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The Puritan writer Thomas Watson, in his work The Godly Man’s Picture, writes: “A godly man is a thankful man. Praise and thanksgiving is the work of heaven, and he begins that work here which he shall be always doing in heaven.” In the Bible, the words thanks, thanksgiving, and so on appear more than 170 times. Scripture frequently commands God’s people to give Him thanks. The Apostle Paul sums it up when he writes to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).

It is important to note that we are to give thanks “in all circumstances.” In good times and in bad, in hardship and in pleasure, in health and in sickness, we are to give thanks to God. This is the sign of a sanctified heart. Giving thanks is God’s will for those who belong to Christ. And not just occasionally. Our life is to be a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

The flip side is that a characteristic of the ungodly is that they are ungrateful. Paul writes to Timothy, “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2, 4). In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul declares that the root of all sin is the failure to “honor [God] as God” and “give thanks to him” (v. 21). In our sinful state, all fall short of feeling and showing the gratefulness that God deserves and desires for His goodness and mercies to us.

How do we cultivate gratefulness in our lives? First, begin each day with praise and worship. This has been the practice of the church for centuries, and with good reason. It follows the example of Jesus and the psalmist (Ps. 5:3). It also puts our focus where it should be—on God and His goodness. The Book of Common Prayer refers to morning worship as “the Daily Office,” taken from the Latin word officium, which means “duty” or “service.” Our morning time of praise does not need to be elaborate, but beginning the day with thanksgiving—whether we are happy risers or grumpy ones—is important to cultivating gratefulness. As the hymn puts it, “When morning gilds the skies, my heart awaking cries: May Jesus Christ be praised.”

Second, recognize God as the giver of every good gift. James writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). The Apostle Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Everything we have is a gift from God.

Prayer is to mark our lives and be constant.

How often do you stop and thank God for His good gifts? Giving thanks before meals—following Jesus’ example and teaching our children to do the same—is a small but important practice. Yet Scripture tells us to go beyond that. Let’s look at the larger context of the 1 Thessalonians verse quoted above: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). In between Paul’s commands to “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances” is the command to “pray without ceasing.” This does not mean, as happened to one man I know, that we should close our eyes while driving because we’re trying to pray without ceasing (and run into the back of the stopped car in front of you). But it does mean that prayer is to mark our lives and be constant in our lives.

Moreover, the command to “pray without ceasing” comes between the commands to “rejoice always” and to “give thanks in all circumstances.” In other words, our continual prayers are to be marked by praise and thanksgiving. This was true of a humble man named Brother Lawrence, who was a cook in a monastery outside Paris in the seventeenth century. He would punctuate his day with short prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God. His godly character and influence became so well known that many church leaders and even politicians sought him out to seek his advice. He also wrote what has become a classic book on prayer, The Practice of the Presence of God. We, too, can fill our days and our moments with prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God for His good gifts, and especially for the greatest gift of knowing Him through the forgiveness of sin in Christ.

Third, recognize that God is sovereign over every circumstance in life. In his short letter to the Colossian church, Paul uses the words thanks and thanksgiving seven times. In chapter 3, he uses them in three straight verses: “Be thankful . . . , singing . . . with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, . . . do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:15–17). For good measure, he adds in 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Amazingly, Paul is in prison, or in “chains” as he puts it (4:18), when he is writing this letter.

Similarly, Paul’s “epistle of joy,” as it is often called, Philippians, was also written from prison. Sixteen times in that one letter we find the words joy and rejoice. Paul rests in God’s sovereignty for his future and rejoices in the advance of the gospel even in his chains. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Finally, we cultivate gratefulness by resting in the fact that God is the Savior of sinners. We deserve God’s wrath and punishment. Yet God sent Christ to live and die for our sins so that we might have life in Him. We have earned nothing and deserve nothing. Our salvation is all a gift from God. If that does not make you grateful, day in and day out, nothing will.

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From the July 2024 Issue
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