Doctrine is necessary and practical. Unless you have renewed your mind, you will not renew your behavior. In other words, you can only be practical as you are theological. Our systematic study of gratitude has taught us to have a biblical perspective on biblical gratitude.
Scripture tells us that incessant gratitude is commanded by God (1 Thess. 5:18). Since God’s common grace is poured out on all people (Matt. 5:45), all people are obligated to give God the thanksgiving He deserves. To withhold it will warrant divine judgment (Rom. 1:21).
At the same time, biblical gratitude is more than a generally sincere “thanks.” It is an ongoing disposition of humility that recognizes and expresses appreciation for the benefits received from God (Col. 2:6-7). The peace of God must “rule in your heart” in order for gratitude to be truly biblical (Col. 3:15). Anything less than “being filled with the Spirit” is a lesser kind of thanksgiving (Eph. 5:17). Therefore, it is ultimately the Christian who is equipped to give God incessant thanks.
Incessant, biblical thanksgiving is not giving thanks for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. In some occasions, mourning is appropriate. But, in all occasions, thanksgiving is appropriate. The Bible tells us that God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28) and therefore, all circumstances contain reasons for gratitude, even that bad circumstances. God’s blessings need only to be searched and found in the negative space.
Satan would have us withhold gratitude from our Lord. He sets up roadblocks to slow down and stop our thanksgiving. Things like selfishness, worldliness, impatience, disappointment, and having a critical attitude will hinder our abilities to recognize and express appreciation. So, we are charged to be on alert to Satan’s tactics and our fleshly tendencies (Col. 4:2). Gratitude is motivated by the grace we receive, the grace it produces, and ultimately, the character of God.
“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18)
How are we to cultivate a life of incessant gratitude? Although equipped with the truths of God’s Word on thanksgiving, it is helpful to have a practical guide to jumpstart a habitual life of gratitude. The story of the ten lepers, mainly the one who gave thanks, will prompt some healthy habits to employ.
“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:14–19)
Recognizing God’s Gifts
Let’s hone in on the one who gave thanks. Luke tells us that “he saw that he was healed” (Lk. 17:15). The first we need to do is recognize God’s gifts. To do this, we have to develop spiritual vision.
The Bible tells us that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). When the Lord gives us new birth, He does not wipe our minds blank and deposit a brand new mind. Rather, He transforms it through the study of His Word (Rom. 12:2). This is where incessant gratitude begins.
Learn of God’s Character
When you dive into the depths of God’s sight-giving Word, your eyes will be opened to the fingerprints of God. You will know what He likes and dislikes, what He does and doesn’t do, what He thinks and doesn’t think.
I still remember those surprise gifts in the cereal boxes that contained the red decoder glasses that allowed you to see the hidden pictures on the back of the box. God’s Word will give you spiritual decoder glasses to wear throughout your day. They will help you see God working behind the masked circumstances of life.
Listen for God’s Footsteps
With an ever-increasing vision of God, you can now begin to look and listen for Him. My parents pulled the whole Santa Claus thing with me when I was young. We had no chimney for him to crawl down and all the entrances to the house were kept locked at night. So, he had to break in to get the gifts below the tree.
I was never able to hear him enter the house, but I listened. A broken glass, a turn of the knob, a creaky wooden floor. I listened for anything that might signal the arrival of the gift bearing saint. God is real and He purposely makes noise when He works His goodness around us. We only need to put our ears to the rail and listen for what He is doing.
List out God’s Blessings
Pardon me while I shoot it straight. You are a forgetful person. We all are. I love my children and sometimes I forget their birthdays. I have even forgotten my own. Things that are important to us are generally put down on a calendar or a sticky note to prevent us from forgetting. With the importance of gratitude in mind, it is worth it for us to do the same for God’s blessings. After all, there are too many to keep in our little minds. Here’s a way to keep tabs on God’s gifts, and possibly create a habit to do so. It’s an easy, repeatable five day process. All you need is a few minutes, a pen, and a journal.
- Day One. Pick a book of the Bible and read through it carefully noting all the benefits of God in your journal. Psalm 103 is a good place to start. It reads like David’s list of God’s benefits. Any book of the Bible will do. Colossians is where I started.
- Day Two. Consider the many ways God has delivered you. Psalm 103 should help. Verses 1 through 32 provide 4 testimonies that contain trouble, deliverance, and a chorus of thanksgiving. Write down what God delivered the psalmist from and what he was thankful for. Then, consider the troubles that God delivered you from.
- Day Three. Read Romans 1:1-16 and write down all the benefits Paul received through his ministry partners and friends. Then, follow it up with a list of your friends and all the benefits you’ve received.
- Day Four. Ephesians 5:20 tells us to give thanks for everything good in our lives (with James 1:17). Everything includes the small things that you might think are trivial like toothpaste, electricity, air condition, friends, and the like. Nothing that is good is off limits.
- Day Five. This the hard one. Don’t worry, you have the entire weekend. Think carefully about the hard times you’ve experienced and write down all the gifts of God that came out of it and were given within it. Look into the negative space to find God’s fingerprint.
The goal is to cultivate a perceptive vision for God’s gifts. These daily exercises are merely habit formers to train your eye to seep spiritually. You should have a healthy list to work with. Now, you are ready for the next principle.
Expressing Appreciation for God’s Gifts
Back to the healed leper who thanked God. After recognizing that Jesus healed him, he “turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Lk. 17:15). With your list in hand, you are ready to express thanksgiving. So, “let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Ps. 107:2).
Get creative. Do what is easy. Sing aloud in worship. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 107:1). “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name” (Ps. 100:4).
It is also good to thank others as unto God. Send a text, write a card, shoot an email. Hand written appreciation goes a long way. And, it is never too late to thank someone for something, even if it is years later. Here are some tips to make your thanksgiving most effective.
- Be specific. A simple “thank you” is somewhat dull. It helps during a quick exchange over the counter or when someone lets you in the line. But a better way is to be specific. “Thank you for coming.”
- Be sensible. Attaching the reason why the gift was beneficial gives your thanksgiving that extra punch. “Thank you for coming, your presence really encouraged us during this bad time by remembering that others care.”
- Be spiritual. Connecting their gift to God will really have a lasting impact. After all, good gifts come from God (Ja. 1:17). Point out that God used them for your benefit. “Thank you for coming, your presence really encouraged us during this bad time by remembering that others care, and God used you stir our affections toward Him.”
This is the way Paul expressed appreciation. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:8). “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). “Because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph. 1:15-16). “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:2-3).
Thank God for your friends. Thank God with your friends. Thank God for your meal. Thank God in front of unbelievers. “Tell of his wonderful works” (Ps. 105:2). As God is forever, so should your appreciation be. He doesn’t stop giving. Neither should you.