What the Psalms Teach Us About Giving Thanks

CHRISTINA FOX|EDITOR

This month marks that yearly tradition where we gather with friends and family around a table laden with food. For most of us, that means turkey and dressing (or stuffing, if you must), cranberry sauce, casseroles, and of course, pumpkin pie. Like the pilgrims before us, we give thanks to God for his rich blessings to us over the past year.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is an opportune time to dwell on what God has done and to give him the thanks he is due. The book of Psalms is a rich resource to aid us giving thanks, specifically the psalms of thanksgiving.

The Psalms of Thanksgiving

The book of Psalms was the hymnbook for God’s people. They used it in worship the way we use our hymnals or praise songs today. And just like music today, there were different genres or types of psalms sung at different times, depending on what was happening in the life of God’s people. The psalms of thanksgiving were one such genre and are closely tied to another genre, the psalms of lament.

When God’s people needed help and rescue, they sang a lament and cried out to God for help and mercy. These are the darkest of all the Psalms and ones where the psalmist voiced his deepest sorrows, fears, and griefs to God. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1). After God met his people in their need and delivered them, they responded with a song of thanksgiving, thanking God for what he had done. “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me” (Psalm 30:1).

Like the other genres in the Psalms, the psalms of thanksgiving have common characteristics making them distinguishable from other psalms. The psalms of thanksgiving often begin with praise to God. The psalmist praised God for who he is, his character and his goodness. The psalmist might also express love to God for who he is and what he has done.

The psalmist then describes the trouble he was in and what God did about it. He recalls how he felt and the details of what happened. In some ways, it sounds like a song of lament, where the psalmist describes in vivid words the depths of his despair. But it is recounted in past tense as the psalmist then goes on to sing about how God saved and rescued him.

The psalmist then praises God and gives thanks for all that he did to save him from his troubles. The psalmist often invites others to join him in giving thanks to God. “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4).

Giving Thanks Today

When it comes to giving thanks today, the Psalms show us how thanksgiving is an essential part of our corporate and private worship. These psalms remind us that when God provides for us, answers a prayer, delivers us, we need to return thanks to him. We can be quick to seek his help and cry out for rescue and deliverance. But we are also just as quick to fail to thank him for all he has done. Like the psalmist, we need to spend time remembering the trials we’ve gone through and trace God’s grace in the midst of it. When we remember how desperate our situation was and what God did to deliver us, we realize how kind and gracious he is toward us. In looking back at what God has done, we see his faithfulness. It then gives us confidence in his faithfulness toward us in the future.

It’s also important to share those testimonies with other believers. Remember, Israel sang these songs of thanksgiving to one another in corporate worship. We need to hear each other’s stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness. We need to hear how God rescued our brothers and sisters, how he heard their cries for deliverance, and how he met them in their need.

This means, thanksgiving ought to be a community event. As Paul wrote in Romans, believers are to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). Like the Israelites who sang their praise songs, laments, and songs of thanksgiving together, we ought to sing to one another of what God has done, not only in our daily troubles and trials, but also in providing us salvation through Christ. “And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:15-16). Sharing our stories of thanksgiving with one another spurs us on in the faith and reminds us of all we have in Christ.

So this Thanksgiving, as you gather with friends and family, remember what God has done for you. Share your stories of deliverance and rescue. Encourage one another with the truth of who God is and what he has done. And invite one another to sing a song of thanks to the One who rescues and redeems.

Christina received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Revive Our Hearts, Desiring God, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Ligonier Ministries. She is the content editor for enCourage and the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament   and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. Christina also serves on the advisory board at Covenant College. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook.

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