Other than an annual holiday where we eat ourselves into oblivion, what is Thanksgiving? The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it:
- the act of giving thanks
- a prayer expressing gratitude
- a public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness
That’s nice. But can we get a clearer picture from the Bible? The word the Old Testament uses for “thanksgiving” means:
confession, praise, thanksgiving
1a) give praise to God
1b) thanksgiving in songs of liturgical worship, hymn of praise
1c) thanksgiving choir or procession or line or company
1d) thank-offering, sacrifice of thanksgiving
The word the New Testament uses means:
- the giving of thanks
So, we now know what the word means but what is THANKSGIVING? To find out, I am going to examine the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of thanksgiving (just not necessarily in that order!)
1. What is thanksgiving?
We have already given several definitions of the word. In the Old Testament viewpoint, thanksgiving was all about giving praise. It is impossible to give praise, true praise, without a thankful heart.
2. Who do we give thanks (praise) to?
- Christ – When we think about all that Jesus did out of love for us, how can our actions be anything but that of giving thanks. We do not have enough time here on Earth to give the praise to Jesus that he deserves, so He’s reserved a place in eternity for us to render to God what is God’s.
- To the people around us.
- Basically, to anyone deserving of it. My main thoughts are that of our thanks to God, but I wonder, how can we truly praise God, if we are not appreciative of those around us that help us out in this life. We have got to build a good relationship with those around us, because it is in that relationship that we find our relationship with Christ. We show our love for Christ in the way that we treat those around us, so we must render thanks to those who deserve it. The highest expression of our spirituality is not our relationship with God, but rather, it is our relationship with others.
3. When do we give thanks?
- Whenever we pray. Psalm 100 says:
“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
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 lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.” (NASB, emphasis mine.)
This should be our standard – whenever we are in the presence of the Lord, we should be full of thanksgiving and praise for Him. Sometimes we seem to labor in our prayer, and that is okay if we entered into prayer correctly. We can find peace in our sorrowful prayers if we allow thanksgiving be the cornerstone of that prayer.
- Always, and for everything:
“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:19-20 NASB).
This is talking about our relationships with those around us. Our conversations with each other need to reflect our thankfulness to God for what he has done in our lives. When we talk to others, we should do it with a song of praise in our hearts. In doing so, we eliminate strife. How can we argue and fuss with each other and sing a song of praise and thanksgiving at the same time? (This not as easy to practice as it is to “preach”, but thank God for grace as He irons out the wrinkles!)
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18 NASB).
It becomes easy to know when to be thankful if we make our lives a praise the Lord. When we enter into prayer, we will already be living out our thanksgiving. When we come into contact with others, we will be living out our thanksgiving.
4. Where do we give thanks?
- In worship. – Where is a better place for thanksgiving?
- In Trials.
- Paul and Silas gave thanks in prison. The scriptures say that they were singing hymns. I do not believe they were singing “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” They were probably singing “Trading My Sorrows” or “Amazing Grace”. (Acts 16:25-26)
- When Paul was about to be shipwrecked, he called upon all the people to give thanks to the Lord and to eat. This was because he could see that even though the upcoming experience may be slightly less than pleasant, no one was going to die. (Acts 27:33-36)
- In all things (See 1 Thes. 5:18). No matter what we face, we need to give thanks to God. It is easy for us to thank Him during the “good times”, but we should also thank Him during the “so-so times”, the “not-so-good times”, and the “hard times”. Thanksgiving is an action, not a feeling. It should be based on what we know is right, and not on how we feel. We need to Thank God at all times, no matter what.
5. Why do we give thanks?
- It is God’s will for us. (1 Thes. 5:18)
- Ps. 100:4b-5 – “For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.”
We can Thank the Lord because He is Good. No matter how we are, our God is just. When we are right with Him, He is good. When we are not right with Him, He is Good. This is a universal truth. All of us can think of many ways in which the Lord has been good to us.
6. How do we give thanks?
Is there a set pattern? It’s a funny thing to listen to people pray over food. Often times, I know word for word what some people are going to say in advance because they just repeat the same thing every time. Is this truly the expression of gratitude to the God of the universe? How should you express your gratitude, your praise, your thanksgiving?
- With Sincerity. It is futile to give thanks unto the Lord if we do not mean it. It must be real. If we are insincere, then our thanksgiving is only a show for those around us, and God sees it too.
- With Passion. How thankful we are shows in our expression of thanks. How would you show thanks to someone who gives you a dollar? How about a car? Christ gave us Himself. He gave us everlasting life. He saved us from our sins. He died for us. How do we find a passion strong enough to thank Him with?
- With Celebration. Praise should be joyous. Thanksgiving should be fun to give. David realized this with all his music, and dancing.
When I look at thanksgiving, that’s how I see it. Please, feel free to add any comments, I’d love to read everyone else’s point of view.