Whenever we gather to give thanks, we should remember what Scripture teaches about the activity, especially this time of year when even the ungodly claim to engage in it. Thanksgiving is essentially an act of worship performed only by faith. Although we thank each other and consider it courteous, with few exceptions thanksgiving in Scripture is directed entirely to God. Giving thanks is a sacrifice of praise, a freewill offering of the heart to express our gratitude to God (Heb. 13:15; Lev. 22:29). Entering His gates with thanksgiving is simply part of our reasonable service and payment of our vows (Ps. 50:14, 100:4). And it should describe our entire life—we must be thankful in whatsoever we do in word or deed (Col. 3:15-17).
Rightly, we associate thanksgiving mainly with prayer. Thanksgiving begins with prayer (Neh. 11:17). Godly officebearers like Moses, David, and Daniel regularly gave thanks in prayer. Jesus customarily gave thanks in prayer before He broke bread to eat (John 6:23), and Paul ceased not to pray thanks (Eph. 1:16). We also are told to continue in prayer with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2; Phil. 4:6). For Christians, prayer is simply the chief part of thankfulness (LD 45). But an important, perhaps overlooked, means of thanksgiving is singing. Scripture refers to it frequently. David wrote songs and appointed Levites to give thanks morning and evening by singing with instruments (I Chr. 16:4-7). Scripture says it is good to give thanks by singing (Ps. 92:1), and urges us to come before His presence with thanksgiving, making a joyful noise unto Him with psalms, and with voices of thanksgiving to publish all His works (Ps. 95:2, 26:7).
For what are we to be thankful? Everything. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you (I Thess. 5:18). Certainly this includes every good gift of creation. Only if we give thanks can we eat to the Lord (Rom. 14:6). Marriage and meats were created to be received with thanksgiving; indeed every creature of God is good if it is received with thanksgiving (I Tim. 4:3-4). But, chiefly, we must thank God for who He is and for every spiritual benefit He grants us. The psalmists gave thanks for God’s name being near (Ps. 75:1), for His righteous judgments (Ps. 119:62), and at the remembrance of His holiness (Ps. 30:4). Anna gave thanks for Jesus Christ (Luke 2:38), and the Samaritan leper for His healing (Luke 17:16). Jesus gave thanks that God heard Him (John 11:41), and hid the gospel from the wise but revealed it to babes (Matt. 11:15). Through Paul we learn to give thanks for the communion, love, earnest care, and remembrance of the saints (Col. 1:4; Acts 28:15; Phil. 1:3). We must be thankful for faith in Jesus (Phm. 1:5), our election (II Thess. 2:13), His unspeakable gift (II Cor. 9:15), obedience to the truth (Rom. 6:17), knowledge of God (II Cor. 2:14), the Word of God (I Thess. 2:13), grace (I Cor. 1:4), our inheritance (Col. 1:12), for victory through Christ (I Cor. 15:57). And that most often mentioned—give thanks for God is good and His mercy endures forever (I Chr. 16:34).
Giving thanks is the unique activity of the believer. The ungodly are unable and unwilling, for in death there is no remembrance of God or thanksgiving (Ps. 6:5). It is the characteristic wickedness of the world that when they know God, they neither glorify Him nor are thankful (Rom. 1:21). But the righteous give thanks, and do so frequently, for it is the very purpose of our salvation and reason for our existence (Ps. 140:13; Eph. 5:4). The Lord comforts Zion so that thanksgiving may be found therein (Is. 51:3). The Lord plants and builds up His church so we abound therein with thanksgiving (Col. 2:7). He multiplies our numbers and glorifies us with His goodness, so that out of His church shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them making merry (Jer. 30:19). We are enriched bountifully in everything, and the administration of His gifts is made abundant in order to bring much thanksgiving to God (II Cor. 9:11-12). Let us then give thanks unto the Lord among the heathen (Ps. 18:49), give thanks in the great congregation (Ps. 35:18), rise up at midnight to give thanks (Ps. 119:62), and give thanks unto God forever and to all generations (Ps. 30:12, 79:13). For all things are for our sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God (II Cor. 4:15).