Most of us would agree that having an attitude of gratitude is a good thing.
An interesting survey of over 2000 people conducted at the US University Berkeley in 2012 found that people as a whole saw gratitude as a desirable trait and recognised that gratitude had benefits for themselves, other people and the world at large.
But what is the bible's perspective? Unsurprisingly, the bible speaks extensively on the topic of gratitude and thankfulness. Throughout the Psalms in particular we hear declarations of gratitude to the Lord that both encourage and challenge us. However the bible's view of gratitude goes deeper than simply making a personal choice to be thankful for a particular act, person or situation.
Let’s take a look at three bible verses that will challenge the way we think about gratitude!
1. Gratitude as an instruction.
"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
The concept of being instructed to be grateful may seem strange. After all, surely gratitude is something we choose and can't be directed? Well yes, that's true to a point! However the Apostle Paul gives us another really useful perspective. Here in his first letter to the Thessalonian church, after acknowledging and encouraging them for their faith and wholehearted receipt of the gospel, he finished his letter with a series of directives on how they should conduct themselves as they waited for Jesus' return.
This list included things such as honouring their leaders, living peacefully with each other and taking care of the weak to name just a few. In verse 18 he includes the advice - "be thankful in all circumstances". Why would Paul need to advise the church to be thankful?
We find the answer in the earlier verses of chapter 5. Paul compared the day of Jesus' return to a thief coming in the night or a pregnant woman's labour pains. He meant that it would come suddenly and with little warning - so they needed to get ready and stay ready!
So great was God's love for the Thessalonian church reflected in Paul's own deep affection for them which is seen clearly throughout his letter, that he wanted to encourage them not to become lax in their attitude toward the things of God. He was eager to remind them that gratitude wasn't a once in a while event, but something to work at, build on and grow deeper in through all circumstances. Gratitude was God's will for them as followers of Christ and cultivating an attitude of gratitude would ensure that when Jesus came back to claim his church, He would find them ready to be received by Him.
2. Gratitude as the cause, not just the effect.
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name." - Psalm 100:4
We would all agree that gratitude is the natural response to good things happening, something going our way or receiving something we’d been hoping for.
But let's take a moment to consider the concept of gratitude as the cause, rather than the effect. What if gratitude came first - before that good thing? And why stop there? What if gratitude occurred even if that 'good thing' never materialised?
In Psalm 100:4, entitled 'A Psalm of Thanksgiving', we are encouraged to enter (not leave) the Lord's gates with thanksgiving. As we come before Him we should already be deeply thankful. Why would that be the case? As we read on to verse 5 we find the answer when the Psalmist declares:
"For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation."
We are grateful not just for what God does for us, but first and foremost for who He is - good, unfailing in love and endlessly faithful. Expressing gratitude as we come before God flows from recognising the unbelievable privilege of just being in his presence. Being granted the answer to our prayer is just an added gift received into hearts already filled with gratitude.
3. Gratitude as a lifestyle.
"And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness." - Colossians 2:6-7
Gratitude shouldn't be just a thing we do, it should be who we are. This verse describes what should be the natural progression of our walk with Christ. It starts with accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives, continues with following Him, and ultimately means growing deeper into Him and having our lives built on Him.
Knowing Jesus and being in relationship with Him is the source of true joy. As the Psalmist declares in Psalm 16:11:
"You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever".
When our lives are planted and rooted in Jesus and we enjoy an ever deepening relationship with him, thankfulness will begin to so fill us that we won't even be able to contain it!
Food For Thought
Do we find ourselves overflowing with gratitude or is it something we have to strive and struggle for? Are we continually grateful for who God is and the privilege of knowing Him, or does our level of gratitude fluctuate depending on the day, the situation or the circumstance?
Wherever we find ourselves, the key to maintaining an attitude of gratitude is to shift our focus from what we think we need to what we have right now - that is the opportunity to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus and build our lives on Him. As we do this and come to God with hearts ready to be shaped by Him, an overflow of gratitude will undoubtedly follow!