Thankfulness in a self-absorbed culture (Part 1)

By Brad Hicks

The word “thank” and all its derivative words — thanks, thanksgiving, thankful, thankfulness, grateful, etc. — as it relates to man’s thankful posture toward God, appears in English translations of the Bible about 150 times.

I hope to show today why thankfulness — why having a grateful attitude toward God for all things and in all circumstances — may be the key to overcoming our obsession with ourselves, to breaking the power of many forms of depression, to conquering our lust for power, money, and possessions, and to healing our incessant, insane desire to be recognized, appreciated, and exalted by others for our accomplishments.

I’m not going to blather-on using any wisdom of my own nor will I be telling stories about my own success at overcoming problems and sin in my life by being consistently grateful to God. No, I’m all-too-often caught up in all of the self-absorbed patterns I’ve just mentioned, and I need to be reminded over and over again of the importance and the efficacy of deliberately and intentionally choosing a thankful perspective each day.

So, what I’m going to do today is conduct a little investigation with you. I’m going to uncover for us a few things that the scriptures reveal about us and about God when we choose to center our lives around a posture of gratefulness (and when we choose not to). It’s an amazing word-study and a helpful reminder that we were created — and carefully and strategically placed by God in this time and place — for the very purpose of worshiping Him each day, beginning with hearts and lips filled with thankfulness to him.

Although I’m sure there are examples of thankfulness toward God in Genesis and Exodus, the words “thanks” or “grateful” are not used in the text in any of the most-used English translations of scripture in the first two books of the Bible. The word is first mentioned in Leviticus when the Law is being administered through Moses to the Israelites. Sacrificial offerings are commanded to be offered to God on a regular basis in the form of certain “clean” animals and of bread and oil, rituals that daily reminded the people of God of the necessity and importance of being grateful and giving thanks to the Lord for his constant provision to them. Here’s what it says in Leviticus 7: “These are the regulations for the fellowship offering anyone may present to the Lord: If they offer it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering they are to offer thick loaves … of the finest flour well-kneaded and with oil mixed in. … They are to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the Lord.”

Then, as the priestly offices were explained in the Law, the descendants of Levi and Aaron were appointed to exemplify to God’s people how to regularly extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel. They were to stand every morning in the tabernacle — and later under the kingship of Solomon, in the temple — to thank and praise the Lord, and they were to do the same in the evening, recorded the Hebrew Chronicler. Musicians were also instructed to “join in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise and thanks to the Lord and sang, “He is good; his love endures forever.” One time, God was so pleased with their thankfulness and praise that he filled the temple with his glory in the form of a thick cloud and fire.

The Chronicler also wrote that following Solomon, the kings of Israel and Judah for the next few hundred years eventually stopped acknowledging and thanking God for all they had — except for a few short-lived exceptions, like Hezekiah, Josiah, and two or three others. Instead, they worshiped and gave thanks to the idols and gods of other nations. God finally withdrew his presence from the Israelites and banished them into captivity to Assyria and Babylon. We don’t know what happened to the Hebrews who were banished to Assyria; they were never to return to Jerusalem. But we know that the Babylonian captivity lasted for approximately seventy years.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the return of the Israelite captives to their homeland in Jerusalem, and Nehemiah especially emphasizes that this return was characterized by God’s people once again offering praises and thanksgiving to their God. Priests were once again appointed “who led in thanksgiving and prayer.” (Neh. 11:7) Musicians were put “in charge of the songs of thanksgiving.” (Neh. 12:8) The people rebuilt a new wall around Jerusalem, dedicated it to God, and the priests, musicians, and “two large choirs” … joyfully celebrated it “with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres.” (Neh. 12:24-31)

The Psalms refer to giving thanks to God more than any other book in the Bible, using words relating to thanks and gratefulness thirty times!  One of my favorite verses is Psalm 100:4; it says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” To me, this verse is the best reminder in all of scripture of the right posture with which to come into the Lord’s holy presence (into his gates and courts) in prayer — with thanksgiving and praise! When I first come to God in prayer, thank him, praise him for his goodness and faithfulness, for his kindness and mercy that he shows me every moment of every day. After I’ve entered his “gates and courts” in that manner, my often hasty and self-centered prayer “needs” become less urgent. Because I’ve reminded myself of how the Lord has already provided for me and blessed me in countless amazing ways, I become more aware of the needs of others and in a better spiritual place to intercede for them.

