In recent years, a seemingly endless flood of books, articles, and social media memes have lauded the benefits of gratitude, encouraging us to become more grateful people. Truth be told, many of us have learned the hard way that the alternative—an entitled, complaining attitude—produces no good fruit, only misery. So when it comes to giving thanks, our experience confirms what scientific studies and Scripture agree upon: gratitude is good for us and good for the world.
And yet, do we really understand what it means to give thanks from a biblical perspective? Consider 1 Chronicles 16:8:
“Give thanks to the LORD; call on his name; proclaim his deeds among the peoples.”
Taking each phrase in turn, we begin to see the key elements of giving thanks, as portrayed in the Scriptures.
First, thanksgiving is to the Lord. It is first and foremost godward. It is vertical before it is horizontal. Our gratitude for God and to God lies beneath our gratitude to other people or for other things. Gratitude, at its root, is worship, and worship is what we were created for. When we worship, we ascribe worth to an infinitely worthy God, and when we fail to worship, we miss the point of our existence. Ingratitude is a clear indicator that we have lost touch with reality. Perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more clearly stated than in Romans 1:21:
“For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened.”
Second, giving thanks shows that we understand God is the source of every good gift we enjoy. To depend on God, to “call on his name,” is glorifying to Him and humbling to us. He is the Creator; we are His creatures. He is the Provider; we are the recipients of His provision. He is the Savior; we are people who need saving. In light of these realities, giving thanks to God is both a gauge of our sanity and a reliable path to a greater measure of it. And who doesn’t want and need that?
Third, giving thanks to God is not just a private affair, but is meant to be done before others and with others. Just as sharing our faith is meant to benefit others and glorify God, so giving thanks to God is meant to benefit others and glorify God. It benefits others by pointing them to the source of all joy and fulfillment, as we recount all the Lord has done. When we give thanks and praise to God, we are recommending Him to a watching world. We are saying God is worthy of our full acceptance and trust.
If I was a preacher, fond of alliteration, I could sum what it means to give thanks based on this verse as: a practice, a posture, and a proclamation. It flows out of who He is and who we are; it is heartfelt truth expressed for His benefit, for our benefit, and for the benefit of others. Keeping these three aspects of giving thanks in mind can help us grow in this crucial, beautiful grace.
Written by Matt Erickson