All across North America the days are getting shorter, chillier, and (to the chagrin of many) Christmas music is already playing on the radio stations. As Thanksgiving draws near, it often serves to bring about various memories and emotions for people. And for the Christian, gratitude and thankfulness are not just emotions or feelings that are felt or something only celebrated once a year – it is the very air we breathe. All who have repented of their sin and trust and follow Jesus as Savior understand that their regenerate heart, and indeed any good thing in life (James 1:17), is a gift; a gift to which the only correct response is worship, obedience, and thankfulness to a good and kind God.
Christian growth insures that these truths sink deeper and deeper into the heart of a believer as they live their lives in light of the Gospel. By God’s grace, another reality concerning thankfulness that believers will come to understand is that thankfulness is a very powerful weapon against sin and a tool to endure suffering.
The Power of Thankfulness
About 10 years ago, I found myself in a very dark season of depression. No appetite for food, no energy to get out of bed in the morning, and a tendency to isolate myself were a few of the visible manifestations of this chapter of my life. I was suffering, but my particular suffering was also intermingled with sin. Bitterness, selfishness, and anger were thoughts that I too often found myself embracing. These are formidable foes when mingled with depression because often we only see our sorrow, and not our sin, when we are in the throes of deep sadness. This season led to much fear. I became terrified to hop into my car and take a quick trip across town. Terrified of my family being killed in a house fire. Terrified of anything and everything scary I could think of. Sin is at its core irrational, and leads to further irrationality.¹
I distinctly remember one morning that became a sort of linchpin in turning the corner on fighting sin and fighting for joy. I was lying in bed trying to force myself to get started with the day, and the morning sunlight was streaming through my window onto my face. This immediately reminded me of Matthew 5:45, “…For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” This immediately prompted me to say in thanksgiving, “Thank you God that you cause the sun to shine on the evil and the good, you are so kind. This is a direct evidence of your kindness that I am experiencing in this moment. Thank you.” This simple acknowledgment of God’s Word and prayer of gratitude to Him, caused me to want to get up and keep thanking Him for His kindness. A few days later, I was eating a piece of homemade pie (funny how certain small memories remain crystal clear even after years) and I remember silently thanking God for giving me the ability to enjoy this delicious food and for His provision of sustenance for my body (I Timothy 4:4). I realized this was yet another evidence of a kind and gracious Father. Then one night, as I was reading the Psalms and praying I was convicted over my sin of bitterness and anger against an individual, as well as selfishness. I prayed that the Lord would forgive my sin and help me to walk in repentance. I started thanking the Lord that I would be worshipping Jesus in heaven alongside this individual someday and started to pray for the Lord to bless this person’s life. As time went on, these prayers weren’t just an act of obedience, they eventually became my joy to pray in this manner. This season didn’t leave quickly, as seasons like this rarely do. But the act and discipline of thankfulness became the means by which the Lord granted repentance and deep joy and growth in the days and nights of many tears.
The Gift of Gratitude
When God commands thankfulness (i.e. the Psalms, Ephesians 5:4, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, etc.), he does it with the understanding that it will bring life and joy and renewal in the inner man, even in the very darkest of valleys. The most important thing in the life of a suffering believer is not that pain be alleviated, but that the believer looks more like Jesus after having endured the trial (II Corinthians 12:9-10). Thankfulness is a powerful means of grace for the believer to lay hold of in the midst of fiery trials. ²
Don’t let Thursday be the primary day this year that you give thanks to God for his great kindness. Let it be a day of rejoicing that we can praise God for his kindness and all of his blessings for everyday of our lives on earth and into eternity.
¹ Frame, John. Doctrine of the Word of God, 16.
² For more on thankfulness as a means of grace, see Chapter 8 in Finally Free, by Dr. Heath Lambert.