Whether in seasons of abundance or want, the practice of thanksgiving is an important part of focusing our minds on the movements of God. The evidence of a life rooted in thankfulness is present throughout the Scriptures as prophets and poets give thanks to the Lord. It is often said that gratitude is one of our primary ways of acknowledging God and offering God praise. As the author of Hebrews writes in 12:28-29,
“ Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
Here, we have gathered helpful verses throughout Scripture that will help to focus thanksgiving in a contemplative way.
How Does the Bible Display Thanks?
Gratitude is the practice of acknowledging and thanking God for the work being done in our lives as well as across the world. Often, the thought is that we should only be thankful for the good happening in our lives or the lives of those close to us. Yet throughout many of the Psalms and prophetic books, we see praise offered as thanks to God despite difficult circumstances. One great example of praise in the difficulty is through the prophet Jonah who says in Jonah 2:9 while in the belly of the whale,
“‘But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
Even in the face of death, Jonah still gives praise to God, trusting that God will provide for him just as He always has. The Bible offers countless examples of people responding to difficulty with gratitude and faith.
Thankfulness Amongst the Prophets
Much like Jonah, many of the prophets throughout the Old Testament cry out rich praises of thanksgiving to God despite their difficult circumstances. Here are examples of three of the greatest prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel - and how they chose to praise God’s work even when the evidence of good was not always clear.
“In that day you will say:
‘Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.’’’
“This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,
“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty,
for the Lord is good;
his love endures forever.”
For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.”
“I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”
“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
Thankfulness of David in the Psalms
Throughout the Psalms, David writes hymns and spiritual songs that testify to the work of a great God in his life. Whether it is one line or the whole song, David’s writing frequently focuses on giving thanks to the Lord. We continually see him sing praise in joyful noise.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
“We praise you, God,
we praise you, for your Name is near;
people tell of your wonderful deeds.”
“It is good to praise the Lord
and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, Lord,
how profound your thoughts!”
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
“Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,”
Thankfulness in Paul’s Letters
Paul's writing makes up most of the body of the New Testament and throughout his letters, he not only encourages but pleads with the early Church to have a spirit of thankfulness. To Paul, gratitude is a reflection of our desire for eternal life and the redemption of humanity. As we love God through praises, we are renewed and better able to serve the community of the Church in both easy and painful situations.
2 Corinthians 4:15-16
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
What are the benefits of gratitude?
“Every time we decide to be grateful it will be easier to see new things to be grateful for. Gratitude begets gratitude, just as love begets love.” - Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
As seen in each of these verses, there is an element of faith that grows through the practice of continual thanksgiving. Theologian Henri Nouwen spoke of an exponential element to gratitude that grows as we practice it. As we reflect a spirit of gratitude and give thanks to the Lord, others around us shift their own perspectives in a manner that encourages more thankfulness. By cultivating gratitude within our own hearts, we spread an attitude of not only thanksgiving but also hope and faith through all of creation.
Jesus Christ set the greatest example of thanksgiving even in his smallest acts. In Mark 6:41, we get the account of Jesus giving a blessing over the 5,000 when,
"Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all."
If Jesus Christ gave thanks to God as a prelude to miracles, imagine the response of gratitude that must have echoed through the people receiving the blessing. With this as our example, how may we better live out of a posture of gratitude and thankfulness?
By reflecting on these Scriptures, as well as other readings such as Practicing Gratitude or Adapting a Posture of Thankfulness, we can gain a better awareness of the work of God and offer up our gratitude and sing praises no matter the circumstances of our lives.