Giving thanks the biblical way

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Little Rock Connections: The Good News for Today
November 2016

Giving thanks the biblical way

Clifford Yeary
Associate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study

We thank you, God, we give thanks;
      we call upon your name,
      we declare your wonderful deeds.
(Psalm 75:2)

Giving thanks to God is at the very heart of Christian worship. This is especially true when we worship God in the Eucharist. The word “Eucharist,” after all, literally means “to give thanks.” There are, though, many ways to give thanks, just as there are different ways of being thankful. It is not unusual in western cultures to think of thankfulness as being synonymous with gratitude. Gratitude, it is said, is an attitude. It is something we feel in our hearts.

At the root of the word gratitude is the word “grace.” Grace is a gift, and to have gratitude is to know that we have been gifted by God. In terms of our relationship with God, that gift is being blessed with God’s own presence within us. This blessing leaves us feeling grateful and thus we often equate thankfulness with feeling a sense of gratitude.

Of course there is nothing wrong with feeling grateful. Would that we all felt grateful all the time! Feeling grateful, however, is not the biblical way of giving thanks. In the Bible, thankfulness is something to be expressed, and it needs to be expressed with something more than a smile.

Psalm 75 (above) expresses clearly and simply what it means to be thankful in a biblical fashion. The Psalms were hymns, poems to be sung during public worship. Much of Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas rather than words. The meaning of one line of a poem is echoed in the next by putting the same thought into different words. In Psalm 75, the phrase “We thank you, God, we give you thanks,” has its own built-in echo about giving thanks. The subsequent lines, however, provide more detailed echoes, echoes which explicitly tell us how worshipers gave thanks: They called upon God’s name and then declared God’s wonderful deeds to each other.

The biblical way of giving thanks is to publicly proclaim the good things God has done for us.

Psalm 40 provides another example. It opens with a plea for God’s help, and then offers assurances of a proper thanksgiving:

2 Surely, I wait for the Lord;
         who bends down to me and hears my cry,

3 Draws me up from the pit of destruction,
         out of the muddy clay,

4 Sets my feet upon rock,
         steadies my steps. . .

10b See, I do not restrain my lips;
         as you, Lord, know.

11 I do not conceal your righteousness
         within my heart;

         I speak of your loyalty and your salvation.
         I do not hide your mercy or faithfulness from a great assembly.

Gratitude is a wonderful thing, but it is incomplete if it doesn’t lead us to express before others our thankfulness to God. Our thanksgiving feasts with family and guests are wonderful opportunities for that expression. The greatest occasion, however, has already been mentioned. As we celebrate Eucharist together, let us remember that every aspect of the liturgy is engaging us in a very biblical, public act of thanksgiving.

Make plans now to take advantage of one new study and one revised study from Little Rock Scripture Study:
Panorama of the New Testament, available this month, is a five-session study that is a perfect complement to our recently released Panorama of the Old Testament. Through both offerings, you will explore the sweeping story of God’s plan for us and discover the threads that unite the 73 books of our Bible. A perfect place for beginners, and a lovely offering for those who have been students of the Bible for years.

Alive in the Word now has the following offerings available for use by individuals or in groups. Brief but powerful time with God’s Word can fit into any busy schedule.

Cloud of Witnesses series

Mary, Favored by God
Sarah & Hagar, Women of Promise
Moses, Called and Equipped
Paul, Proclaiming Christ Crucified

Virtues for Disciples series

Trust, Confidence in the God of Salvation
Mercy: God’s Nature, Our Challenge

Two new titles will be released in January 2017.

A Biblical Year of Mercy
Download a monthly article and reflection questions for free use in your parishes; link to your parish website; send them to friends. Available in English and in Spanish.

For more information about workshops, Little Rock Connections, or to offer suggestions, or submit items, please contact:
Little Rock Scripture Study
PO Box 7565
Little Rock, AR 72217

Little Rock Scripture Study

Little Rock Scripture Study, PO Box 7565, Little Rock, AR 72217-7565
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Phone: 1.800.858.5434 or 320.363.2213
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