Why We Give Thanks

Around the first week of October in Canada people will gather at tables laden with all the best foods from the land: roast meat, vegetables, breads and of course don’t forget dessert! This is a classic picture for Canadian Thanksgiving. Our family loves to carefully plan how we’re going to cook a turkey: we’ve done everything from roasting in the oven to long hours in the smoker to cooking different parts with various methods and we even tried the daring deep fryer method. We take turns making different sides, but my husband makes the best potatoes. I love making my family’s favorite dessert that is a cross between a pumpkin pie and a cheesecake. We often have crafts made by the kids alongside fall foliage adorning the table. I’ve heard many families always include a walk after the meal to admire the changing leaves. Yes, we gather to celebrate the harvest, the abundance of the land we live in and the change of the season – but Thanksgiving is so much more than that. Every Thanksgiving table I have been at includes a moment of reflection to ask, ‘what are you thankful for?’ and share that with each other. I think this moment is my favorite of the day, everyone takes a minute in quiet to think about the events of the year. There are often tears and laughter as we each share what we are thankful for. I recently ran across a quote from French-Catholic philosopher and poet Gaston Bachelard, which sums up this moment well:

“Reverie is not a mind vacuum. It is rather a gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul.”- Gaston Bachelard

There is plenty to give thanks for – over a year every human has thought about a lot, experienced a vast array of emotions and achieved much. I’m so glad there are Thanksgivings, where we honor that reverie to look back and acknowledge all that has occurred. The most poignant Thanksgiving meals have been the ones where our challenges, heartbreaks and disappointments are right there in the middle of it all. When we pause to reflect on gratitude in that moment, things tend to become crystal clear. When the budget is tight, we’re thankful that God has provided. When we’re facing the first holiday with someone missing, we’re thankful for the loved ones who are present. When something didn’t turn out the way we thought, we can thank God for hope in the future.

The Bible contains the most ancient songs of our faith – and within the Psalms are calls to worship, gratitude and thanks. We find the answer to why we give thanks in Psalm 136, which calls out in the first and last verses “give thanks to the Lord … His love endures forever.” The Psalm repeats the refrain ‘His love endures forever’ in every verse. Charles Spurgeon speculated that hymns with a solid, simple chorus become favorites with congregations, and this is sure to have been one of the best beloved.

The Hebrew word hesed is translated love, mercy or kindness in different translations – the word carries a powerful connection to God’s loyalty and covenant love of His people. We also see that in the truth that it endures forever.[1] As we give thanks to God, let us follow this pattern of giving due credit to God’s love for everything in our lives – as you look at the verses of Psalm 136 there are around 20 specific things that God has done that the writer is giving thanks for. Have you ever done the exercise of making a list of 20 things you’re thankful for? It seems to be just enough to stretch your heart to really think about it, and by the end of that much you will have usually forgotten about your troubles and a smile appears on your face.   Within the list from this Psalm, I see 4 categories of things that can guide our own reflection of why we give thanks.


In verses 4-9 there is a catalogue of creation – thank God for the miraculous wonder we have in the sky above and the earth below, for stars, sun and moon. It’s easy to start here, as we get out in creation our thoughts naturally turn to the One who made this gift for us. Let us consider the beauty and wonder of the physical stuff of earth and be thankful for the beaches and forests, for the mountain heights and river valleys. We can be thankful for one little pot of dirt growing a plant in our homes, the gardens that nurture flowers and veggies to the farmland that produces the food we eat.


The next section of verses 10-16 remembers the deliverance of the people of God from slavery in Egypt. He is the one who brought them out, He acted on their behalf and parted waters for them – not only did he part the waters but led them safely through and protected them from the attack of their pursuers. And not only did He do that, but also led them through the wilderness. He has delivered us all from slavery to sin and the bondage of our past.[2] Thank God that the waters of regret and shame have not drowned us. In fact, those things are left in the waters of baptism.[3]


From verse 17-22 we see how God delivered on His promise to provide His people with a land to call a home of their own. We can trust God to provide for our material needs and He has also provided precious promises all through the Bible that we can take and work into our lives to remind us of what He will do. Afterall, one word from God changes everything! We are thankful that this is what God does for us, not taking the credit as if it was the work of our own hands that provided our needs. Even the jobs and careers we have, He has provided for us.


Finally in the last four verses of this beautiful Psalm, we see how recalling all these things gives us hope to be thankful for – if God has done it in the past, He will do it again and that’s why we can thank Him before we see the results.

He remembered us in our weakness.
He saved us from our enemies.
He gives food to every living thing.
Give thanks to the God of Heaven.

– Psalm 136:23-26

[1] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/psalm-136/

[2] Romans 6 https://www.bible.com/bible/116/ROM.6.NLT

[3]1 Peter 3:21 https://www.bible.com/bible/116/1PE.3.21.NLT