Every year, in the 8 days after Easter Day, we monks had the discipline of “being thankful” in an especially focussed way. In my little article to you I would like to reflect on the significance of gratitude in the Christian faith. The Bible contains over 150 verses about it, and countless more reflecting a general attitude of praise to the Lord. Why do we give thanks to God and why is it important?
Well, first and foremost, we are “commanded” in the Bible to give thanks to God. Most verses go on to list reasons why we should thank God, such as “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:3), “He is good” (Psalm 118:29), and “His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 100:5). Thanksgiving and praise always go hand in hand. We can’t adequately praise and worship God without also being thankful.
Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts God has given us (James 1:17). It is in our best interests to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from God. Without gratitude, we can become arrogant and self-centered. We start to believe we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship to the giver of all good gifts – almighty God himself.
Giving thanks also reminds us of how much we actually do have. We human beings can be prone to covetousness. We can tend to focus on what we don’t have. By giving constant thanks we continually remind ourselves of how much we already do have. When we focus on blessings rather than wants, we are happier. When we start thanking God for the things we usually take for granted, our perspective changes. We realize that we couldn’t even exist without the merciful blessings of God.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This verse tells us we are to be thankful, not only for the things we like, but for the circumstances we don’t like. When we determine to thank God for everything that God allows to come into our lives, we keep bitterness at bay. We can’t be both thankful and bitter at the same time. That doesn’t mean we thank God for sending evil our way; it means we thank God for sustaining us through it. We don’t thank God for harm God didn’t cause, but we thank God when God gives us the strength to endure it (Corinthians 12:9).
We thank God for promising to us that “all things will work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we don’t feel thankful for the circumstance. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can hurt and still be thankful. We can be angry at sin and still be thankful toward God. That is what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15). Giving thanks to God keeps our hearts in right relationship with God and saves us from a whole host of harmful emotions and attitudes that will rob us of the peace God wants us to experience (Philippians 4:6–7).