Rekindling Gratitude: The Motivations of Thanksgiving

Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ; 3 John 1:2
by Jacob Abshire on November 19, 2019

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed some interesting results regarding the health benefits to having a “gratitude-outlook” on life. According to the report, several hundred participants were asked to keep a journal of daily events. In the first study, they were grouped into three clusters. 

The first group recorded all of the things during the day for which they were grateful. They listed things like “waking up this morning,” “the generosity of friends,” “to God for giving me determination,” “for wonderful parents,” “to the Lord for just another day,” and “to the Rolling Stones.”

The second group documented the daily “hassles,” things that were annoyances and bothersome. They listed things like “hard to find parking,” “messy kitchen no one will clean,” “finances depleting quickly,” “having a horrible test in health psychology,” “stupid people driving,” and “doing a favor for friend who didn’t appreciate it.”

The third group was responsible for noting general events that were neither good nor bad. In their list were things like “talked to a doctor about medical school,” “learned CPR,” “cleaned out my shoe closet,” “flew back to Sacramento,” and “attended Whole Earth Festival.”

The results were not surprising. The first group, focused on gratitude, “experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness” and “significantly more time exercising.” When offered aid, this group expressed “grateful emotions” with “higher ratings of joy and happiness.” Overall, they “felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic regarding their expectations for the upcoming week.” The psychologists responsible for the research determined that a “conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”

Others in unrelated fields of study generally agree. Having a grateful attitude is good for the mind, body, and soul. In fact, the medical field now practices “gratitude interventions.” According to one report, “listing the reasons for gratitude led to higher levels of daily psychological functioning, greater perceived support, and greater use of adaptive coping strategies” among women with breast cancer.

This is nothing new. John wrote to the house of Gaius, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 Jn. 2). Gratitude, like forgiveness, is a freeing disposition. It lifts the weight of undesirable burdens we often carry when we are otherwise ungrateful.

“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18)

The health benefits are certainly motivational. However, a more sustainable set of motivations might yield more sustainable attitudes of gratefulness. Often, biblical thanksgiving is connected to the character of God. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 118:29). As God is infinitely gracious, gratitude is infinitely encouraged.

Moved by God’s Character

Knowing God produces transformative effects beyond measure. In Knowing God, one of J.I. Packer’s most reputable classics, he argued that the highest incentive one can have is knowing the highest being in existence. Nothing is more invigorating. Nothing is more wholesomely lasting.

“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”

An ever-growing understanding of the character of God will light the fire beneath the seat of gratitude. It lifts the soul to the heavenlies. Here are a few characteristics to consider.

  • God’s Holiness. In the Bible, this term describes the culmination of God’s unique goodness and power. “Give thanks to his holy name” (Ps. 97:12). It was His holiness that made us righteous before Him.
  • God’s Goodness. The psalmist says, “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (Ps. 106:1) and the apostle adds, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s goodness extends to us through Christ.
  • God’s Salvation. God is a saving God. In His pleasure, He decided to rescue we who were once sinners (Eph. 2:1-9). “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” of grace (2 Cor. 9:15).
  • God’s Grace. In addition to God’s saving grace, we can be thankful for His common grace. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4).
  • God’s Victory. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” over sin and death (1 Cor. 15:57). God has triumphed where we could not. His victory is forever applied to us.
  • God’s Word. God was not content with leaving us in the dark. He revealed Himself to us. “We also thank God constantly” for “you received the word of God” which “is at work in you” (1 Thess. 2:13).
  • God’s Presence. The Lord has opened the door to all who believe. We are welcomed to His heavenly living room to enjoy His comforting presence. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving” (Ps. 95:2).
  • God’s Will. “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” that you “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). If we love the Lord, we are eager to please Him. Thanksgiving is what He desires.
  • God’s Heaven. In addition to His presence, God is preparing us for dwelling in His heaven. There, the angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty” (Rev. 4:8) and we will “give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty” when we gather with them (Rev. 11:17). 

Moved by God’s Works

The motivations that flow from God’s character are endless. Matthew Henry, the English pastor and commentator, wrote a book on prayer where he listed 32 reasons for praying with a grateful heart. Here are a few:

  • When man was lost and undone, God redeemed and saved him (Tit. 3:3-6).
  • For the eternal purposes and counsel of God concerning man’s redemption (Eph. 1:3-4).
  • For the promises from the beginning that God would redeem man (Gen. 3:15).
  • For the perfection of Christ (Matt. 27:54).
  • For Christ’s intercession on our behalf (1 Jn. 2:1).
  • For the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
  • For the preserving of the church (Matt. 16:18).
  • For the communion of the saints and the fellowship of believers (1 Cor. 10:17).
  • For divine grace to sanctify and preserve us (Ps. 138:3).
  • For support in adversity (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
  • For the faithfulness of God’s promises (Josh. 21:45).

The Phanatik, a Christian Hip Hop artist, captured the worthiness of Christ by saying, “If I could rhyme for forever twice, you still won’t have heard one-third of the words that would serve to describe Christ.” Our infinite Lord is worthy of infinite gratitude. If you find yourself discouraged and at a loss for reasons, turn to the character of God. Fall upon His excellencies. It is time for your gratitude intervention.

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