You may remember enough elementary school English grammar to know what a preposition is. It’s a helping word that tells us how a noun or pronoun is connected to the rest of the sentence. Common prepositions we use every day include in, on, with, about, under, after, for, from, before, near and outside.
The Bible uses a variety of prepositions with the word thanksgiving, and it would be good to review them to remind ourselves of the richness of the kind of thanksgiving we should experience as Christians.
This seems to be our most natural thanksgiving preposition. We may sit around our family table on Thursday and have everybody list the things they’re personally thankful for. One of our favorite seasonal songs is “Count Your Many Blessings, Name them One by One.” Of course, those of us who have good jobs and live in relative comfort and prosperity have longer lists than homeless people on the streets, but we try not to think about that too much.
Actually, there are relatively few verses from the Bible that use the preposition for with thanksgiving, and it’s never in reference to self-indulgent personal blessings. Twice, the Apostle Paul tells members of churches he’s writing letters to, “I am thankful for you” (1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:15-16), and both times it’s because he sees the spirit and love of Christ shining through them. In one of his letters, Paul encourages believers to stretch and be thankful for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). I was able to find only one instance where he encouraged thanksgiving for things: “Give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything” (Ephesians 4:20).
A key verse for me is also in one of Paul’s letters: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In all circumstances: an awesome concept. Whether you have a long list of counted blessing or can hardly come up with a positive thing in your current life situation, you should still begin with thanksgiving. This reminds me of the promise in our wedding vows, to be committed to one another “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Whether you feel married or not, you’re still married. Whether a believer feels thankful or not, he/she should still be thankful. Thankfulness is the start, not the end of the process.
The reason for this is that the source of our thanksgiving is knowing God himself: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:29) His goodness and his love spontaneously inspire thanksgiving. The psalmist saw this hundreds of years before Jesus came, but the greatest demonstration of God’s goodness and love is his sending Jesus to be our Savior. This thought caused the Apostle Paul to explode with “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Since thanksgiving is something we have in us because of our relationship with God, we can bring it as an offering to him. The phrase with thanksgiving is used several times in the Bible to indicate that our being thankful is like the frosting on the cake of worship and prayer:
Worship with thanksgiving –
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving. (Psalm 95:1-2)
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name. (Psalm 100:4)
Pray with thanksgiving:-
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:5)
So, our thanksgiving starts with God and it returns to God. This happens through our worship and prayer, but also through our giving to others. Paul talks about how our generosity to others in the church fellowship “overflows with many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12). And when we expand our giving spirit beyond the family of faith, “grace, as it extends to more and more people, increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God“ (2 Corinthians 4:15).
— Pastor George Van Alstine