How to Write a Short, Personal Psalm of Thanksgiving
“Thank God” is such an inherent part of our thinking that even atheists use the expression (and the rest of us sometimes say it casually like a kind of slang).
However, when we become seriously aware of our blessings and their source, we feel the need to enter into a meaningful dialogue with God. When we make the effort, (for example, at the traditional Thanksgiving celebration) sharing a personal Psalm of Thanksgiving is just one impressive way to make the occasion special.
How to Write a Short Psalm of Thanksgiving
- Recognize God's goodness.
- Express gratitude in the moment.
- Express surrender.
- List your blessings.
- Affirm God's goodness.
In the First Thanksgiving (1621), the pilgrims gave thanks to God for guiding them safely to the New World. William Bradford writes of their celebration in Of Plymouth Plantation:
“Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways,
and to bless their outgoings and incomings,
for which let His holy name have the praise forever,
to all posterity.”
Bradford illustrated parallelism, a distinctive regular feature in the Hebrew psalm.
What Is Parallelism?
Simply put, parallelism is one thought presented in two similar expressions. That is:
- “All their ways” in Bradford's first phrase parallels “ their outgoings and incomings” in his second phrase.
- “Forever” in his third phrase parallels “posterity” in his fourth.
After the translations into modern languages, parallelism emerged as the most outstanding characteristic of the Hebrew psalm. Its purpose is emphasis, either by repeating the idea, adding to the idea or opposing the idea. So rhyme and rhythm, though artistic, are not as important in the psalm as the content. Still, bear in mind that a sing-song rhythm may be helpful for people who like to sing psalms.
What about Content?
A psalm is a prayer or a statement of faith in the form of poetry. In addition to the poetic form, here are five content elements which add to the significance of the thanksgiving psalm.
1. Recognize God's Goodness
Begin your psalm with an exciting recognition that God is good beyond your expectations.
“Several of the Hebrew and Greek words translated “thanksgiving” in our English Bible come from the root words for grace,” states Avery Willis, Jr. Our gratitude is a reaction to God’s grace, a gift for which we cannot qualify, or will ever deserve.
Psalm 100 with just five verses, is perhaps the most popular thanksgiving psalm and we can use it (New Living Translation) as a guide. Notice the exclamatory start and the repetition of ideas:
"Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!" (Verse 1-3a)
“Shout with joy,” repeats in “Worship...with gladness” etc; and the psalmist is ecstatic.
2. Express Gratitude in the Moment
Accept your present situation as a stage in God’s best for you. Don’t reserve your gratitude for the day when you get called back to work, or when you receive the doctor’s results. Express all the gratitude you have at that moment. Be grateful for the life the way it is. Accept it as a matter of fact. The psalmist did.
"He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture." (Verse 3b)
Acceptance reveals your trust, like sheep waiting for guidance from the shepherd, or like dry soil waiting for moisture from the rain. Metaphors add depth to expression.
3. Express Surrender
Some people define worship as our response to who God is, and praise as our response to what He has done. In complete surrender, thanksgiving and praise blend into one and envelops the individual.
"Enter his courts with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise." Verse 4a)
Imagine yourself entering the temple with thanksgiving and praise as your companions. They embrace you, you embrace them and they lead the dance. They direct your movements and your expressions. You surrender your entire being—body, soul and mind, mindful that your worship in the temple will continue in your spirit in the events of your everyday life.
Find a way to express this surrender in your psalm. The psalmist described surrender in public worship; a similar description in personal devotional would be just a powerful.
4. List Your Blessings
In this psalm, the psalmist is not very specific about his reasons for praise:
"Give thanks to him and praise his name." (Verse 4b)
However, even in a short psalm, you can list the blessings that stand out in your memory. Be specific which will help you recall the joy of these incidents when you share the psalm or read it again in later years. List whatever strikes you as God's intervention in your situation. Nothing is too small to mention.
- Safe travel
- Answered prayer
- Encouragement from friends
- Price drop on gas
- Sale price on an item you couldn't afford otherwise.
Listen to the details of the children's prayer. They list everything like their parents taught them to. Why then, do adults neglect to mention the “little” blessings that they taught the children to give thanks for?
Thank God for everything, every situation, every outcome. If something negative comes to mind, find one good thing in the bad situation to be thankful for. Remember the time you left the refrigerator open for twelve hours? Give thanks that you hadn’t left the stove on instead.
5. Affirm God's Goodness
Whenever you count your blessings, you are inspired to be grateful. The more grateful you are, the more blessings come to your mind. Your head spins until eventually you conclude like the psalmist,
"For the Lord is good."
The psalmist repeats the idea and adds an everlasting time frame.
"His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation." (Verse 5)
Visualizing God's grace, goodness, love and faithfulness, there is no end in sight. The psalmist ends with the same attitude that you will have after spending the time to compose a psalm: There will always be reason to thank God.
This year, make Thanksgiving more special than ever, by sharing a personal psalm. Who knows? Someone might put it to music, if you don't. No matter what, express your personal thanks!
My Thanksgiving Psalm
Give thanks to the Awesome, Bountiful God!
Who spreads love and kindness all over the universe;
Give Thanks to my personal God
Whose favor toward me extends beyond what I imagine.
Without You I’d be a ship without a harbor;
Because of You, I enjoy safety and shelter in port.
I worship and praise You for showers of blessings:
My physical healing, my peace of mind, the food on my table,
My eighty-year old mother who still keeps me company,
My children, all of whom worship You.
My thanks can never be enough, for You my Omnipotent,
Gracious, Merciful God keeps blessing me;
And I will express my gratitude all the days of my life.
© 2011 Dora Weithers