The Psalmist declares (Psa 106:1), “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever”. That word “thanks” is very expressive. In the Hebrew, it is the word ‘yadah’, a verb with a root meaning “to throw or shoot out”, or “the extended hand, to throw out the hand”. It signifies therefore to worship with extended hands.

Perhaps it can be said that our community is not very expressive with our bodies in praise, however, there are many biblical references to the lifting up of hands in prayer and praise. Nehemiah 8:6 and Psalm 141:2 are just two examples where prayer and praise are associated with the lifting up of hands. Also, we see the idea portrayed in the image of Moses holding up his hands, supported by Aaron and Hur, during the battle with the Amalekites as recorded in Exodus 17. We could also suggest that Christ, in his crucifixion, had his hands raised, when they were nailed to the stake or the cross. Paul as well, in 1 Timothy 2:8 states, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting”.

The idea of raising the hands in praise can also be used to denote the singing of songs of praise—to lift up the voice in thanksgiving, to send out praise, to proclaim and to confess to all who will listen the greatness of God. It is joyful, it is expressive, it is the outburst of our love to our God. We can also use the reverse imagery to show what it is not. The opposite of the above word picture is the image of introversion—not the raising up of the hands, but rather the worried bemoaning by the wringing of the hands. This worried, closed-up, shrinking image is the very opposite of what the word for “thanks” suggests.

There are other ways we can look at this word picture. The raising of the hands can be used to symbolise a surrender; for example, to use body language to show vulnerability. It can also be a sign of a desperate appeal, like that of a frightened or hurt child, looking for the support of its parents, wandering around with sad eyes and outstretched arms, simply looking for someone to give them a cuddle and reassure them. Have any of us ever come before our heavenly Father in a similar way, either when something bad has happened to us, or possibly when we know we have done something very bad?

We know that we are like adopted children of God! God is our Father and we know that because of this, He is there for us to appeal to Him at times when we feel vulnerable. Quotations like Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 express the idea of appealing to God as from a child. The phrase “Abba, Father” is our equivalent of a child saying ‘Daddy’ to their father. It is a very tender, intimate name and God is pleased for us to see Him in that way. So, the lifting of hands to the Lord can also carry the meaning of absolute surrender, as a young child does.

Thanksgiving and praise

Thanksgiving and praise always go together as Psalm 100:4-5 illustrates: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise”. We cannot adequately praise and worship God without also being thankful.

Is it not true that feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us? Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given us. It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratefulness, we could become arrogant and self-centred. We could begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in a right relationship to the Giver of all good gifts.Thankfulness is an antidote to selfishness.

Giving thanks also reminds us of how much we have. Human beings are prone to covetousness. We tend to focus on what we don’t have. By giving thanks continually we are reminded of how much we do have. When we focus on blessings rather than wants, we are in a happier frame of mind.

Counting our blessings can help our emotional health. A group of researchers set up an experiment. They had one group of students write for 20 minutes each day about things they were grateful for, a second group about things they were angry about and a third about random topics like the colour of their shoes. It is not hard to guess which group was happiest at the end of the experiment—the ones who wrote about things they were grateful for, of course! Is it a coincidence that those who wrote about the things they were grateful for were less likely to be sick throughout the semester?

When we start thanking God for the things we usually take for granted, our perspective changes. We begin to realise that we could not even exist without the merciful blessings of God. One of the traps of our modern age is the commercialism that teaches us to covet and desire things we do not have. We are made to feel that we are somehow inadequate if we don’t have the latest of this or that! The marketers of our world are trying to get us to chase rainbows—each time we think we are getting closer to the end of the rainbow, it seems to move away from us. We are left chasing rainbows! The godly perspective is to be content not covetous (Prov 30:8; 1 Tim 6:6; Heb 13:5). There are many people in these last days who are walking on that unending treadmill—always searching, but never finding (2 Tim 3:7). But when we are grateful and thankful, we will find contentment, and we invite happiness into our lives.

There is a way in which we can be thankful in a negative way! The Pharisee in the Lord’s parable prayed with himself and thanked God that he was not like the publican (Luke 18:10-12). This is giving thanks to ourselves—not to God. The Pharisee was praising himself before God by outlining all the many bad things he considered himself not to be! In thankfulness, we need to be careful of such comparisons. It is a very natural thing to think like the Pharisee and to think, ‘I’m glad I’m not like that’. But if we see a problem, rather than just being thankful for not having that problem, we should try and do something to help.

