The holiday Thanksgiving is over, but every day thanksliving should not be. At least, not for the Christian.
1. According to the Bible a significant characteristic that separates believers from unbelievers is thankfulness.
Read Romans 1:21. God’s Word assumes that giving thanks to God and having a gratitude attitude (borrowing from Zig Ziglar) is a virtue that is nurtured and a habit that is practiced by Christ followers.
2. As believers, we have every reason to give thanks more than once a year.
Our national Thanksgiving holiday comes around once a year, but Old Testament Israel’s five main worship events, which took place every year, were national thanksgiving celebrations. Imagine having Thanksgiving five times a year? Then, there was the weekly Sabbath. It was a day of reverence for God, a day for resting in God, and a day for rejoicing with thanks to God.
We have so much more for which to be thankful because of Jesus’s life, work, death upon the cross, resurrection and ascension. He fulfilled those old feast days and has given to us a greater Sabbath; things that ought to provoke gratitude every day.
3. Biblically, joy-filled thanks is a quality woven into the fabric of a redeemed life.
When the Bible speaks about joy it is not quite the same thing as what we call happiness. Joy in the Bible can be a contented delight expressed with a calm and peaceful satisfaction or ecstasy with exuberant celebration. Christians speak much about being joyful and having joy, and rightly so. Some people have a happy disposition while others are inclined toward melancholy. Being happy does not necessarily indicate true spirituality as some people insist. Neither does being melancholy indicate true piety or mean a lack of holiness.
I am reminded of a story about a young man who had moved from the South. He was new to the Faith but learned to be at home expressing gratitude in worship. His move to the New England placed him in an altogether different culture. One Sunday, he decided to visit an old Presbyterian church down the street. The sermon had so aroused his soul that he blurted out, “Praise the Lord!” A sharp tap upon his shoulder immediately followed his joyous expression. He looked behind him to see a scrawny little, old, white-haired woman pointing her finger at him while scolding in her Scottish accent, “There will be NO praisin’ the Lord in this place, young man!”
Christ-filled joy is not some emotion we artificially conjure up. It is not merely some thing we prime and pump from a deeply embedded existential well. Biblical joy is an internal response to an outward cause appropriately expressed. As it turns out, joy is the flower rooted in thanksgiving. It is definitely connected to life’s circumstances, but also heavily informed by our Christ-centered perspective about those circumstances. In the Bible, the word delight is recorded almost 100 times, the term for joy is mentioned nearly 200 times, and praise many more times than both. Thanks is used at least 140 times. Counting words is not the point. Here’s the point: giving thanks is often found in the context of delight, joy, and praise because they tend to be closely bound together!
This is keenly illustrated in the Psalms. The “thanks Psalms” (such as Psalm 18, 66, 105, 107, 118 and 138) and “praise Psalms” (such as Psalm 8, 24, 29, 33, 47, 48, 146-150) reflect close connections between thanks, delight and joy. Praise Psalms are exuberant expressions of joy to God for who he is and what he has done. This integration of thanksgiving with delight, joy, and praise can also be observed in nearly every chapter of Acts!
4. God desires we be thankful. In fact, he commands it.
Here are some examples:
- Psalm 107:1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. 15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men…21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.
- Psalm 118 opens and closes with “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”
- Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
- Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
- Hebrews 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
Of course, the Scriptures make clear what those things are for which we offer God thanks. We thank God for prayer and in prayer (Phil. 4:6), for food (1 Tim. 4:3), in everything we do (Col. 3:17), and, well, for every thing (Rom. 14:6; Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18).
Yes, it is true that to pretend to be thankful or joyous just to fulfill a command is hypocritical. Yes, it is true that God is telling us how we ought to respond to him. Yes, giving thanks is a duty. However, consider why this is.
- God’s commands, imperatives, and laws reflect what pleases and honors God. God is God and he can certainly insist upon things that are appropriate for him and his family. Think, for example, of a mother telling her young son to show gratitude toward his grandmother when Grannie gives him gifts. Teaching the child what is a proper response is not only a positive duty, but impresses upon the child the value and respect Grannie deserves. Hopefully, for the child, this outward behavior becomes an ingrained healthy attitude toward the grandmother’s person and actions. It often does. That’s just how people are wired.
- God’s commands, imperatives, and laws also model for us what life is like when lived before the face of a holy and loving God. Without them we would not know with clarity how we are to think and behave with God in his kingdom. Interestingly enough, recent scientific studies of the brain have revealed that if we practice something well and long enough it becomes quite natural for us. Practicing gratitude can habituate a healthy life of thankfulness and appreciation.
