Thanksgiving, a harvest festival celebrated mostly in the United States and Canada, reminds us to be thankful. On Oct. 3, 1789, George Washington proclaimed America’s first national day of thanksgiving in order to recognize God as the “beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” This is an important reminder. But really, except for the special meal shared together, Thanksgiving Day should not be much different than any normal day of the year, because we should always have a thankful attitude toward God. It is such an important aspect of our prayer life and character building that God desires His Family to give thanks and exhibit a thankful attitude all the time and in all situations.
Do we see the importance of giving thanks as God does?
The Bible is clear about God’s will on this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
It is God’s will for us to give thanks; He commands it! In everything—in our prayers, in all the situations we are in—we are commanded to take our minds off ourselves, look for the positive, and rejoice for what God has done in our lives.
King David excelled in this aspect of fulfilling God’s will (Acts 13:22). He was a man who loved to praise God; he was so thankful, in fact, that he praised God continually. In Psalm 63, David expressed just how often he did: “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. [M]y mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches” (Psalm 63:3-6). King David even thanked God when he woke up in the middle of the night!
It was so important to David that one of his primary concerns of death was that he would not be able to thank God anymore! “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psalm 6:5).
A look at the Psalms shows us just how important being thankful was for King David. The Hebrew word for thanks in this verse is used 64 times in the Psalms as thanks. It can also be translated as praise, give thanks or thanksgiving: These words are used 162 times in the Psalms!
The Psalms are filled with praise and thanks for God, showing us an aspect of what it means to have a heart like God’s. Just like David’s, our prayers should be filled with thanks for God. This shifts our focus and thoughts onto God. We honor Him by showing appreciation for what He has done in our lives. When we do this, we see more and more how God blesses us, which should inspire us to thank God even more. When we really meditate on it, there is no end to what we can give God thanks for. He created life and the universe, and He gave us His law and His government to administer the law, which shows us the way to a happy, prosperous life! King David spent much time meditating on God and His law, and this resulted in David praising and thanking God over and over.
As the Apostle Paul implies in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, it should be continual throughout the day as well. We should give God thanks not just in our formal prayers or at meal times, but as He answers our prayers throughout the day and while we meditate on Him. We should have an optimistic attitude that looks for the positive in every situation, giving thanks when we can. That is what it means to have a thankful attitude.
It is hardest to maintain this attitude during our trials, but this is when it’s most important. Trials aren’t pleasant for us, but do you think God enjoys seeing us suffer? God gives us trials and allows them to happen so we can build His character, His faith and His patience. When we thank God for our trials and for the opportunity to build character, we are letting God know that we understand what He is doing. If we do this, we demonstrate that we are growing in the trial. We comfort our Father because we are producing fruits. Thanking God for the trial is one way we can take our minds off our trial and focus on God. This will help us overcome trials and become more positive and joyful. King David was a master at turning trials into opportunities to praise God; study Psalm 27 for an example.
God desires this so much, He commands us to be thankful. It helps us be more positive and happy. What physical parent wouldn’t be happy to see his children thankful?
If someone were to save your physical life, the first thing you would do is thank that person. You would probably be worried that you didn’t or couldn’t thank him enough. This is the kind of concern King David expressed in Psalm 6. Such a thankful attitude pleases God. We should sincerely and eagerly thank God, knowing we can never thank Him enough!
Though most of our thanks and focus should be given to God and His Work, we are also told by Paul to be thankful for others. “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). All men means all men! We can be thankful today for our freedoms and ability to worship God as well as the freedom we have to get God’s Work done.
Intercessory prayers should form the bulk of our prayers, and some of that should be devoted to expressing thanks for God’s people. Just like when we thank God, when we do this, we are taking our thoughts off ourselves and thinking about others. This is a basic principle in developing God’s love. Giving thanks prepares our minds for God to develop His love in us.
When we think about our God Family in this way, we look for their strengths and positive attributes, the same way God does with His Family. Being thankful for the brethren helps us think like God!
It should be easy to find ways we can thank God in our prayers for our ministers, spouses, children and friends. However, it is also a great way to overcome any negative attitudes toward brethren. You can’t be mad at someone if you are thinking about all the ways you are thankful for them and looking for their strengths in your prayers.
We can even tell our brethren we have done this, like Paul did in several of his epistles. Paul wrote to the Ephesus congregation: “Wherefore I also [c]ease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16). What a powerful example Paul left us by continually thanking God for His Family. What effect do you think that had on the brethren? Wouldn’t it inspire you if someone told you they thanked God for you in their prayers? Physically, you would love for your co-worker to praise you in front of your boss and to thank him for you. Spiritually it’s the same. By following Paul’s example, even letting our physical and spiritual family know from time to time, we will inspire others to have that same positive, thankful attitude.
The examples of David and Paul show that God wants us to be thankful for Him and His Family in our daily prayers and continue each day with a thankful attitude in everything. One way we can do this is by including a “thanks” list in our prayer list with specific reasons to thank God for Him and His Family. There is so much to be thankful for, it would be easy to update the list daily.
God desires for His children to show appreciation and give thanks for Him as any parent would. It gets our focus off ourselves and onto Him and His Family. By looking at everything in a positive way and with a thankful attitude, we will develop the same outlook and attitude God has, just like King David did. If we fill our prayers with praise and thanks as David did, we too will be called children after God’s own heart. Then, at the resurrection, we can tell King David that he didn’t have to worry: While he was in the grave, we gave thanks to God!