For example, we often give thanks for our food, and are mindful that there are others in the world, even our brothers and sisters, who do not have anything like the food we have here. But what is the point of praying that way, if we don’t intend to do anything about it? That is why we appreciate the Bible Mission fundraising nights, where we can get together and give joyfully to those in greater need than us. We can become complacent with all the good things we have around us. In many ways, we are less thankful because we become conditioned to the good things we have and we think we deserve them. We start to take them for granted and we can become blind to the many ways we havebeen blessed.

We should try to start each day with the thankful wonder of someone who has learnt something new, like when we see those clips of someone seeing colour for the first time, or someone who is deaf hearing for the first time after having had an operation or an implant fitted.

Making a list

At some point in the next week, let’s take some time to think of all the things we are thankful for and make a list, if that helps. We can then reflect briefly on what life could be like without all those things and remember to thank God for all the many blessings we have. We can start with the simple, everyday things—things even a child can be thankful for. We thank God for:

  • Food, shelter and clothing; friends and family, our parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren!
  • His Word, and the fact that we know He is true to His word
  • The governments that let us meet in safety, and also for the relative safety we experience here in our land
  • His righteousness and holiness; for all His marvellous works; for His guidance and instruction (Psa 16:7)
  • The hope He has given us, for salvation; for the joy He gives us in His presence
  • His mercy and kindness—for His not giving up on us; for hearing our cries for help (there are many psalms that reflect on God’s deliverance)
  • The strength and confidence God gives us (Psa 27:1-6; 28:7-8; 29:11; 56:4,11; 138:3)

That would make quite a long list! We have so many things that we can be thankful for!

Thanks for the strength to endure

We have the assurance that it is good to give thanks in “every thing” (1 Thess 5:18; Psa 92:1), which includes being thankful not only for the things we like, but for the circumstances we do not like. In everything give thanks! When we purpose to thank God for everything that He allows to come into our lives, we keep bitterness at bay. We cannot be both thankful and bitter at the same time. Of course, we do not thank Him for evil, but we can be thankful that He is sustaining us through adversity. We do not thank Him for any harm that may come upon us, but we thank Him when He gives us the strength to endure our infirmities (2 Cor 12:9; James 1:12). We affirm God as the ultimate source of both trial and blessing, and acknowledge our humble acceptance of both.

We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we do not feel thankful for the circumstance. We can feel hurt and still be thankful. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can be angry at our sinfulness and still be thankful toward God. The Bible calls this a “sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15). Giving thanks to God keeps our hearts in right relationship with Him and saves us from a host of harmful emotions and attitudes that could rob us of the peace God wants us to experience (Phil 4:6-7).

The greatest example of thanksgiving in suffering comes when we look at our Lord Jesus Christ. As was mentioned earlier, one of the greatest acts of worship we can render to God is to thank Him, even when life is difficult. Through thanksgiving and gratitude Christ affirmed God as the ultimate source of both trial and blessing and acknowledged his humble acceptance of both. In the days leading up to his death, Christ was not only aware of the fact that he was going to die, but he was also acutely aware that he was going to die a gruelling and painful death. He knew that his body was going to be nailed to a piece of wood, and that his blood would be shed, and that he would die slowly… painfully! So, with this knowledge in mind, what did he do on the last night before he was going to die? “He took the cup, and gave thanks” (Luke 22:17-19). He knew that the bread and the wine symbolised that he was going to die, and he also knew that it would be a terrible death, but even with all this in mind, he still gave thanks to his Father. Can there ever be any greater praise? Could we give thanks to God if we were ever placed in similar circumstances?

But through what he did endure, we know that we now have the gift of salvation offered to us through his sacrifice, and we have the redemption from sin. Surely, we can give thanks to God and to Christ for that!

We started our considerations with a verse from the Psalms, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for His mercy endureth for ever”. We know from experience that our God is good. We know from life’s experience that His mercy does endure forever. So surely, we should give thanks to Him with every fibre of our being. We have every reason to give thanks to Him and to His Son, our Saviour! And, particularly at our memorial meetings, we are given a few moments to consider what both God and Christ have done for us—granting us salvation from sin. Not only do we have an opportunity to give thanks at the start of the week but we also have a whole week ahead of us wherein we can resolve to show thankfulness—our thankfulness to God; our thankfulness to Christ; our thankfulness to one another, and to all people whose lives we touch.

Dear beloved brothers and sisters, let us purpose in our whole lives to choose to be thankful, as we focus our minds on the glorious kingdom that we know is soon to appear. Let us strive toward that kingdom with fervent praise and thanksgiving.

Let us conclude with the words of the apostle Paul, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57).