Have you ever thought about how the Bible ties a great deal of meaning to the concept of being thankful? But what if most of that meaning is lost to us today?
To us, thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude. As kids, we’re taught that “please,” and “thank you” are magic words that compel adults to give us what we want. “Thanks!” becomes code, then instinct.
If I can be honest, I say “thanks” a lot. I don’t mean it every time.
Have you ever been there? I’m pretending to be grateful; sometimes I just say it before I’ve even had time to process what I’m supposed to be thankful for. It’s the polite thing to do, like saying “bless you” after a sneeze (or “God bless you,” for extra spirituality points).
I thought responding this way was the right thing to do, until I noticed it was not lining up with the way I read the Bible. I would read a passage that mentioned thanksgiving, and just kind of skim over the concept. I’ve trivialized the word “thanks” so much that it doesn’t stop me when I read it. I don’t think about what it means. I don’t think about what it’s pointing to. Sometimes I don’t even think about it.
If you know me, personally, you know that I tend to geek out on word definitions, how often they’re used in the Bible, and so on.
But what popped into my mind to write this Thanksgiving week?
Well, I said to myself, “Come on, Rafael. Thankfulness is a big deal in the Bible. In fact, it’s one of the few specific things that we’re told is God’s will for us (I Thess. 5:18).
Did I need a refresher? I did. Maybe you do, too.
So I did some digging around in Logos Bible Software to look at what biblical thankfulness truly is. I began looking at definitions of thanksgiving in the Bible. So what does it mean to give thanks?
Well, Several Greek and Hebrew words are translated “thanks” and “thanksgiving” in the Bible, but here are the big two.
This is the main word for thanks in the Old Testament. The concept of thanks comes up 102 times in the Old Testament, and this word is used 72 of those times. Here’s the definition:
“Acknowledging what is right about God in praise and thanksgiving” (1 Chr. 16:34). It can also mean a right acknowledgment of self before God in confessing sin (Lev. 26:40).
Thankfulness comes up 71 times in the New Testament, and most of those instances are this word, or related to this word. The definition:
“To show oneself grateful, to be thankful, to give thanks.” It is used in a religious sense with or without reference to God. My liturgical friends will recognize the word “Eucharist” in this definition. This term comes from Jesus’ giving thanks before eating his last supper with His apostles (1 Co 11:24). OK, so what does that means for us today?
One thing I love about the Hebrew definition of thanks: it’s totally tied to who God is. The more we learn about God, the more we should praise and glorify Him.
The Psalmist repeatedly calls us to give thanks to the Lord for two
things: His lovingkindness, and for his miracles among men (Ps 107:1, 8, 15, 21).
This isn’t just a polite “thank you” for when something good happens.
This is an outpouring of praise to God for who he is and what he has done. How do we give thanks?
The Bible tells us to, “Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:4-5)
I suppose all this talk of definitions is only helpful if we have a good means of applying it. I could list off a few ways to be intentionally thankful, but the psalmist does this a lot better than I ever could. He writes,
“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 loving-kindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.”
Have a “Thankful” Thanksgiving.