Last month I heard someone say that dogs think, “This person feeds me, he must be God” which is why dogs are so appreciative of their owners. On the other hand, cats think, “This person feeds me, I must be God” which is why cats seem to be so self absorbed. Of course, this is just a joke, so all you cat lovers don’t have to write nasty emails or comments, ok? But the point is, we can be like cats—we can see every good gift we receive as only appropriate. They’re what we deserve! On the other hand, we can see all that we receive, not just our food, as gifts from our loving Creator and Lord and therefore, express our thankfulness to Him.
So I decided to study what the Bible says about being thankful. To begin, the Bible reveals, first and foremost, the object of our gratitude–we should be grateful to God. The Scriptures repeatedly use 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 God, the Father of the Lord Jesus the Messiah” (Colossians 1:3). The Bible is clear—our Thanksgiving shouldn’t just be some random 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 gives us the reasons we should be thankful to God. We should give thanks to God because “He is good” and “because His faithful love endures forever” (Psalm107:1). Also “for His wonderful works” (Psalm 107:8, 15) and because God “has answered me” when I prayed (Psalm 118:21). Other motives for thanksgiving are for God’s “judgments” found in the Bible (Psalm 119:62), for God’s “truth” and for God’s “word” (Psalm 138:2). More reasons to thank God are that the Lord forgives and “comfort[s]” (Isaiah 12:1), because God “accomplished wonders” and fulfilled “plans formed long ago” (Isaiah 25:1). 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 identify exactly what the Lord has done for us and then thank Him for it explicitly.
Yet another aspect of biblical thanksgiving deals with the ways we should express our gratitude to God. We need to thank God wholeheartedly (“with all my heart” says 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.
Another biblical aspect of thanking God refers to the timing of expressing gratitude to Him. 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’re 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.”
Many years ago, when our kids were just babies, my favorite cousin visited me from Israel. We had just bought our first house and she was thrilled for us. Eva and I agreed and said we were so grateful to God. This dear woman kept commenting on everything—we had a nice car, a lovely neighborhood, and so much more. We kept responding to her by saying, “Yes, we are so thankful to the Lord.” She finally erupted: “Stop being thankful to God—you deserve all these good things.” I laughed and said, “We deserve judgment—all good gifts comes from the Father of lights. If I got what I deserved, I’d be nothing but a little pile of ashes!”
At Thanksgiving, let’s ask ourselves if we’re like cats, thinking we’re deserving of God’s kindness, or like dogs, grateful to the One who provides all good gifts. Hopefully, we’ll express our gratitude to God this Thanksgiving Day but also every day, for all He has given us, especially His indescribable gift.