Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed in the Holocaust. He was a prolific Christian writer before and during his incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp. He was a Christian who participated in a small Protestant resistance movement. His helping Jews escape to Switzerland is what ultimately cost him his life. Yet, among his writings is this simple statement: “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
So it is this Thanksgiving season, that we go to the Scripture and study briefly the instruction to “Give thanks…”
The phrase “give thanks” occurs 35 times in the Scripture in 34 verses. From the song of David in II Samuel 22:50 after listing so many of the Lord’s accomplishments he cried, “Therefore I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord…” to the final reference in Thessalonians when Paul said, “We are bound to always give thanks to God for you . . . “ we find plenty of examples of thankfulness, examples of things to be thankful for, ideas from which gratefulness should spring into our hearts and lives.
I Chronicles 16:8 reads: “Give thanks unto the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.” Has He done something special for you recently? Answered a special prayer? Tell somebody about it – and call upon His name when you do!
“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever” (I Chronicles 16:34). Have you experienced His goodness – are you aware of His mercy – new every morning in your life? Give thanks!
Sometimes thanksgiving is a prayer: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory in thy praise” (I Chronicles 16:35).
Your name may not be listed here with “Heman and Jeduthun and the rest” listed here – but you have been chosen – to give thanks to the Lord! “And with them Heman and Jeduthun, and the rest that were chosen, who were expressed by name, to give thanks to the LORD, because his mercy endureth for ever…” (I Chronicles 16:41).
Nine chapters later we find “Juduthun” listed again. His name literally meant “praise” and we find that he exampled gratitude as he “…prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the LORD.”
II Chronicles 31:12 – we find Hezekiah making appointments: “And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD.” You and I must follow the priestly example – Give thanks – praise in the gates – every man according to his service!
Nehemiah gives us a different list of names from a different time and place – but the instruction was the same: “And the chief of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God…” (Nehemiah 12:24).
Where do we praise him? “Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name” (Psalm 18:49).
When we remember how holy our God is – “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Psalm 30:4).
How long are we to be thankful? “O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever” (Psalm 30:12)
Psalm 75:1 is where we get the “give thanks” phrase twice in one verse. Perhaps it was because it was a song – or perhaps it’s because sometimes we need to be doubly grateful: “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.”
Psalm 92 is labeled “A Song for the Sabbath Day” – it begins with a simple statement about thankfulness – it is good! “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High…”
Psalm 97:12 echoes Psalm 30: “Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” He is a holy God!
Psalm 105 echoes I Chronicles 16:8: “O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.” Psalm 106 picks up I Chronicles 16:34: “Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” Psalm 106 again cries for deliverance: “Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise” as heard in I Chronicles 16:35.
Psalms repetitive cry – from 106 to 107 to 118 to 136- it’s God’s goodness and mercy that endureth forever that makes David cry out: “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”
Psalm 119 reads, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.” David had a solution for restlessness at in the midnight hours – arise and give thanks!
Psalm 122 declares Jerusalem a place of thanks: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.”
Psalm 140 reads: “Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.”
When we reach the New Testament we find Paul’s references to giving thanks to be frequently about the people to whom he was writing. In Romans, he expressed his thanks to Priscilla and Aquilla: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”
To the Ephesians he wrote, “(I) cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…”
To the Colossians his words were: “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you…”
To the Thessalonians he said: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers…”He went on to give them – and us – the instruction: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:8). Then finally he said: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 2:13-14).
So this Thanksgiving season…Give thanks…for His mercy that endures forever – for His salvation that has delivered you – for His goodness and His care for you. Take the time, too, to tell the people He has placed in your life to help you – your pastor, your teachers, your friends – that you are thankful to Him for their place in your life.
For each new morning with its light,
Father, we thank thee,
For rest and shelter of the night,
Father, we thank thee,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends,
Father, in heaven, we thank thee.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)