I recall the first months of being stationed in Japan. The Japanese restaurant across our station served deliciously addicting dishes. However, in order to fit in and not offend the locals I had to learn how to eat with chopsticks. It was hard because I was clumsy and impatient. Even though one could ask for a fork or spoon such utensils were considered signs of gluttony and disrespect. Why? Because to eat with such utensils meant one was shoveling the meal down without appreciating it, and therefore disrespecting the chef and staff. Good meals are eaten slowly and with care, savoring every bite and expressing great delight (especially by slurping your food loudly). Then, when finished with the meal, the chopsticks were never to be placed on top of each other as it looked like the sign of a cross, which is a symbol for death. In other words, to do so indicated you were putting a curse upon the people who served you.
Did I have to abide by their social etiquette? Of course not, since there was no explicit law commanding it. Yet, in order to learn how to live in their culture, to show respect, and to win their friendship that’s what one does. So too, it is with God and his kingdom rules.
Indeed, the Psalms are given to us to teach us how to rightly relate and properly emote to the things of God. Times of suffering, trials, and defeats should provoke sorrow and lament. Times of successes, deliverance, and victories ought to elicit thanks and praise. The Psalms teach our hearts such attitudes, emotions, and behaviors. The Psalms also drive suitable emotions, thoughts, words, and actions into habits of the heart that please God.
5. Giving thanks demonstrates humility, and God loves humble people.
Think about it: proud people are rarely grateful people. Why? Because they believe they deserve anything or everything they get, therefore there is no reason to express thanks. Pride and entitlement are kindred attitudes. Also, proud people do not want to give any sense of owing anything to anyone. As people, we have this built-in drive to want to give something in return for a thing we’ve received. It’s the old this-for-that, tit-for-tat impulse all humans share. You know? If someone buys you a cup of coffee you feel obligated to buy her a cup of coffee the next time. This motivates us to keep accounts of what people do for us (or even do to us).
It takes a measure of humility to receive and say thanks, especially for a gift. Coming into Christ’s kingdom culture means learning the grace of receiving as well as the response of thanks giving.
6. Having a gratitude attitude and a daily thanksliving is founded upon God’s person and his acts of creation and redemption.
Again, the Psalms is an example of this. When we come to know the Lord more and more, his majestic glory and the beauty of his holiness will rouse a greater sense of awe and wonder. That in turn will incite delight, praise, joy and thanksgiving. Consider how a bullied child would think about a massively strong and popular high school senior coming to her defense and then always ready to be her protector. She would be thankful and in awe. Or being a homeless person without much hope and then having a rich and famous woman come to your aid and give you a whole new life. You would be thankful. There is no other like God. When we know more about him in a way that leads us to know him more intimately then our hearts will be filled with awe, wonder, delight, joy, and praise as well as gratefulness for the sheer privilege and blessing of knowing him.
The Psalms, as well as other Scriptures, also show how thanksliving comes out of God’s work of creation and work of redemption. Those who recognize God as their creator and really know him as their redeemer usually exude appreciation for the Lord and his works. Consider people who have recently come to faith in Jesus Christ. They ooze elation and celebrate with thanksgiving.
If God’s character and works produced ebullient gratitude among his people in the Old Testament, it should be so much more the case with us who have Jesus Christ today. In Jesus, we are redeemed and victorious (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14). In Jesus we have been saved and delivered from sin and darkness, and transferred into his kingdom (Col. 1:11-14). In him we overcome death, have fullness of life, and the promise of an abundant future in the new earth and heavens (1 Cor. 4:11-15; 2 Pet. 3:13). For all that, we are urged not only to walk in the way of Christ but to also live in a constant state of thankfulness (Col. 2:6-7).
7. Thanksliving is also a wonderful way to glorify the Lord.
To glorify God is to manifest and reflect his worth and ways. Psalm 105 and 1 Chronicles 16 teach us that thanksgiving begins when you commemorate God’s marvelous works, continues when you celebrate his magnificent wonders, and spreads when you communicate God’s magnanimous ways. One of the best ways to glorify God is to emanate the life of Jesus Christ in his Spirit with a thankful heart every day.
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your savior and lord, then you have every reason to walk in thanksliving. The reason is not so much because God is in your life, but because you are in his. As believers in Christ, we are the ink indelibly written upon the scroll of his story – one beautiful, enthralling novel flowing into eternity. One for which we will live the life of unrestrained thanks, ecstatic joy, and extravagant praise.
And now I close with Revelation 7:9-12
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”