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Can the Foundations of Thanksgiving Be Found in the Bible?

So much of our life is affected by this simple decision to respond to God in thanksgiving or not. Not just over a turkey dinner in November, but every day of our lives. Let's find peace this season and set our hearts on giving him thanks.

Can the Foundations of Thanksgiving Be Found in the Bible?

No offense to the other seasons, but I think that fall is my favorite time of the year (with spring coming in a close second). It's not just the changing leaves, football games, chilly air, and pumpkin spice; I love the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving is a great excuse to get together with people we care about and eat good food, and it also reminds us that we have so many things to be thankful for. As the country song by Kevin Spencer that my mom loved to sing recognizes:

"I've got so much to thank Him for; So much to praise Him for You see He has been so good to me; When I think of what He's done; And where Hes brought me from; I've got so much to thank Him for"

And after the events of the last several months, focusing on giving thanks is something most of us really need to do. Not only that but we are commanded in Scripture to give thanks. For example, the psalmist tells us to "rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!" (Psalm 97:12).

But as the writer says earlier in the Book of Psalms, it is actually "good" to give thanks (Psalm 54:6). This idea is expressed by many other psalmists as well as many other Bible authors throughout Scripture.

Is the Word ‘Thanksgiving’ in the Bible?

After a quick search at blueletterbible.org (one of my favorite websites), I discovered that the specific words "thank," "thanks," and "thanksgiving" appear nearly 150 times in the English Standard Version of the Old and New Testaments. 

The ancient priests gave offerings and sacrifices of thanksgiving to God (1 Chronicles 16:4, 2 Chronicles 29:31). Paul gave thanks for the support of his friends and the commitment of his disciples (Romans 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:13) and Jesus gave thanks quite a few times during his ministry, such as when he performed miracles (Matthew 11:25; 15:36; John 11:41).

If you were to dig even deeper into those biblical words, you would see that the Hebrew words "yāḏâ" and "tôḏâ" not only mean to "give thanks" or to offer "thanksgiving," but they can also mean to praise, confess, or give testimony of God's goodness through our speech and even through our music.

Because of this, praising and worshiping God (personally and corporately) from a heart of thanksgiving is an essential part of the Christian life, and it has been that way from the very beginning of humanity.

Even Cain and Able, the first people ever born on earth, were tasked with giving offerings of praise back to God (although only one of them did it with a sincere heart).

But giving thanks to God is not just something good to do, it is actually good for us. Something positive and helpful happens to our minds and hearts when we shift our focus from complaining about what we perceive as negative in our lives and to recognizing all the things in our life that are good.

That is why the Apostle Paul charged us to think about "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable..." (Philippians 4:8). You might even say that being thankful is one of the key factors in living a peace-filled life. Earlier in the same passage, Paul explained it like this:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV). 

Did you catch Paul's equation or formula for peace? Instead of being anxious or stressed about all that is wrong or that could be wrong in our lives, if we communicate with God by both presenting our cares to him (which is called supplication) as well as praising him for the blessings we have (which is called thanksgiving), the result will be a peace in our lives that might not even make sense considering our situation.

So many Christians going through difficult times have clutched close to this passage — and for good reason.

To help you in thanking God, we created a 30 Days of Gratitude Prayer Guide HERE. Download and print this guide to keep with you as a reminder of God's love and promises.

Are We Called to Give Praise to God?

I can't help but think that this “formula” for peace is what Jesus was using when he was gathered together with his disciples in the "Upper Room" in Matthew 26. Scripture tells us that after Jesus broke the loaf of unleavened bread into pieces and poured the goblet of wine, he gave "thanks" for it all and then handed them out to Peter, James, John, Judas, and the rest.

This means that Jesus praised and worshiped God for the horrific, brutal, and undeserved crucifixion that he knew he was about to go through. Then immediately following this ordination of the Lord's Supper, Jesus went deep into the Mount of Olives by himself to pray: "Abba, Father" (a personal or intimate address to God) "all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 14:26, ESV).

So instead of complaining to his closest friends or wallowing in the anxiety and agony that was weighing heavily on him, he gave thanks and presented his cares to God. The betrayal, trial, flogging, and crucifixion scene that follows shows us that Jesus was as peaceful and confident as anyone has ever been.

This takes my mind to the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 that states: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (ESV). Keep in mind, while Jesus was totally God, he was also totally human and would have felt the excruciating pain just like we would.

As the writer of Hebrews explains, Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, and was tempted just as we are, yet “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But even in the midst of that pain and temptation to complain, he focused on the “joy” of the cross even while he despised its “shame” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

In a similar way, no matter the difficulties and tragedies that we have to deal with in our life, when we rely on the Holy Spirit's power to help us "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances..." (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV), we too can live the kind of peaceful Christian life that God wants us to live.

But in contrast, Paul tells us in Romans 1 that when people do not honor God as God or "give thanks to him," they become "futile" in their thinking and their "foolish hearts" become darkened (Romans 1:21).

Giving Thanks to the Lord

So much of our life is affected by this simple decision to respond to God in thanksgiving or not. Not just over a turkey dinner in November, but every day of our lives.

Let's find peace this season as we pray to God and set our hearts on giving him thanks.

For further reading:

Is Thanksgiving Truly a Christian Holiday?

What Happened on the First Thanksgiving?

When Is Thanksgiving in 2021? Holiday Date, Origin, and Meaning

Why Will We Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AlexRaths


Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.