Giving Thanks in a Hebrew Way
Let’s face it. We are all lacking something. Gratitude does not come easy.
It’s not hard to think of the things we lack and it wouldn’t take much time to create a list of what we feel we are missing. But what good would that list do? Would making that list change anything? Such petulance would only leave us with a continual desire for more, despite what we do have. Over time, we might realize that we have made contempt and cynicism our new friends.
Conversely, if we make a list of the good things in our lives, will that impact anything? If we recount the blessings and provision, the miracles, and the victories… what effect will that have? Can gratitude change us?
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat ha’tov, which literally translates to: “recognizing the good.” As we begin to “recognize the good” even in small ways, it will undoubtedly lead us to noticing the good in other areas of our lives. Gratitude affirms. It has a way of multiplying. As we profess gratitude, the more reasons we will find to be thankful.
Shifting the Perspective
Even and especially in the midst of difficult circumstances, gratitude has a way of uplifting the soul. Consider that as believers, even in the darkest season of life, we can praise God for the gift of salvation, the hope of eternal life, His great and unending love, and His promise to never abandon us or reject us. Scripture is replete with encouragement as well as instruction to be thankful.
But why? What value is there in conveying gratitude?
The reason is two-fold; God is worthy of our gratitude and expressing our gratitude to God is to our benefit. In other words, it is for our good as well as for His glory. Subsequently, consider this: even in the moments when gratitude doesn’t come naturally, it is still accomplishing a dual purpose.
Psalm 106 (amongst many other psalms) proclaims that God’s love endures forever. This truth alone is reason enough to elicit deep gratitude to God, in accordance to the Hebrew understanding of giving thanks.
Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 106:1
Meeting God with a Grateful Heart
As described in Hebrews 12:28-29, believers are citizens of God’s Kingdom; one that is secure, peaceful, majestic, untroubled. This is part of the joy we have as followers of Jesus – being a part of His Kingdom means that nothing can come between us and God’s love.
I believe it goes without saying that this assurance should move us to worship and praise God with gratitude!
“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 12:28-29
Thanksgiving is how we enter His courts. It is how we touch His heart. God, the creator of the universe, the Almighty God, the Father of Eternity, is moved by our earnest gratitude.
Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: Cast up a highway for him that rideth through the deserts… Psalm 68:4
Make It a Habit
Gratitude is also a means by which the attitude of our hearts is righted. In other words, the act of thanksgiving creates a baseline for a positive outlook, instills hopefulness and renders humility.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Gratitude evokes and inspires a response. It motivates us to appreciate what we have today and put sincere effort into making the most out of a situation. And gratitude awakens us to value each day that we are given and live with appreciation.
Giving thanks is prompted when we receive something good which we don’t deserve, most especially the unmerited favor of God, His boundless and amazing grace.
Gratitude in Jewish Life
In Judaism, there is an abundance of opportunities to express such thanks as well. Nearly every prayer begins with the words, “blessed are You, Lord, our God…/ Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu”. In Hebrew, bracha (which means blessing) shares the same root with the word for knee – berech. When we say a blessing and are on our knees before God, we are in a position of gratitude.
As we go a little further with examining roots of Hebrew words, the very word for a Jewish person (Yehudi in Hebrew) has the same root as giving thanks – which is hoda’a in Hebrew. So, instead of calling the Jewish people – People of the Book, linguistically it would make more sense to call them “the Grateful People”!
We do not romanticize the people, but we recognize the wisdom and value in their traditions. As we hear the popular daily Jewish prayer, beginning with the words Modeh Ani Lefanecha – I give thanks before You, we take heed. It expresses gratitude to God for the gift of another day. It is arguably the most appropriate manner in which to start our days.
Therefore, let us start afresh, and focus on hakarat ha’tov – recognizing the good.
Let’s give thanks to the Lord today! He is worthy of our praise!