for His indescribable gift.