Thanksgiving: Understanding Two Sides of Giving Thanks

Recently I went with a couple of friends to the Starbucks Reserve in downtown Chicago. What an experience—especially as a coffee connoisseur! I couldn’t wait to order a flight of coffees to try. After ordering, I respond to the barista who took my order, “Thank you so much!” I made my way down to watch another barista prepare my coffees in this siphon almost chemistry-like contraption. When he finished and handed me the coffees I said, “Thank you!”  

As I sat there sipping on my flight of Hawaiian, Guatemalan, and Pantheon blends of coffee, these exchanges got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks.

My “thanks” was a cultural mannerism that I and others use to be polite. But I got to thinking, was I really giving her thanks for my coffee? Was I really thankful for someone doing what I was entitled for them to do? The coffee was mine! I paid for it… in fact, I paid a lot of money for it. Therefore, subconsciously I felt entitled to the coffee that I thanked the barista for.

Such an exchange got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks on Thanksgiving. 

Here’s a question that comes to my mind:

Are you truly giving thanks if you believe you are entitled to what you “give thanks” for?

In other words, if you believe you are entitled to something, have earned something, or paid for something, can you truly be thankful for it?

It seems we live in an entitlement culture. [To be clear: the entitlement culture is not just reserved for millennials. This type of culture spans generations.] 

People think they are entitled and owed certain things. Take kids for instance. Many believe they are entitled to play the gaming system as long as they want. Many believe they are owed a smart phone like all their friends. Many believe dinner at the house should be menu-style as opposed to what momma is cooking. They want bedtimes to be optional.

When parents allow them two hours for gaming, cook them a nice homecooked meal, or send them to a bedroom with a bed, mattress, covers, and pillows they aren’t grateful nor thankful because they feel owed or entitled to these things.

This brings me to the meaning of thanksgiving or giving thanks—something that Thanksgiving is all about. 

To truly understand what thanksgiving or giving thanks means, we have to understand its two sides—particularly from the biblical viewpoint. 

If we fail to understand the two sides, then our thanksgiving will either be missing, misdirected, or misunderstood.

Two Sides of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving (or giving thanks) in the bible has at least two sides: confession and praise. 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are two words that are translated into English as “thanks.” First, the word “Yadah”—not to be confused with Yoda—is expressive as it is mostly associated with praise; second, the word “Towdah” (which comes from Yadah) is confessional as it is mostly connected with offerings (sacrifices) of thanksgiving.

Here are some examples of Yadah and Towdah:

Psalm 47:17—“I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise [yadah] you for ever and ever.” (NIV)

Psalm 75:1—“We give thanks [yadah] to you, O God, we give thanks [yadah] for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.” (NIV)

Isaiah 12:4—“In that day you will say: Give thanks [yadah] to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.” (NIV)

Psalm 95:1–2—”Come, let us sing or joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving [towdah] and extol him with music and song.” (NIV)

Psalm 116:17—“I will sacrifice a thank [towdah] offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.” (NIV)

Jonah 2:9—“But I, with a song of thanksgiving [towdah], will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.”

Thanksgiving, giving thanks, or being thankful, in short, is both expressive and confessional. 

To help apply these concepts to our lives, when we think of thanksgiving as “confessional” it may be helpful think about who we are and what we deserve.

When we think of thanksgiving or giving thanks as “expressive” it may be helpful to think about what we have received and how we should respond. 

Both the “confessional” and “expressive” elements of thanksgiving are inextricably linked to mercy and grace. 

Maybe you’ve heard mercy described as God withholding what we DO deserve, and grace being described as “Gods…Riches…At…Christ’s…Expense”—or God giving us what we DO NOT deserve.

We believe the Bible teaches humans are rebels who committed treason against the King of Glory. Mankind attempted to rob God of His glory and of His throne. As a result of sin, humanity shattered God’s image on their life and damaged the created order. What God created good, man ruined. As such, mankind deserves to be judged, sentenced, and executed. In short, as depraved, rebellious, and sinful human beings, we deserve, we are entitled to, we are owed no good thing. That’s the foundation of our confession…our thanksgiving. 

If we are going to practice true thanksgiving (or giving thanks) we must realize who we are and what we deserve.

However, God did not give man what he deserved. He did not order a judgement, a sentence, or an execution—punishments and consequences yes; but not a condemning sentence or execution. Rather, He lavished them with a Father’s love! He pursued them, promised them redemption, and properly clothed them. What God gave man and continues to give man—both through general and specific revelation—is grace!

Every good thing we have in life has been generously dispensed from the gracious hand of the Father. And the ultimate good that has been lavished on us is the sacrificial, atoning, and substitutional death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

However, our praise is that in God’s mercy and grace—which is ultimately realized in Jesus Christ—we have something to praise, worship, and supremely THANK God for. We have received something that constitutes offering our bodies as living sacrifices, and thus living in a constant state of praise and thanksgiving. It isn’t something we have earned, nor are entitled to. 

TRUE THANKSGIVING flows from a heart that has experienced GREAT GRACE. 

My prayer this Thanksgiving is that those who follow Jesus will truly give thanks to the Lord for every good thing that we have for we deserve no good thing! However, in Jesus, the Father has given us the treasure of heaven! 

As the psalmist says:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving (towdah); go into his courts with praise. Give thanks (yadah) to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Ps 100:4–5).

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