This is the first in a series in Thankfulness, by Rosie Moore.
“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:19-20).
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18).
The Bible commands us to give thanks always and for everything. Thankfulness is not an optional extra reserved for sunny personalities! Paul reminded first century Christians that thanksgiving doesn’t hinge on our circumstances or warm feelings, but is appropriate in every circumstance, come rain or shine. We don’t need to ask if it’s God’s will to say thank you. An attitude of gratitude is always appropriate and beneficial for those who have tasted and seen that God is good.
It’s why the Psalms are full of thanksgiving:
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Ps 136:1)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps 100:1-5).
Gratitude is like sunshine.
Gratitude is a bit like sunshine. What I love most about living in Gauteng is the sunshine in winter. This week, the south-facing room where my computer normally sits has been like a freezer, so after a few hours of clicking away on my keyboard, my fingers turn blue and even my bones feel like ice blocks. It’s dark and cold in there, so I move around from place to place, ferreting for warmth and following shafts of sunlight. My favourite thing is to go outside at noon and sit on the warm grass, with the sunlight on my skin, feeling its rays begin to thaw me right to my core. It helps that our furry golden retriever makes his home on my lap too!
Sunshine makes us thrive as human beings. We desperately need it for our physical and mental wellbeing. And likewise, our hearts desperately need to give thanks to God, our good and caring Creator. A heart that overflows with thanksgiving is a sure sign that our relationship with Christ is healthy and thriving, that we are “rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:7). Conversely. there’s nothing that sours a family relationship more than an ungrateful, entitled child.
Like sunlight, thankfulness thaws our cold, complaining hearts. It fills us with the warmth and wonder of our Father’s blessings all around us, even in our struggles and suffering. An attitude of gratitude proves that God’s peace is ruling in our hearts and that we are acting and speaking in Christ’s name (Col 3:15-17). In fact, if you think about it, thanksgiving is the natural outlet pipe of the gospel as it works its way through our lives.
Gratitude is like Vitamin D.
Apart from the sun’s warmth and energy, one of the great and invisible benefits of sunshine is Vitamin D. Its benefits are not merely skin deep, but profound and far reaching in the human body. Much has been said about the importance of Vitamin D in recent months. It is called the ‘sunshine hormone’, because our bodies produce it naturally when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D has been shown to be essential to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles; to regulate blood pressure and mood, even to ward off depression. Vitamin D also helps the immune system act like an army that prevents invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, from taking over the homeland – our body.
Like the master key to a rich storehouse, Vitamin D enables the body to absorb other beneficial nutrients like calcium and magnesium. It is truly a wonderful fighter/protector vitamin that we can’t live without. Actually, Vitamin D is so essential to human wellbeing that a few studies have even suggested a link between its deficiency and Covid deaths. But sadly, over 1 billion people worldwide are short of this accessible, cheap and essential vitamin. Vitamin D reminds me of gratitude in the life of a Christian:
It doesn’t cost us much to say thank you, but it’s essential to a holy and happy life. Gratitude protects us from the life threatening diseases of idolatry, especially the idol of self. Gratitude guards and nourishes our hearts, releasing the sweet nutrient of peace, contentment and joy in our lives. We dare not neglect this essential virtue which is the key to unlock many other benefits. In his wonderful little book titled, Practicing Thankfulness in All Circumstances, Sam Crabtree concludes:
“With gratitude, everyone wins. You get more delight in God, God gets more glory from you, and people around you find enjoyment from your words and gestures of appreciation. The consequences flowing either from thankfulness or from ingratitude are universal and not optional. No one can escape the fundamental order God has wired into the universe, and that includes the dynamics pertaining to gratitude and ingratitude.”
The benefits of gratitude.
Like vitamin D, gratitude opens the door to a storehouse of beneficial byproducts. Because it draws us away from our own orbit into God’s orbit, thankfulness protects us from the invasion of natural predators and parasites that our sinful human hearts manufacture on a daily basis.
Have you noticed that it’s impossible to be truly thankful while simultaneously grumbling, complaining, stressing, criticizing, despairing, demanding, plotting revenge or envying?! There’s just not room in our hearts for both! We cannot worship at the altar of self and be grateful at the same time. So, gratitude protects our hearts from our own feelings and desires which draw us into the deadly black hole of self.
As Jon Bloom puts it, “Gratitude is both a vital indicator of our soul’s health and a powerful defender of our soul’s happiness.”
Expressing thanks is much more than cultural niceness or warm feelings. It’s not a“name-it-claim-it” technique that releases God’s blessings in our lives, nor a tool of flattery to get what we want from people. But, like all God’s good commands, thankfulness is essential to our wellbeing. For thousands of years, the Bible has been telling us what science is discovering:
The Power and Practice of Gratitude.
In 2003, two classic studies—showing that expressing and experiencing gratitude bring peace of mind, satisfying personal relationships and well-being, were conducted by McCullough and Emmons. They formed two groups over 10 weeks. One group wrote a list every day of things they were grateful for. The second group focused on things that had irritated or displeased them (negatives). This was the ungrateful group. At the beginning, the participants had reported similar levels of happiness, but after the 10 weeks were up, they discovered that the grateful group were far happier and their bodies were healthier than the ungrateful group. They also noted that neither group changed their lifestyle at all.
Physical benefits of the grateful group included: Stronger immune systems; Less bothered by aches and pains; Lower blood pressure; Exercise more and take better care of their health; Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.
Psychological benefits included: Higher levels of positive emotions; More alert, alive, and awake; More joy and pleasure; More optimism and happiness.
Social benefits included: More helpful, generous, and compassionate; More forgiving; More outgoing; Feel less lonely and isolated.
So, even world experts know that gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling, and it has a huge impact on our lives. There will always be irritants and frustrations, grievances and complaints in life, but if we choose to focus on these, we will become self-absorbed, depressed and anxious. We will fail to see how we’ve been supported and helped by other people. And worst of all, we’ll fail to honour God or see his good purposes in everything.
But, like sunshine, expressing thanks has many beneficial byproducts. One of them is that we begin to see ourselves as rich, blessed and privileged, even if our outward circumstances appear the opposite.
Follow the sunlight.
For a Christian, the expression of thanks is the supernatural response of a heart that sees the sunlight of God’s presence and provision, basking in its shafts of light wherever we find them. Thanksgiving flows out of a right understanding of ourselves and God’s good provision. Even Jesus humbly gave thanks to the Father, because He understood his role of submission to the Father (Matt 11:25; Luke 10:21; John 11:41).
“Gratitude is the divinely given spiritual ability to see grace, and the corresponding desire to affirm it and its giver as good”(Sam Crabtree). It is to bless the Lord, just as He has blessed us.
Next week, in “Acknowledging the Source”, we will look at the uniqueness of Christian thankfulness.
Lord, we are not naturally grateful people. Please forgive us for the grumbling, complaining, jealous words which often tumble from our mouths, out of our sinful hearts. Give us eyes to see the wonder of your blessings all around us. Thank you that, in Christ, we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. Thank you that you are good and your love endures forever. Even as we pray for our needs and tell you about all our troubles, we thank you for your provision– yesterday, today and tomorrow. Keep us out of the cold, dark room of our own wrong expectations, and draw us into the wonderful sunlight of gratitude. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who enables us speak the universal language of thanksgiving. In Jesus precious name, Amen.