Called to Gratitude

I’m glad there’s a national holiday that forces me to contemplate my desperate need for an attitude of gratitude for a whole month in advance of it. I do so adore the sights and smells of a Thanksgiving meal spread out on the dining room table. Or at least I love my anticipatory mental aggrandizement of it. A delectable feast ready to serve ten or twenty people with remorseful satiety to follow. But the ethos of a solemn call to thankfulness fills me (and haunts me) more than the food.

Often, I feel like I’m a deeply unthankful man. My ingratitude astounds me in the quiet times when I’m seeking to give thanks to God. My thanks are an empty cistern before I start pouring out a long list of my needs and the needs of others. During bouts of despair, the fog of thanklessness in my heart is even worse! Still, I recognize this. And I recognize it’s God’s mercy and kindness to enable me to see how twisted it is and to be unsettled about it. Confessing that our ingratitude is loathsome is the first and most crucial step to giving thanks with a grateful heart.

There was a chalkboard in an old youth room at church. This month it asks: What are you thankful to God for? The other week I wrote on it: For fortitude and integrity when I can’t find anything else to be thankful for.

That’s a little lesson stuck in my head since my college days:

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

– Romans 1:18-21

I saw what had become of humanity in this passage, and I heard the warning to take to heart: the journey to suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and reviling God begins with thanklessness. This passage rises up in my mind every single time someone urges or exhorts me to be thankful. I think it’s a blessing to be haunted by such a thought.

In a previous men’s small-group Bible study, we talked about the inability of rules and regulations to prevent our indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23). I asked, “What can stop us from indulging our flesh if none of these thing can stop us?” A friend answered, “Gratitude.” Amen. There’s that classic Heidelberg catechetical structure straight from the lips of my Dutch Reformed homeboy: Guilt, Grace, Gratitude.

Thankfulness protects us from futility of the mind and foolishness of the heart, and it fuels our motivation for joy and good works. I can’t think of anything else that does.

My brothers in Christ, hear the Apostle Paul’s loving exhortation:

Rejoice always,
Pray without ceasing,
In everything give thanks;
For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We spend much of our lives struggling to know what the will of God is for us. There are a few simple things we blessedly know for certain that God wants from us and for us, and this is one of them: our perpetual thanksgiving to him. Amen.

Let us pray and offer our thanks to the Lord for all that he has given us.

Generous Lord, we give you thanks for all of the blessings you have bestowed on us. We give you thanks for health and provision. We give you thanks for endurance and contentment in the face of illness and lack. We give you thanks for the love of friends and family. We give you thanks for peace and comfort in the midst of strife, sorrows, and losses. We give you thanks for our abundance and delight in life. And we give you thanks for discipline and character that you form in us through hardships, miseries, and obligations we owe to our debt of love.

Your hand, O Lord, has appointed all these things;
We receive them with gladness and submission.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
For his steadfast love endures forever!

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