You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize that gratitude is life-changing. It reminds us to focus on the good things in our lives and shift our attention away from the negatives. In fact, studies have shown that being thankful simply makes people happier.
But thanksgiving becomes even more significant for Christians. We believe that all the goodness in the world comes directly from God’s hand, and learning to be thankful trains us to recognize God’s movement in our lives-and in the world around us.
We’ve assembled ten biblical passages about thanksgiving, along with some devotional thoughts about how these selections can help us become more thankful.
1. Trust that God keeps His promises
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good;
his love toward Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:10-13).
This scene comes after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s temple, exiling all the Judean leaders to Babylon:
On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down (2 Kings 25:8-9).
It’s hard for us to understand the impact this had on Israel. The temple wasn’t just a building; it was a promise. It represented the presence of God amidst His people. The destruction of the temple meant the collapse of God’s promises to His people and the loss of their identity.
Ezra’s book tells us the story of Israel’s struggle to rebuild the temple, reestablish their identity, and reform themselves spiritually. The rebuilding of the temple gave Israel hope again. But more than that, it confirmed that God’s promises were steadfast and trustworthy.
Paul tells the Corinthian church, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Our gratefulness is rooted in the fact that we can rely on God’s promises-all the time.
2. Thanksgiving is the gateway to praise
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:1-5).
In Psalm 100, the psalmist extols the Lord and encourages worshiping Israelites to come into the Tabernacle with hearts full of thanksgiving. Their gratefulness prepares them to enter into God’s presence.
And thanksgiving plays the same role for today’s worshipers. The act of worship requires a recognition of the praiseworthy things in our life. When we recall these remarkable things and remember that God is the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), worship and praise are the natural byproducts.
3. Look back on the Lord’s faithfulness
Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things (Psalm 107:4-9).
Psalm 107 begins with the words, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). For the rest of the Psalm, the psalmist shows us why. He uses an image that would be very meaningful to Israel’s nation-a people wandering in the desert looking for a home.
In this stanza, he focuses on the wanderers slowly wasting away from lack of resources. They call out to God, and He leads them to a city where they can settle. Then the psalmist leads the congregation into praise and worship. Let the people give thanks to God for His unfailing love.
Remembering the Lord’s loving-kindness toward us is thanksgiving 101. It’s how we remind ourselves that we serve a good God whose love endures forever.
4. Choose thankfulness first
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner” (Luke 17:11-18)?
It’s easy to miss out on the plight of first-century lepers. Luke tells us that they stood at a distance and shouted to Jesus. Why? Because lepers were not allowed to be near healthy people for fear of contaminating them.
This means that they couldn’t go home. Lepers couldn’t spend time with their friends and family. They were cast off and isolated. So when Jesus heals them, it makes complete sense that their gratefulness would be lost in the excitement of getting a clean bill of health and seeing loved ones for the first time in years.
But one Samaritan kept his wits enough to come back and thank the Lord, and Jesus holds him up as an example. Even when we’re genuinely thankful, we can often forget to express it. We need to make thankfulness a discipline.
5. Remember, His victory is ours
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)?
Through His earthly ministry, Jesus has “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). By default, humanity used to be captives, but now we can choose to be free. Jesus leads us out of the enemy’s clutches.
If the story ended there, it would be an amazing enough reason to rejoice. But it gets even better. God wasn’t pleased to simply save us-He wants us to play an incredible role in His plan. We’re like potpourri, and everywhere we go, we spread His essence. This is how we fulfill the Great Commission.
When we consider things to be thankful for, we don’t have to look far. Not only did God rescue us from captivity, but He also partnered with us in rescuing others. This is good news.
6. Put thanksgiving at the center of community
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:15-17).
When Paul writes to the church at Colossae, he gives instructions on how they should live together. Twice in these instructions, he focuses on their need to be grateful. The first time, he simply says, “be thankful.” The second time he echoes Psalm 100, encouraging their worship to flow from the gratitude in their hearts.
The critical takeaway here is that thankfulness should lie at the center of Christian community. There are so many things that can divide us, but our shared wonder at God’s impartial goodness should unify, inspire, and transform us.
7. Build your future on thanksgiving
Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:15-21).
Paul tells the church at Ephesus that “the days are evil.” Time is deceptive, and tends to slip through our fingers if we are not vigilant. The apostle wants us to take advantage of the time we have and use it as wisely as possible.
What suggestions does Paul offer for how to make the best use of our time? Strangely enough, he steers us toward worship and thanksgiving-and away from self-indulgence.
We tend to think that being thankful is about looking backward-and in some ways, it is. Reflecting on where we’ve been helps us see the goodness and faithfulness of God. But the thankfulness that arouses should fuel us going forward. When we see how God has rewarded our faith, we’re encouraged to live by faith in new ways, making decisions that might not make any sense if God weren’t in the middle of them.
Thanksgiving isn’t merely a memory of past festivities-it sets the table for future banquets.
8. Receive what God has given with thankfulness
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Paul talks about issues that will come up toward the end of days. He warns Timothy that people will abandon the faith to follow deceitful spirits. This will lead people back into a law-based religion focused on denying and abstaining from the good things God has given. Here he mentions marriage and food, issues the apostle has touched on in other letters.
Then he tells us that God has given us good things, and they should be received with thankfulness instead of denied out of false piety. Later on in this letter, Paul tells Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
God has richly blessed us with wonderful things He intends for us to enjoy. There may be times when it’s advantageous to abstain from some good things for a while to devote our energies in other ways, or even make choices about things that are not beneficial to us. But there is nothing holy about denying ourselves things God has given us out of love.
When we receive good things from Him with prayer and thanksgiving, they can increase our contentment.
9. Be thankful for God’s unshakable kingdom
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken-that is, created things-so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:26-29).
Jesus came with a simple message, “Repent forthe kingdom of Godis near.” Everyone who follows Him is part of this kingdom. But the kingdom doesn’t have physical boundaries-yet! We look forward to a day when the kingdom of God will usurp the place of every other empire.
In the meantime, we contend with an enemy who seeks to tear down everything the Lord has built and devour people before they can experience salvation. The writer of Hebrews wants us to remember that we belong to a kingdom that cannot be uprooted or destroyed. In fact, it can’t even be shaken.
This is a critical point because it’s easy for us to get distracted by the chaos around us. Our security isn’t found in this world that is passing away (1 John 2:17), it’s found in a steadfast coming kingdom.
10. Lean into your trials
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).
These words of James are often misunderstood. He’s not necessarily saying that we should thank God for our trials. He isn’t suggesting that we should be happy about a cancer diagnosis or a house fire. He’s saying that these trials test our faith, and as we trust God through them, we develop spiritual stamina. And that perseverance is a requirement for growing in maturity.
As excellent as it is when things go our way, these times don’t push us out of our comfort zones or stretch us. It’s when we find ourselves utterly reliant on God’s goodness and mercy that we develop the resolve and tenacity that movesthe kingdomforward.
Jesus told us that we wouldn’t avoid troubles, but that we could take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Learning to lean into our difficulties to trust more profoundly is incredibly essential.
Being thankful, even when it’s hard
It’s easy to fall into a mindset that thankfulness is an emotion reserved for when we feel like it. But developing a discipline of gratitude helps us to find the good, even when things get rough. Developing a thankful heart helps us endure the most strenuous seasons.
If you’re wondering what it takes to be grateful when everything is going wrong, check out the postHow to Be Thankful in the Most Difficult Times. It provides an in-depth look at Paul’s instructions to the troubled church at Thessalonica.