Giving thanks to God is one of the most important things anyone can do.
But it doesn't come naturally if we're honest. Just yesterday, for example, I caught myself grousing continually over every little thing that didn't go my way. Silly things like dropping something off my desk, getting stopped at a traffic light, and someone who was being too loud nearby. (According to me, of course.)
Maybe you can identify with my struggles to be thankful.
In this post, I'll take a look at how gratitude is a massive theme in the bible, then finish with three practical ways we can grow in giving God the thanks and praise he deserves.
Bible Verses About Thanksgiving: No Minor Theme
When you think about a character trait you'd like to possess, or what you value in someone else, what comes to mind?
It probably varies pretty wildly for each of us, but I tend to think of things like intelligence, kindness, perseverance, ambition and filled with grace.
If I'm honest, my list is probably a combination of things I think I'm relatively good at, and things I'd like to be, but really am not. For example, I'm way too critical, even if it's not always obvious to others.
Anyway, 'thankful' and 'grateful' probably wouldn't show up on my list unless I was really pressed.
But God's priorities are different (thankfully) than mine.
'Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.' (Romans 1:21)
Whoa. Paul is saying that, in our natural condition, we 'know' God but don't naturally find him valuable, or worthy of our gratitude. And this deeply affects all of who.
Flipping this around, valuing God, and praising him, fills us with life and light. Thanksgiving is a big deal because God is great, and he's been incredibly generous with us. When we say 'thank you', we slow down long enough to acknowledge him for all the goodness in our lives.
This is a major, consistent theme throughout Scripture.
- In the (ESV) bible, forms of the word 'thank' occur 162 times.
- Forms of the word 'praise' show up 238 times.
- The bible also uses many other, related words like 'magnify' and 'exalt' that reflect the importance of this theme.
Many of the psalms - Israel's hymnal - focus on giving thanks. Examples include Psalms 34, 100, 117, 118, 135, 136 and several others.
Not surprisingly, Jesus was characterized by deep gratitude. For example, in Matthew 11:25,
Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’
Paul too often urges us to put thanksgiving at the center of our lives. Colossians 3:15-17 is one especially powerful example:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is just a small taster, of course. The bible goes on and on about how critical it is to have a heart filled with gratitude. For small, everyday blessings like the food on our tables, but especially that the 'God of gods... who alone does great wonders' has such unending, 'steadfast love' for us (Psalm 136:2, 4), even in the face of our rebellion.
It's a slow process, but becoming more thankful is an essential, life-giving practice we need to keep developing.
Giving Thanks To God: 3 Practical Exercises
Like I said earlier, I tend to be a glass half-empty guy. I remember my elementary gym teacher sarcastically calling me 'Smilin' Jack' because I didn't smile all that often. So I'm sharing this with you as someone who needs to grow here, probably more than you do.
But let's use this Thanksgiving, and every day, as another small opportunity to become more grateful. Here are three simple, practical exercises we can try.
1. Write your own psalm of thanksgiving.
Choose a psalm of thanksgiving as your template, and write your own song of praise to God. For example, Psalm 135 focuses on giving thanks for God's goodness in choosing his people (3-4, 14), his sovereign control over creation (5-7) and Israel's history (8-12), and how he exposes our idols as worthless (15-18).
Focusing on gratitude in our prayers draws us out of ourselves, and rescues our prayer lives from boredom and apathy.
What would it look like for you to write out your own prayer of thanks, following the general outline of this (or another) psalm?
2. Sing songs of thanksgiving.
Many of us spend regular time reading the bible and praying. Those practices are the heart of our relationship with God, where we hear from him, respond and develop intimacy.
But singing to him is a part of our life with God that many of us neglect. Maybe - like me - you don't consider yourself very 'musical'. Or, it's hard to find a truly quiet place to be alone with God as you sing.
Try getting up before everyone else, going on a quiet walk, or just singing in the car. I think you'll be surprised at the way singing adds a new layer to the intimacy you experience with God, even if no one confuses you with Chris Tomlin.
And, as a serious bonus, singing has a ton of health benefits, like increased pleasure and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. It's almost like God planned it that way... 😉
3. Start a gratitude ritual.
Most of us live full, busy lives, especially during the holidays. It can be hard to develop new habits, especially ones that go against our nature like becoming thankful.
This is where starting a ritual of gratitude can be helpful. There are lots of simple options:
- scribbling a few things in a gratitude journal or notebook at the end of the day
- make a quick voice recording on your phone on the way home from work
- simply rehearsing what you're grateful for as you fall asleep at night
I'm trying a free, online 'gratitude challenge' from thnx4.org. There are different options, but the main things are recording what you're thankful for in an online journal and recording how you're feeling on a given day. They remind you to do it, and at the end you even receive personal insights on how the challenge has helped you. You can also do it as part of a group.
Giving Thanks To God: Get Started, Keep Going
It's not about getting this perfect or coming up with some big master plan. The bottom line is that God is good, and he's given us a million reasons to be thankful. Our holiday of Thanksgiving is another, natural opportunity to give this biblical, life-giving practice some renewed attention.
But, so is every other day. With God's help, let's make a new beginning now.
How will you begin to cultivate more thanksgiving in your own life? (Join the conversation below!)