When I think of giving thanks, I tend to regard it as something done in the midst of good things - a full stomach, a warm house, and a loving family. But is this the biblical understanding of thanksgiving? Is it something we do out of the overflow of all the good things we have?
Throughout the scriptures, giving thanks is described as a sacrifice, particularly in Psalm 116:17: “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.”
A sacrifice is a thing that costs. When the Old Testament Jews would take sacrifices to the temple, it was a sacrifice of something important to them. It was not a light matter to sacrifice to God. It took preparation, time, effort, money, and ended in the loss of something that could have otherwise been used for personal gain. If thanksgiving, then, is described as a sacrifice, then biblical thanksgiving costs. It isn’t an overflow of the extra.
We are not required to sacrifice animals at an altar, but as children of God, it behooves us to be thankful and to give thanks often. We have been given so much, from the daily provision of breath and existence to the provision of eternal security through the labor of Jesus Christ. If true thanksgiving is a sacrifice, what are we sacrificing? Anything that takes away or diminishes the favors God has shown to us.
We sacrifice our complaints. It is one thing to be aware of a situation that is not right and try to correct it, but it is another to grow bitter about something that you cannot change. It’s not good to be complacent, but many times God places His children in situations in order for them to grow and mature. If discontentment is our response to the will of God, then we have no room in our hearts for true thanksgiving. We have to realize we have no right to complain about things that God Himself ordained for our ultimate benefit and for His glory. Instead, give thanks that He cares enough to strengthen us in our spiritual walk.
We sacrifice our fears. If God feeds the sparrows and clothes the flowers (Matt. 6:26-34), do we really have a right to live in distress? There are times when concern is appropriate, and it is foolish to go through life in the fantasy that everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows. But to live as if everything could be lost at any moment is an insult to God. He has said that He is the protector of His children. We have no right or reason to live as if He is too weak to control our situation. True thankfulness requires that we sacrifice our fears.
We sacrifice our wants. This is a tough one for anybody. We all have things we want to achieve, and most of the time these are good things. Wealth, good health, security, all these things are beneficial. But all too often these desires can become a distraction from God’s provision and will for our lives. When we set our hearts on something other than God, we are saying that God is not enough for us. We have lost sight of who He really is and how much we really need Him. How can we have thankful hearts when we are dwelling on something we don’t have? True thankfulness requires that we sacrifice our wants.
What is truly needed is an eternal perspective. Think on this: God, the one who is completely satisfied in Himself and had no need of us at all, has condescended to set His love on us and rescue us from eternal just condemnation. Not only that, but every day we are surrounded by evidence of His grace, and led onward by the promise of being made like Jesus Christ, able to dwell in the presence of God without a barrier or mediator to go between.
Suddenly the cares and concerns of our daily lives shrink. When our eyes are finally open to God’s provision, both for our earthly and eternal lives, our complaints, fears, and selfish wants become so trivial.