The Christian Heart Is A Thankful Heart
Thankfulness often seems to be a lost habit, as illustrated through this real-life incident. Edward Spencer was a seminary student in Evanston, Illinois. He was also part of a life-saving squad. When a ship sunk near the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, Edward repeatedly went into the icy cold 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 such a story and think, “How could those 17 be so ungrateful?” But far too many times, we believers, 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 that thanksgiving is not a once-in-a-while characteristic but a regular feature of the Christian life. Here are a few examples:
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” [Psa 100:4]
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” [Psa 106:1]
“always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” [Eph 5:20]
“[overflow] with thankfulness” [Col 2:7]
Based on these few verses, one thing is clear: For believers, thanksgiving can never be a once-in-a-while act. Instead, it must be an integral part of our daily life! We are to be marked as people who are thankful—at all times!
Now, why do you think God requires us to exhibit a thankful spirit? What’s the significance? I believe Psalm 50:23 may give a clue: “Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me.” Our thanksgiving brings glory to God. So, what’s at stake here is God’s glory. And that’s not a trivial issue!
This article seeks to help believers to be thankful at all times by looking at 3 things: (I) The Dangers of a Thankless Heart, (II) The Benefits of Cultivating a Thankful Heart, and (III) Suggestions on Cultivating a Thankful Heart.
Before we proceed further, 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.
1. The Dangers of a Thankless Heart
There are 2 dangers associated with a thankless heart.
Danger # 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.
Danger # 2. It is an expression of disobedience to the revealed will of God.
We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” A thankful heart in all circumstances is what God desires from his children. Even in sad situations, we can be grateful that God is in complete control and works everything for our good and his 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 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 revealed will?
In her book, “The Hiding Place,” Corrie ten Boom, that famous Dutch believer who hid many Jews during Hitler’s time, relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet—Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them to be highly overcrowded and flea-infested.
That morning, their Scripture reading in 1 Thessalonians 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 guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.
Amazing. How God works even in the most challenging situations to his glory when we humbly submit to his word!
Even the Lord Jesus, in his teachings, stressed the importance of giving thanks to God. After cleansing ten lepers, upon seeing only one return to give thanks said these words, this is what the Lord said: “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.
So, you can see, the dangers of having a thankless heart are severe indeed! It’s an act that brings displeasure to God¾because it violates his revealed will. And it also demonstrates our true condition—we are not his children—no matter what we may claim with our mouths!
Now, on the other hand, if a thankful spirit marks us, the benefits are many! Let’s look at 4 of them.
II. The Benefits of Cultivating a Thankful Heart
Benefit # 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,” here’s what Howard Butt, a prominent Christian businessman said:
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, on the other hand, is the perfect cure for pride. A constant acknowledgment that all we have is a result of God’s grace will lead us to increase in humility.
Benefit # 2. Complaining decreases—Contentment increases.
If we continually thank 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] complain in the light of our sins?
Lamentations 3:39 reminds us, “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” If we understand that we don’t 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].
Benefit # 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, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 10 [who] has delivered us from such a deadly peril [past], and he will deliver us again [future]. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us [present]” [2 Cor 1:3, 10].
A thankful spirit that continually reflects on God’s past mercies is strengthened to rely on God for the present and future needs. And in that way, it’s also protected from giving into doubt, despair, and even taking shortcuts.
Benefit # 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: to have a thankful heart, as seen in Philippians 4:6-7.
This is what God commands us to do 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, God’s promise is that our hearts can be free from anxiety as the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7]!
Having seen 4 benefits that arise from cultivating a thankful heart, let’s look at how we can cultivate this type of heart.
III. Suggestions on Cultivating a Thankful Heart
Below are 2 suggestions on cultivating a thankful heart.
Suggestion # 1. Reflect regularly on the Cross.
One of the greatest Christians to have ever lived was the apostle Paul. Despite going through many sufferings, we notice Paul always being thankful. What was his secret? I believe one answer is found in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Now, this did not mean Paul did not talk about other issues. In this very same letter, he did speak of different topics. But his main focus was on Jesus, mainly what he accomplished by his death on the cross and the subsequent resurrection. Constantly reflecting on those truths gave him an eternal perspective. And that led him to overflow with gratitude—no matter what trial he was in!
The same with us. The more we reflect on what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, the more we will grow in thankfulness.
Suggestion # 2. Incorporate thanksgiving as an integral part of prayer.
This is God’s command to us 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]. Daniel faced a significant crisis during his older years—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?” Instead, 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!