What Does ‘Give Thanks to the Lord’ Actually Mean?

Every year at Thanksgiving, we give thanks to the Lord. We gather around tables and share blessings He has bestowed on our lives, and we say grace before meals. But what does “give thanks to the Lord” mean in a biblical context?

Obviously, those in the Bible didn’t have the American holiday Thanksgiving. They did have harvest festivals, such as Sukkot. But have we misconstrued the meaning of this phrase? This article will explore what “give thanks to the Lord” truly means and how we can carry it out this Thanksgiving and in our daily lives. 

What Does Give Thanks to the Lord Mean?

The phrase, “give thanks to the Lord” appears in several verses in Scripture, predominantly in the Psalms. But when we think of this phrase, we most likely think of Psalm 107:1

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”

This phrase appears in worship songs and tends to be one of the most quotable verses in the Bible, especially around the month of November.

What does this verse truly mean?

Let’s analyze a commentary to dive further into this verse and phrase. First, we have to analyze the chapter as a whole.

A Call for Celebration 

First and foremost, the thanks in the verse calls for celebration. Why? Because of the Lord’s mercy, goodness, and love. It’s everlasting. As temporal, contingent beings, we are unused to unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace. We celebrate and dwell in the Lord’s everlasting goodness.

A Recognition of God’s Provision

Thanks tends to arise when we realize all the ways God has provided for us—the ways he has provided in the past, today, and how He will continue to do so in the future. A practice I love is counting my blessings each day before I get up. I won’t get out of bed until I can count ten blessings I know God will provide for the day. Gratitude doesn’t have to start at Thanksgiving.

An Understanding of Our Past Bondage

Psalm 107 recognizes that we have been freed from the bondage of our oppressors. On the spiritual level, we have been released from the oppression of sin. We can experience true thanks because we have been truly freed.

The “thanks” in the verse literally translates to the word yada. It means to “cast down,” “throw down,” or “shoot thanks.” It’s often akin to shooting arrows or throwing stones. Not exactly the imagery we’d have in mind for Thanksgiving, but it’s a strong act of worship. It is an act of confession and thanksgiving combined. For more on this word and other verses that use it, check out this lexicon here

What Does the Bible Say about Giving Thanks?

Before we can dive into how we can give thanks, we should first dissect what the Bible says about the act of giving thanks. Let’s examine some verses below.

1 Corinthians 1:4 tells us to be thankful for the people that God has placed in our lives. He often provides people who can help pray for us, sympathize with us, and encourage us. 

Ephesians 5:20 tells us to give thanks for anything and everything. This may look like thanking God for the mundane days. For the difficult things. For the tests and trials that refine us and purify us. 

Philippians 4:6 says that thanks is often expressed in prayer. Prayer is the predominant way we communicate with God, so it makes sense that praise can be lifted up to Him in this way.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. We can’t reserve a time for gratitude just at the end of November. We acknowledge and praise the Lord in every season and every circumstance. 

Hebrews 13:15 describes praise and thanks as a sacrifice. We may not always be in the mood to praise the Lord. Sometimes giving Him thanks amid difficult circumstances can seem like the hardest task in the world. And yet, we continue to do so.

We could go on, but Scripture makes one thing very clear: thanksgiving should be a part of our regular lives. So how do we give thanks to the Lord in the twenty-first century?

How Do We Give Thanks to the Lord?

Now that we have the bizarre imagery of “casting” or literally throwing praise at God, how do we give thanks to the Lord?

Although this list is by no means comprehensive, this should hopefully spur some ideas on how to approach thanksgiving in a biblical way.

Thank God for Everything

If you end up in a traffic jam, thank God for the ability to exercise the spiritual gift of patience. If someone in your house is sick, thank God for the ability to care for that person and show Christ to that person. Thanksgiving goes beyond thanking God for the seemingly “good” things. It also means appreciating the less-pleasant things in life too.

Thank God for the People in Your Life

God has a crazy way of putting just the right people in your life. Thank Him for them. Praise God if you have a loving spouse who shows you Jesus each day. If you have friends who pray with you, praise God. If you have non-Christian friends who see Christ through you, praise God. God has fine-tuned your life for you to interact with the people you do, for such a time as this.

Thank God When It’s Hard

There will be times when you don’t want to go to church on Sunday. When you don’t feel like singing worship songs. And if Christians try to convince you that they feel happy and joyful all the time, I can guarantee they’ve put on a facade for you. David cried. Jeremiah cried. Jesus cried. Worship and thanksgiving are not always easy. But something we do often see in the Psalms is even amid agony, the psalmists will still thank the Lord. We can exercise biblical thanksgiving by doing the same. Praising God, throwing up stones of worship, even when we don’t feel like it.

Thank God at Inconvenient Times

I think of the story in Daniel 6. The king of Persia had issued a decree that no one could pray to any gods (including Yahweh) for a set period. Nevertheless, Daniel prayed. And let’s pay attention to what Daniel 6:10 says, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” 

He gave thanks. Daniel had experienced captivity. He likely saw many family members die. He watched the upheaval of Babylon. He likely was forced to be a eunuch. Now, he faced possible death for praying. In the midst of all this, he still gave thanks. Giving thanks includes choosing to do so in times of peril, business, sorrow, and other “inconvenient” moments.

If you still want to continue the Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and listing blessings for the year, by all means, continue to do so! But I think we can often forget what biblical thanksgiving looks like.

It’s often messy, inconvenient, and hard. Thankfully, we have a God who delights in our praises, no matter how weak or sad we feel. So let’s explore what it means to give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances and seasons.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Jane55

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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