Q: I'm interested in knowing how can we thank God in a manner which is acceptable to Him. I am Muslim by faith and looked to the Quran about it. There are innumerable places in the Quran where God wants us to thank Him for all His blessings, but I could not figure out how it should be done. How is this subject dealt with in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments)? I appreciate if you give me some insight. - R., Hewlett, N.Y., via firstname.lastname@example.org )
A: Sending thanks to God is a daunting task, both because we have so much for which we must give thanks and also because addressing the envelope is a bit of a problem.
The very first act of Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam and Eve, was to bring sacrifices. The Book of Leviticus is mostly a detailed account of how to bring sacrifices to God in the proper manner. Sacrifices were brought to local Temples and then after 621 bce they were only brought to the main Temple in Jerusalem when King Josiah closed down the local Temples.
The priests, who were a hereditary elite caste in Judaism, administered the sacrifices and they consumed the meat and grain and fruits as their sustenance and payment for their priestly duties.
When the Temple was destroyed for the last time in the year 70ce, sacrifices were no longer possible and Judaism became a non-sacrificial religion in which the rabbis, the new leaders of Judaism, replaced every sacrifice with a prayer. The morning sacrifice, for example, became the morning prayer in the prayerbook.
This is the idea that entered Christianity and Islam, except that Christianity did elevate Jesus' death to the status of an atoning sacrifice for all Christians at all times. So the first way to give thanks God is to pray with sincerity and gratitude in a regular manner.
Some prayers of gratitude to God are, of course, deeply personal. I just said a prayer with a man who'd survived a life-threatening illness and directed him to say, "You are blessed, O Lord my God, for showing me such goodness." I love that prayer and the occasions that provoke it.
Other personal prayers of thanks to God are more general but also deeply moving. I often say the prayer, "You are blessed, O Lord my God, for keeping us alive and sustaining us and bringing us to this joyous moment." Being kept alive, being sustained in body and soul, and being brought to moments of joy and gladness seem to me to encapsulate the fundamental elements of all true thanksgiving to God.
Another way to give thanks to God is to give charity (called zakat in your Muslim faith). Charity, called Tzedaka in Judaism, is a way of giving back to those in need some of the abundance that God has shared with us.
Being personally thankful through prayer is a good first step in thanking God, but it seems to me to lack the concern for others that brings us out of our own self regarding lives and into the broken world of need. In the Bible, this charitable thanksgiving had many forms but my favorite was the gleaning. It required farmers to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so that the poor could come into the fields and glean the leftover grain. Some grapes and olives were also to be left for gleaning.
For many years, I took gleaners into the fields near our home and we gave the produce to soup kitchens that were always in need of fresh produce to augment their meals. Before congregants enter our synagogue for Yom Kippur this Friday and Saturday, they will put bags of canned goods that they've "gleaned" from their pantries into bins for the Mercy Inn, a soup kitchen we support in Wyandanch, N.Y.
Before we ask God to forgive and bless us, we must share our blessings with others as an act of thankfulness to God. I encourage you to find a proper and well run charity and give them a donation as your act of thankfulness to God.
Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sufi mystic from your tradition, wrote, "Giving thanks for abundance is sweeter than the abundance itself." And Meister Eckhart, the German medieval mystic, taught, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you,' it will be enough."
Give thanks to God!
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