Thankfulness seems to be a lost trait today as illustrated through this real-life incident. Edward Spencer, a ministerial student in Evanston, Illinois, was part of a life-saving squad. In 1860, a ship sunk near the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston. Edward repeatedly waded into the frigid waters to rescue 17 passengers. In the process, his health was permanently damaged. Some years later at his funeral, it was noted that not one of the people he rescued ever thanked him.
We read of such a story and think, “How could those 17 be so ungrateful as to not even say a word of thanks to the one who saved them?” Far too many times, Christians as well are guilty of the same sin of ingratitude—despite being saved out of a far greater danger—that of eternal condemnation!
Many Scriptures attest to the fact that thanksgiving is not to be a once-in-a-while characteristic, but a regular feature of the Christian life. Here are a few examples: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” [Psa 106:1]; “Give thanks to the LORD” [Psa 136:1]; and “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” [Eph 5:20].
Why does God require us to exhibit a thankful spirit? What is the significance? Psalm 50:23 gives the answer: “Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me” [Psa 50:23]. Our thanksgiving brings glory and honor to God. So, what is at stake here is God’s glory and not some trivial issue.
So in order to develop a thankful heart, let us look at three issues: I. Dangers of a Thankless heart; II. Benefits of Cultivating a Thankful heart and III. Tips on Cultivating a Thankful heart.
Before proceeding, here is a basic definition of thankfulness: Thankfulness is a willing recognition of the fact that we are totally dependent upon a good and sovereign God who provides for all our spiritual and physical needs.
I. DANGERS OF A THANKLESS HEART.
1. A thankless spirit is the mark of an unbeliever. In describing the lifestyle of unbelievers, we are told in Romans 1:21 that “they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” Despite receiving many earthly blessings [Matt 5:45; Acts 14:15-17], unbelievers fail to give thanks to the God of the Bible who alone is the source of all blessings. Thus, if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is characterized by a thankless spirit, Scripture describes them as unbelievers.
2. It is an expression of disobedience to the revealed will of God. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” A thankful heart in all circumstances is precisely what God desires from his children. Even in sad situations, we can be grateful that God is in full control and is working everything for our good and his ultimate glory [Rom 8:28-29].
Many Christians are unable to find the will of God in various life situations because they are continually neglecting God’s clearly revealed will in one area of their life—being thankful at all times! Should God reveal more of his will to those who consistently disobey his clearly revealed will?
Corrie ten Boom, in “The Hiding Place” relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet—Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them to be extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. That morning, their Scripture reading in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and always be thankful. Betsy told Corrie to pause and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters.
Though Corrie refused at first, she finally succumbed to Betsy’s pleas. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible studies and prayer meetings without guard interference. Months later they learned that the reason the guards would not enter the barracks was because of the fleas. How God works even the most difficult situations to his glory when we humbly submit to his Word!
The Lord Jesus after cleansing ten lepers, upon seeing only one return to give thanks said these words, “17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” [Lk 17:17-18].
Simply stated, lack of a thankful spirit is an act of disobedience that brings displeasure to God. The dangers of a thankless heart are severe indeed!
II. BENEFITS OF CULTIVATING A THANKFUL HEART
1. Pride decreases—humility increases. One of the main stumbling blocks to cultivating a thankful heart is pride. There is a tendency in all of us to take credit for our success. However, a thankful heart recognizes that all good things come from the hand of a sovereign God and that without his mercy nothing good is possible. We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 4:7 “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
In an article titled “The Art of Being a Big Shot,” Howard Butt a prominent Christian businessman said these words: “It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go at it alone. But that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go at it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man—weak, and limited…When I am conceited, I am lying to myself. I am pretending to be God, and not man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself. And that is the national religion of Hell!”
Thanksgiving, however, is the perfect cure for pride. A constant acknowledgment of the fact that all we have is a result of God’s grace will lead us to be more humble.