Perhaps best illustrating in the Psalms the dynamic, effectual relationship between man’s grateful posture toward God and God’s response to such humility may be Psalm 107. Mid twentieth-century Old Testament scholar, Derek Kidner, called this 43-verse Psalm, “God to the Rescue.” The psalmist’s intent in writing it was as a general call to all to give thanks to God, not just for the good that comes our way but especially in times of trouble and confusion. The Psalm opens with the injunction, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever,” then proceeds to give four examples of some of the most common calamities of human life and shows how God sees, cares for, and intervenes on behalf of those suffering under such circumstances. Each example is punctuated by its own injunction to remember to give thanks to the Lord.

I’ve taken some liberties interpreting the four examples the psalmist describes in Psalm 107, but I think this is close to what the writer was trying to communicate. The point is, nonetheless, to be thankful to God even when we’re in the middle of our darkest times.

(1) Verses 1-9
IF you’re under the control of an abuser or enemy, if you’re lost and can’t find your way home or to your place of centeredness, if you lack food and drink for your body or soul, and your life feels like its fading away … THEN cry out to the Lord, and he will save you and settle you in to your rightful place, and satisfy your hunger and thirst. * Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind (verse 8).

(2) Verses 10-16
IF you’re in deep darkness, in bondage to some secret sin, or paying for the mistakes of your past, with no grace or mercy in sight … THEN cry out to the Lord, and he will save you from the prison by which you’ve been trapped. * Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind (verse 15).

(3) Verses 17-22
IF you’re suffering physical, mental, or spiritual sickness or disease as a result of mistakes you’ve made, and you feel like you’re on the verge of death … THEN cry out to the Lord, and through his word he will heal you, take away your worry, and rescue you from death. * Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, and also show their thanks by telling others of God’s goodness through both words and joyful song (verses 21-22).

(4) Verses 23-32
IF you’ve achieved amazing heights in this world, and it seemed like you had it all, then your world came crashing down, you were thrown into confusion like a thundering storm, and you gave way to panic, fear, and despair … THEN cry out to the Lord, and he will calm your storm and lead you to the place where he wants you to be. * Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, and also show their thanks by joining the community of believers in Godly worship (verses 31-32).

Psalm 107 closes with the psalmist reminding the reader and hearer that God lifts up, blesses, nourishes, and places the grateful ones in abundant, safe spaces — those who are humble and understand and acknowledge that their provision comes from the Lord. But he turns lands inhabited by the self-absorbed, entitled ones into desert wastelands and causes them to wander aimlessly through life.

The last thought in Verse 43. “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.”

This concludes the first part of our word study on thankfulness. As you might have noticed, our investigation uncovered what the Old Testament reveals about thankfulness and gratefulness. Next, we’ll wander into the New Testament and explore what Jesus and his spirit-filled followers knew and taught about giving thanks to God.  

Published by Louder For Malchus

Hi! Brad here. Avid learner, nature nerd, sports-stats geek, publisher, writer, editor, and a Christian. I try to pay attention ... for a word that God might be saying to me. I keep my inner sense attuned for something "prophetic" or "numinous" in good writing, film, music, art of any kind, in all created nature, in spirited conversation, in prayer, or simply in my quiet thoughts. "Louder For Malchus" is about paying attention so we might truly hear. I believe that we only really live "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," wrote the Deuteronomist whom Jesus quoted. Then, once heard, obey, become, and do. He doesn't speak to amuse and entertain.

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