Psalm 100:4 is a wonderful and memorable call to praise and thanksgiving: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.”
The first and third lines focus on giving thanks; the second and fourth lines focus on praise.
While not an ironclad distinction, a helpful way of thinking about the difference between giving praise and giving thanks is this: praise puts a focus on who God is, while thankfulness often focuses on what God does.
In short, we praise God for His attributes, and we thank Him for His activities.
Mercy and grace
What God does is rooted in the dual divine qualities of mercy and grace. A helpful distinction is to think of divine mercy as God’s love withholding from us what we rightfully deserve for wrongdoing.
When the Apostle Paul recalled his past activities in persecuting the church, he realized his wrongdoing, saying, “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13).
The other aspect of God’s love is that of bestowing grace, which we might think of as God giving us blessings which we do not deserve.
These twin aspects of God’s love are among our highest motivations for giving Him thanks. A beloved hymn calls each of us to “count your many blessings, name them one by one;/ Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”
So what is it that God does on behalf of His people?
He accepts us when we give our hearts to Him in saving faith. He hears us when we pray and helps us when we are in need.
God strengthens us when we are weak and guides us when we are confused. He forgives us when we confess our sins and bathes us afresh in grace.
God comforts us when we are stressed and restores us when we repent. He graciously corrects us when we have erred and keeps us when the world seeks to allure us by its standards.
God protects us when the devil would seek to draw us away from Him.
The opening lines of a children’s prayer that many of us learned to say at mealtime early in life never becomes outdated and is never too childish: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him.”