(This devotional is day twenty-eight of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
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 strong that thanksgiving bursts at the seams. We practice thanksgiving because it’s part of how we set our eyes on God and cultivate faith in Him. Thanksgiving pushes 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 poetic, I think we sometimes imagine they were composed from a serene cabin in the woods. But 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.
When David’s life is full of things causing worry by looking around, he looks up in thanksgiving. He sets his heart on the God who is bigger than his enemies. Rather than being consumed with fear about circumstances, he thanks the God who rules over those circumstances.
Here are five ways we can follow David’s example of giving thanks in trials.
1) Look Back
Sometimes David gives thanks for how God delivered, protected, and provided in the past (see Psalms 105–107). Before walking through the history of Israel’s 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 way of filling his heart with worship. He looks back and remembers God’s faithfulness and thanks Him for it. 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. Give thanks for the times and ways God provided, delivered, sustained, or comforted you through trials in the past. God will help you in whatever worries you today, just like He’s done before.
2) Consider God
Other times, thanksgiving focuses on who God is. In Psalm 138, David sings with gratitude to God because He regards the lowly (138:6), preserves our life (138:7), delivers us (138:7), loves us (138:8), and is accomplishing His good purpose for us (138:8).
By giving thanks to God, our view of Him grows. This puts our worries and fears in perspective. They don’t go away, but they shrink when 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 see him in Scripture or in nature, give thanks. What characteristics or truths about God can you thank him for today?
3) Believe He Listens
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). Regardless of what happens, David is thankful that God bends his ear to us (Ps. 28:6). We can bring the burdens of our hearts to God and He listens with the love of a perfect Father. David’s 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 is present with you. Give thanks.
4) Expect Him to Work
David prays with thanksgiving in an expectation for how God will act (Ps. 52:5–9). He gives thanks in advance for what God is doing and 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. David 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 (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 today to God while also trusting and thanking Him for what He’s doing and will do?
5) Look for God’s Hand
David stirs gratitude in his heart by giving thanks for the blessings of God he knows 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 until 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.
“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). David offers God thanksgiving for what he knows about Him—He’s loving and faithful—and because He answered David’s prayer and strengthened his soul.
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. Drown your anxieties, worries, and fears by immersing yourself in gratitude.
To go deeper in biblical thanksgiving and understand how it leads us to know and enjoy God, check out my book The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of A Lost Spiritual Discipline.