2. Complaining decreases—contentment increases. If we are continually thanking God for what He has done and is doing in our lives, we will not fall victim to the sin of complaining. Complaining is not stating the truth about a particular situation that is genuinely wrong. Rather complaining [or grumbling] is an attitude that questions God’s sovereignty over the affairs of our life. It is an attitude that expresses itself in the following manner: “If God really loves me, how can he let this happen to me?” Even if our complaining is not verbally expressed [some are introverts], it is still sinful. Can sinful creatures [that includes all of us], really complain in the light of our sins?
Lamentations 3:39 reads, “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” If we really understand that we do not deserve any good thing as a result of our sins, we would be amazed at God’s mercy in our lives—be content and thankful in all circumstances and continually say, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing” [Psa 23:1].
3. Doubt in God decreases—trust in God increases. A significant obstacle to trusting in God at all times is the lack of a thankful spirit. However, thanksgiving provides the perfect cure for this problem. Paul could trust God in all of his trials because he constantly recalled God’s past deliverances and thus could confidently trust in God for the future as well. Notice his words, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, [who] has delivered us from such a deadly peril [past], and he will deliver us again [future]“ [2 Cor 1:3, 10].
A thankful spirit that continually reflects on God’s past mercies is strengthened to rely on God for all future needs and thus protected from falling victim to the sin of doubt, despair and taking short-cuts.
4. Worry decreases—peace increases. One of the drawbacks of Christian living is the tendency to have an unhealthy focus on the negatives and not take enough time to thank God for His blessings. And such an attitude is the perfect recipe for worry to rule in our hearts. However, God’s word has a cure for worry which is to have a thankful heart as seen in Philippians 4:6-7.
We are commanded in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And when our prayers are accompanied with thanksgiving, our hearts are free from anxiety as the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” [Phil 4:7].
Having seen the many benefits that arise as a result of cultivating a thankful heart, let’s look at how we cultivate this type of heart.
III. TIPS ON CULTIVATING A THANKFUL HEART
Having seen the dangers of a thankless heart and the benefits of a thankful one, let us look at how to cultivate a thankful heart.
1. Reflect regularly on the Cross. One of the great Christians to have ever lived was David, who was also called as a man after God’s own heart [Acts 13:22]. Though David enjoyed multiple blessings from God, he also experienced many sorrows. The Psalms describe various expressions of David’s suffering.
Yet, we also see the Psalms describing many of his expressions of thanksgiving—even during life’s darkest hours. What was David’s secret? I believe Psalm 16:8 gives the answer: “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” David’s focus was always on the Lord. Hence he was always filled with gratitude and not shaken by anxiety.
And we, who live on this side of the cross, should also have such a perspective. Our eyes should always be focused on Jesus and what he did on the cross for us. If we make it a daily habit of reflecting on the cross, we will not doubt God’s love for us and thus will always be thankful to him—even in life’s darkest hour! If the cross is good enough to get us to heaven, it is mighty good for our brief life on earth. After all, we are just one breath away from eternity!
2. Incorporate thanksgiving as an integral part of prayer. We are commanded in Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” In other words, thanksgiving should be an integral part of every prayer of ours! We must set aside time to thank God for all that he has done for us.
Imagine if our children talk to us only when there is a need and rarely say a word of thanks! Wouldn’t we be grieved? Yet, how often we grieve our heavenly Father by going to him only with our needs, but never to say “thank-you.” May we not grieve him anymore. Let us make a deliberate effort to continually thank God for who he is and for what he has done for us.
Daniel is a well-known and well-loved character in the Bible. His resolve to stand for the Lord even at a young age has inspired many [Dan 1]. During his older years, Daniel faced a significant crisis—pray to the king’s image alone or suffer death by being thrown into the lions’ den. His reaction was remarkable. We read, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” [Dan 6:10].
Notice, Daniel does not grumble against God. He does not say, “I have been faithful to you all these years and is this what I get in return?” Rather, he gives thanks to his God “just as he had done before.” Habitual thanksgiving during times of prosperity enabled him to give thanks even during times of adversity. And God heard his prayers—because it came from a thankful heart! Let’s strive to have such a heart as well!