This past summer, I heard a dear friend give a brief devotional from Colossians 1:3, which reads, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.” He drew our attention to the fact that Paul begins one of his most polemical letters with thanksgiving. In other words, before he defends the gospel against false teachers, Paul prioritizes thanksgiving. My friend’s words caused me to reflect on my own lack of thanksgiving and the call to a posture of gratitude as we follow Jesus.
the peril of ingratitude
One of the defining characteristics of a godless life is ingratitude. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). As one author put it, ingratitude and pride go hand in hand. Once we reject God, we become arrogant, thankless creatures.
But the disease of ingratitude not only infects those in the culture around us; it is epidemic among God’s people as well. We are more often like the nine lepers healed by Jesus who left without saying thanks than we are like the one who returned to fall at our Lord’s feet in unspeakable gratefulness (Luke 17:11–19). According to Jesus in this passage, the pathogen of thanklessness is more dangerous than leprosy. Mercifully, there is a cure.
the promise of thankfulness
I am dismayed at how many times God has answered prayers only for me to remember days or even months later that I never thanked Him. I need the twofold remedy God offers for ingratitude.
First, we must recognize that thankfulness does not come naturally, as the passages above indicate. A life of gratitude is especially difficult in a culture such as ours that exalts the proud, despises humility, and enthrones self as the highest authority. In a world consumed by indifference and lack of appreciation, Christians can engage in a moment-by-moment protest of thankfulness. Persistent gratitude will set us apart from the world, making us salty to a self-indulgent culture (Matt. 5:13).
Second, we must return again and again to the great reality of the cross. It proclaims that Jesus died for people like us, people who forget to say thank you. He is so patient with our obstinate ingratitude. But as we come to the cross daily, we begin to see our pride and thanklessness crucified. In their place, the resurrection life of gratitude dawns.
This is the life that knows that the Savior’s blood was the awful currency for the debt of ingratitude. This is the life that sees the crucifixion and cannot find words to say thank you enough. This is the life of the sinner–saint who recoils from his lack of thankfulness and turns to the One whose thankless work for sinners such as us makes gratitude the only option, now and forever.