Gratitude as a By-Product
Expressing gratitude costs almost nothing. Anyone can do it, at any time. But it requires both the grace of God and our own obedient effort. Being genuinely grateful requires a work of God, a grace of wakefulness, a miraculous heart transformation. We are all born like puppies with our eyes closed, but God performs transformation. If gratefulness requires the appropriation of enabling grace in order to be able to give thanks, the good news is that there’s also enabling grace for appropriating the enabling grace.
Appropriate (pronounced “uh-PRO-pree-ate”—it’s a verb) grace. Consciously latch on to the enablement God gives you to do what you should do. Say to yourself and to God, “Yes, I will thank.” There’s no circumstance in which God’s enablement for you will run short: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).
There’s never a day in which his grace runs out. His mercies are new every morning, and his enabling grace is abounding every night, sustaining you through the entire day every day.
Though enabling grace is available in endless supply, a grateful outlook doesn’t just happen. It’s not natural for self-preoccupied, rights-demanding, what’s-in-it-for-me sinners. Beyond transformation and awakening, thankfulness requires cultivation. One of its dimensions to be cultivated is a biblical mindset. A heart that erupts with thanksgiving is a by-product of learning God’s righteous judgments in the Scriptures: “I will praise you with an upright heart, / when I learn your righteous rules” (Ps. 119:7).
Though expressing thanksgiving costs almost nothing, preparing to give thanks—transforming the heart, cultivating the outlook, reading a book about the topic, being vigilant to spot opportunities to express gratitude—will cost something. It costs intentionality, desire, preparation, heart change, a stack of cards and envelopes, postage stamps, and time. For example, we won’t thank God for his mighty acts if we don’t know them and remember them; therefore, the healthy practice of thankfulness hinges upon being people of the Book. The Bible records God’s mighty acts in its history, and shows us how to recognize his mighty acts in our own lives.
Gratitude Is Not a Curse
Thankfulness is a response to pleasure or to anticipated pleasure (which is a kind of pleasure all its own). Thankfulness is feedback elicited by satisfaction. It’s a fitting reaction to a beneficial action. The soul encounters goodness, and voilà: it reverberates and erupts with joyful expressions.
Thankfulness is an expression of the heart’s delight. Delight is not a burdensome chore. The grateful heart takes pleasure not only in the benefit but also in the benefactor. Note well that the grateful recipient understands that the benefactor was not obligated to provide the benefit; the provision was not owed to him. It’s all grace, all unearned, all undeserved. The grateful heart sees itself as a have-not who has just received from a have. The grateful heart swims in an ocean of grace, breathes air of grace, stands on grace-ground, and expresses appreciation for the gift and the giver.
We won’t thank God for his mighty acts if we don’t know them and remember them.
Though God receives our offerings, he isn’t looking for our outward offerings that give back to him what he gave us in the first place. We arrived on the scene with nothing to bring to God, nothing with which to impress him. As Paul tells Timothy, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world,” which is why “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6–7). Job expressed it this way: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
God is scanning us inwardly, looking for grateful hearts to accompany our offerings. He’s looking for such hearts, and he produces such hearts. That’s why we can speak of gratitude as being divinely given. (Remember again our working definition: Gratitude is the divinely given spiritual ability to see grace, and the corresponding desire to affirm it and its giver as good.)
Gratitude springs from the humility, brokenness, and contrition of heart that God does not despise (Ps. 51:17). Such heart-markers are always from him—and thus even more reason to be grateful.
This article is adapted from Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances by Sam Crabtree.
A believer’s contentment is not to be affected by circumstances, but firmly rooted in the good news of Christ and what he has accomplished for sinners.
If the contentment goes and the giving of thanks goes, we are not loving God as we should, and proper desire has become coveting against God.
There is a kind of thankfulness that is grateful not only for what isn’t but for what is. The Bible doesn’t exhort us merely to be thankful in everything, but for everything.
Why do we need suggestions on how to express gratitude? Shouldn’t a truly grateful heart just naturally overflow in expressing that gratefulness?