The practice of thanksgiving is woven deeply into the fabric of Scripture and flows from the lips of God’s people in both testaments.
When looking at this form of prayer in the Bible we can’t help but notice that faith in God means believing in his presence, action, and care in all aspects of life. The Lord is the great Reality in every circumstance.
At the heart of thanksgiving is the acknowledgement that we are not alone, nor are we left to deal with life on our own. God is both companion and participant in the life of his people. We might say that giving thanks is firstly a confession of faith in God who is, and who is with us.
In the Old Testament thanksgiving was often tied to deliverance from enemies, oppression, and persecution. It was offered for victories won by the grace of God, and even expressed in times of testing because these are often opportunities for God to work.
In the New Testament we find the same ideas which culminate in the Eucharist, a word that means thanksgiving. In the early church, the service of the Lord’s Supper was entirely focussed on celebrating and remembering with gratitude the most important work of God.
Thanksgiving is a basic element of the Christian life, and it appears in the Gospels and in the epistles, mostly in Paul’s letters.
Paul gives thanks to God for his people again and again. He thanks him for their faith and their faithfulness to the gospel, for the sharing of the gospel, for their steadfastness, especially in trial and he thanks the Lord for the grace given to the church.
In fact, no petition or intercession were made without thanksgiving because God is always present and at work. What a rich lesson for us today.
Great encouragement in my life and work comes from the realization that the Lord is present and active in this world and in my own life. I suspect that for each of us there are times when the pressure is so intense and so painful that we might be tempted to think that the Lord has shut himself away from our cries. The tempter would want nothing more than for seeds of doubt to settle in our hearts, but we know better—God is love, he is with us, he is for us, he is faithful, and we can and must trust him.
In hard times and long seasons of waiting we might lose sight of God’s immense love for us and wonder about our circumstances. I was reminded recently of the extraordinary answer from Jesus to the searing question, why Lord? Jesus and his disciples had met a man born blind. We can imagine what they would have immediately understood about his life—his suffering, isolation, and loneliness; how cut off from the world he must have felt. The disciples asked Jesus, why? They phrased it this way, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ reply is liberating. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:1-3)
This is the hope that pulls us through, this knowing and believing that whatever led us to where we are, the work of God can be displayed in our life and circumstances.
In whatever circumstances we may find ourselves, we can wholeheartedly give thanks to God for being with us, in us and for us, and for being the Lord of the miracle that we need. From there, we offer our petition and intercession, again.
This Thanksgiving season, as we celebrate the social and traditional reasons for giving thanks, let’s also take ample time to quiet ourselves in God’s presence and remember that he is with us—present, active, and caring. Let’s ask him to open our eyes so that we may see him as the larger Reality in all of life.
Here is a list of beautiful Psalms of thanksgiving. I know that in those sacred pages you will find the words that you need to offer your gratitude to the Lord, whatever your circumstance.
Psalms of Thanksgiving: 8, 30, 34, 89, 92, 95, 100, 103, 136, 138,145, 150.