... giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 5:20 ESV)
genuine appreciation in the eyes of my little girl as I cover her up—for the fifth time—because she’s cold is something I wouldn’t trade for anything the world could cheaply throw at me.
It’s not that I have terrible children and I rarely hear this. In my unbiased opinion, I have the best kids around. No, the trouble is more with the fact that I’m reminded of how thankless I am. It is the scourge of our age. We’re taught that we’re entitled to everything and need not be grateful for any of it.
I have a very sick heart that Christ is in the process of delivering me from. If I’m to be a thankful child of God, how can I grow to look up to heaven more and more and genuinely say “thank you Lord, I appreciate all You give me”? I believe there are four key principles found in Scripture that will aid me and every Christian in this pursuit of this grateful heart.
First, we need to learn to recognize the difference between our idols and worship of the One true God, and the difference between trinkets of this world and good gifts given to us by our Heavenly Father. Idolatry and grabbing stuff to simply spend it all on our sinful passions will always lead us into a desert of thanklessness. We will always come up dry needing more. The gods of this life will never satisfy.
In Isaiah 46, the Lord gets rid of the misleading fog with the reminder that our gods are a burden—we carry them around as a heavy weight and we’re no better than a stupid donkey or camel in sacrificing ourselves to these cruel masters. However, He is the One who carries us. God says, “[You] have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:3-4 ESV). So true freedom and thankfulness begin at the cross of Jesus Christ where we trash the idols and turn in repentance to the Living God.
Second, knowing the difference between what is and isn’t worth hungering after will help us to value true wealth and blessings. A prevalent theme found in the Psalms is that of remembering and meditating on all that God has done (see Psalm 77 and 105) and the disastrous result of failing to recognize God’s goodness and salvation is rebellion and an unstoppable desire to go back to Egypt—back into slavery (see Psalm 106). It seems tedious to us to list out all that God has done for us (“counting our blessings”), but it is necessary. Nothing else will “tune my heart to sing God’s grace” like counting His gifts which really can’t be numbered.
Third, as we’re meditating on the greatness of God’s blessings, we will become grateful. The unexpected grace coming out of the darkest night and His faithful day-by-day care for His children will overwhelm us and humble us. Our hearts will swell with thankfulness as we realize we don’t deserve the smallest treat from our Father. As the psalmist wrote: “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Psalm 147:1 ESV). In other words, praise and thanksgiving are the appropriate response for those who have been given so much. More than that though, there will be no stopping this train. No one will be able to keep us quiet.
Finally, thanksgiving is not complete until we actually enjoy the gifts given to us by Christ. God is good and gracious to us and everything He has created is good and to be enjoyed—not over-and-above Him, but we’re still to take pleasure in these things. This includes marriage and food and sunsets and music and work … even trials that are sent to make us more like Christ.
What if we say “Thanks God” but do not delight in His blessings? It’s safe to say that we’re only going through the motions—some religious ritual that we’re told to do. This pathetic “uh, yeah thanks” reveals that deep down we’re
lusting after, craving the things our idol(s) calls for. We need to see that in doing this our hearts are divided and our affections are somewhere else—not with Him and the good He faithfully delivers.
We are thankful and delight in only those people and objects we truly value. For the child of God, he has been given the ability to recognize and treasure his Savior and the graces he receives every day. It is then appropriate and fitting to thank and praise the Lord.
The national holiday set aside to give thanks for all that we have is just around the corner. This year, it’s my prayer that the Church would do more than its moralistic duty to thank God for more freedoms and earthly possessions than any other country owns. I pray that my heart would swell with delight and passion for my great God and thank Him for all the good that I truly possess in Christ.