Thanksgiving in the Bible is for both the sun-lit mountaintop and the deep, dark valley. Paul calls us to give thanks “in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). We don’t wait until our faith is so full and strong that thanksgiving bursts at the seams, but we practice thanksgiving even when we’re fearful or worried because it’s part of how we set our eyes on God and cultivate faith in him. Thanksgiving is one of the key ways we push back against the full-court press from worry, fear, and anxiety.
The Psalms prove especially helpful for seeing thanksgiving as a weapon against worry. Because the Psalms are so beautifully written, I think we sometimes imagine they must have been written from a serene cabin in the woods. But in reality, the psalmists crafted many of their words in the midst of danger, trials, and suffering. David penned a number of psalms when he was in the wilderness, running and hiding from enemies, abandoned, betrayed, hungry, thirst, and weary. The Psalms in the wilderness were forged in the fire, not on a spiritual retreat.
And while David does cry out to God and asks for help, he pairs his prayers for deliverance with thanksgiving. When David’s life is full of things that would cause worry by looking around, he intentionally looks up in thanksgiving. He gives thanks to set his eyes and heart on God, who is much bigger than his enemies. Rather than being consumed with fear about circumstances, he gives thanks to the God ruling over those circumstances. It would be easy to be discouraged or overwhelmed and give up, or to throw all his energy into seeking control by devising a plan, but David’s response in trials is to practice thanksgiving.
David gives thanks in a few different ways, and I think we can follow his example by leaning into gratitude when we’re worried. I’ll mention five ways he gives thanks when in the midst of trials that apply to us today.
Sometimes David gives thanks for how God delivered, protected, and provided in the past (see Psalms 105-107). Before walking through Israel’s history of fickleness and God’s faithfulness, David writes, “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (Ps. 105:1-2, 5).
David rehearses God’s works as a means to fill his heart with worship. He looks back and remembers God’s faithfulness and thanks him for it. He recounts God’s deliverance, mercy, or help throughout his life to strengthen and sustain his faith in the present. This helps him know God can and will deliver him again. He can face today and tomorrow because he’s thankful for God’s provision, power, and presence in the past.
How has God been faithful, kind, merciful, or gracious in the past? Give thanks for the times and ways he provided, delivered, sustained, or comforted you through trials in your past. Just like God helped you when you worried in the past, God will help you in whatever worries you today.
Other times, thanksgiving focuses simply on who God is. David will give thanks to God because of his compassion, power, mercy, faithfulness, and love. “With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good” (Ps. 54:6). David thanks God for his goodness, and he doesn’t wait until the trouble stops or the worry fades but he gives thanks in the midst of the trial. He practices thanksgiving in the wilderness and doesn’t wait until he’s safely back at home.
By giving thanks to God for who he is, our view of God grows. This puts our worries and fears in perspective. They don’t go away, but they start to shrink compared to an all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God. Even if you don’t see the blessings in your life, you can thank God for who he is. As you consider God’s attributes or character, or see him in Scripture or even in nature, grow in gratitude by giving him thanks. What are some of the attributes, characteristics, or truths about who God is you can thank him for?
David sometimes thanks God for listening to his prayers and his cries. “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (Ps. 66:19-20)
God hears, he knows, and he is with us, so regardless of what happens, David is thankful that God bends his ear to us (Ps. 28:6). We can be thankful that our prayers and the burdens of our hearts can be brought to God, and he listens to us with the love of a perfect Father. His pain does not go unnoticed and his cries do not go unheard, and neither do yours. The God of the universe, our Father, listens to you and he is present with you. Give thanks.
Expect Him to Work
David gives thanks connected to his prayer requests in an expectation for how God will act (Ps. 52:5-9). He gives thanks in advance for what God is doing and what God will do. He’s confident that because God loves him, is for him, has good plans for him, and is at work in his life, God will provide, protect, and deliver him. He gives thanks even as he prays for what God will do, and then he rests in him.
When David flees enemies and seeks God’s deliverance, he both asks for help and thanks God in advance for the help on the way. “But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. 8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9 I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.” (Ps. 52:5, 8-9)
I think this is partly what Paul has in mind when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Where anxiety robs our peace, trusting God and thanking God provides peace and rest. How can you entrust your cares of today to God while also trusting in him and thanking him for what is doing and will do?
Look for God’s Hand
David stirs gratitude in his heart by giving thanks for the blessings of God he does see or know about. Worry can trap us in the moment, in the hard circumstances, or even in the hypothetical questions racing in our mind. Anxiety and fear can consume our thoughts so it’s all we can see. David fights this by intentionally looking for ways God is at work, has blessed him, or has filled his life with good things. David gives thanks for God’s daily mercy and grace, or the things he sees in creation all around him that are gifts, or God’s provision in his life, or God’s good promises to his people.
“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. 3 On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.” (Ps. 138:2-3)
Your life will always have worries and trials, but it will also have many gifts and blessings. We tend to focus more on the worries and trials and neglect God’s work or gifts. But as we choose to look or listen for how God is at work, and as we give thanks, our faith sees that there are many blessings carrying us through the many trials. Let every day be a chance for I-spy-God moments. Your life is full of blessings, even if they feel like small ones, and as we notice them and give thanks our outlook on things begins to change. Like a snowball, little blessings grow into bigger ones and our faith in God grows.
When you see God’s gifts or taste grace, give thanks. Rather than be ruled by worry, we rest and trust in God by giving thanks to God. Think less about the things causing you fear or worry by setting your mind on who God is, what he’s done, how he’s been faithful in the past, and the good gifts he has given you. Drown your anxieties, worries, and fears by immersing yourself in gratitude. Give thanks.