Thanksgiving is not just an autumn holiday in America. It’s an attitude of the heart, that is a pretty big deal in the eyes of God. Thanksgiving is simply a response of gratitude and appreciation directed towards the Lord. It is closely linked in the Bible with the concept of praise (Psalm 86:12; 92:1). When we offer thanksgiving to God, we are expressing a heart of faith and worship.
It may be surprising to learn that thanksgiving is actually commanded by God in Scripture. He calls us to give thanks to him in “all circumstances” – this is his will for us in Christ (1 Thess 5:18; see also Col 3:15). God even named some of the animal sacrifices in the Old Covenant after the idea of thanksgiving (Lev 7:12; 22:29). Israelites approached God through the blood of the sacrifice to give appreciation and thanks to the Lord, from their heart (Ps 50:14, 23).
Songs of praise are also closely associated with thanksgiving (1 Chron 16:7-10; Ps 69:30; 147:7). Israel was commanded to give thanks to the Lord, because he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever (Ps 107:1)! These songs of thanksgiving and praise were to be the first part of the worshiper’s approach to God; before coming to ask God for something, the worshiper must enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise (Ps 95:2; 100:4). Praise and thankfulness to the Lord should mark how we begin our prayer to him. It may take patience to wait in God’s presence, praising him before we ask for his help with what we are worried about. But many times, after we spend time praising and thanking God for who he is and for what he has done in our lives, we are no longer worried about our problem! Thanksgiving glorifies God, and it helps us have peace!
The Bible teaches that thanksgiving is a mark of a mature Christian (Col 2:6-7). It is also what is “fitting,” and appropriate for God’s people. Paul instructs the church at Ephesus to banish dirty jokes and foul language from their mouths, as inappropriate for God’s saints, and to replace that rotten language with thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is not just a matter of the heart, although that is where it begins. Scripture calls us to be vocal in our thanksgiving and praise! In Psalm 40, David elaborates on how he has not committed the shameful act of remaining silent about what God had done for him when he went to worship with God’s people. He writes, “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips…I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation” (Psalm 40:9-10 ESV). God wants us to vocalize our thanks to him in the form of songs of praise, and testimonies in church gatherings that encourage others.
The opposite of thanksgiving is the sin of ingratitude. This sin is described as a very serious sin in Scripture (Rom 1:21; 2 Tim 3:2; Ps 106:7). When Jesus healed ten lepers, and only one returned to him to give thanks, Jesus asked, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15-18 ESV).
It is helpful to contrast the heart of thankfulness with a heart of ingratitude, to help us understand where we fall:
Thanksgiving has a heart of Humility, while ingratitude stems from pride. Thanksgiving comes from someone who is aware of God’s grace in their life; Ingratitude is blind to God’s blessings. Thanksgiving is the overflow of faith; Ingratitude comes from unbelief. Thanksgiving looks away from self to God; Ingratitude is selfish. Someone with a heart of thanksgiving thinks they have received more than they deserve from God; Someone with an ungrateful heart thinks they deserve more than they have received. Thanksgiving overflows in the mouth as praise; Ingratitude overflows in the mouth as complaining. Thanksgiving results in a mouth that vocalizes praise to God in the congregation; Ingratitude remains silent. It has nothing for which to thank God.
When we see that we are sinning in this area, we need to understand the gospel. Jesus died on the cross for our ungratefulness, our lack of praise, our silence, our complaining, our pride, and our blindness to the blessings of God. He paid for these sins with his blood, and rose from the grave to empower us to honor God in thankfulness! Let us repent of our sins, and ask the Lord to give us thankful hearts!