Just out of curiosity, I skimmed through several passages about "giving thanks" in the Bible. I just wanted to see exactly what the Word tells us to give thanks for. I noticed four major things: 1) Who God is. Psalm 118:1 says, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever." Give thanks to God why? For who He is. He is good, His love is steadfast... you could go on: He is just, He is loving, He is all-powerful. Why do we give thanks to God for who He is? Because who He is directly affects us. If He is not a good God, we serve a corrupt Lord. If He is not steadfast in His love, we are at risk of falling outside of His care. If He is not just, He will not reckon for all the injustices of this world. If He is not all-powerful, He is not God at all. We give thanks to God for who He is because by Him, we are all upheld. ("Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life." Psalm 54:4)
2) What God has done. Psalm 145:10 says, "All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!" God's creation and His works give thanks to Him because without Him they would not exist, and because He is good, all things He does are good too. In Luke 17, a healed leper gives thanks to Jesus for making him whole. "Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14) We thank God for the victory we have in Jesus and for the ways He uses our lives to make Him known.
3) What God has given us. This relates some to what God has done, but is more specifically related to the blessings and gifts of God. This section gets the most play around the Thanksgiving holiday. "Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:13-14)" God gives riches, honor, power, might, and strength. Therefore, we thank Him and praise Him. Jesus is seen several times in the New Testament giving thanks for the bread that He multiplies to feed the crowd and for the communion supper served right before He is taken to die. Ephesians 5 tells us to be "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Everything we have, all the time, comes from God.
4) Salvation. Possibly the most important thing we can thank God for is the salvation He offers us in Jesus. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Christ Jesus." 1 Corinthians 15:56-57) Sin leads to death, and when we are in sin, we are held to the law, the impossible-to-follow law that all of us have broken. We are all condemned to death, save for the grace we are offered in Jesus. We thank God for rescuing us and providing us a path to mercy.
As I read through these and considered these "categories" of thanks, I couldn't help but note how closely they resemble the Lord's prayer. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, cautions the people to consider their prayers carefully. He warns against grand displays of faithfulness that are only meant to draw attention to man, instead of God, and instead, encourages His people to pray earnestly. In Matthew, He says, "Your father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name
[1) Who God is]
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
[2) What God has done]
Give us this day our daily bread
[3) What God has given us]
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Your thanks should have a direction. You can generally just throw out phrases of thankfulness to the universe, but they are empty without something to hang them on. All of our thanks belong to God. For who He is, what He has done, what He has given us, for the offer of salvation -- any and everything we could possibly list as something to be thankful for falls into this category. Instead of thanking God for our big screen TVs or the freedom to watch football on them, let's dig a little deeper. These material blessings aren't bad and we certainly should be thankful for them since they make us richer than a far majority of the world. But life is so much richer and deeper than football and your TV. Life is an opportunity to experience the rich power and love of the almighty Ruler of the universe, who loves us so richly that He would set aside heaven and its glories (way better than the best flatscreen), He would become like the ones He created, He would walk alongside us -- weeping, toiling, enduring temptation, sweating, bleeding, living -- and He would give over that life to us. We have so much more to be thankful for than we even know.
As you sit around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow (or serve at a shelter or boycott the holiday all together), thank God for your material blessings. And then look deeper. Thank Him for the sweet, loving spirit He gave your son. Thank Him for the life He preserved for your daughter. Thank Him for the sense of humor He gave your husband, a humor that has the power to lift your spirits exactly when you need it. Thank Him for the depth of compassion in your dad. Thank Him for the tireless steadfastness of your mom who you can always count on to be and do for you whatever you need. Thank Him for the lifelong companionship of your brother, the one person who will always have your back, no matter what. Thank Him for the spiritual family He has brought you into, a family that walks with you and sometimes carries you. Thank Him for the caring love of your sweet friends who always have you on their minds, praying for you, caring for you, thinking of you. Thank Him for how all these things -- love, life, humor, compassion, steadfastness, companionship, commitment, consideration -- point you to Jesus. They show you the love of Christ every day, each in their own ways, and remind you to thank God -- for who He is, what He has done, what He has given you, and most importantly, for salvation through Christ. Now that, my friends, is a Thanksgiving. Eat up!