The Instinct of Gratitude
Somehow we all know that when we have been given a special something, gratitude is the right attitude.
From a very early juncture in every child’s life, parents will seek to include words of thanks on his or her list of key vocabulary phrases. Almost intuitively, we understand that saying “thank you” to other people is polite, that it is socially appropriate—that it is just right.
What is true for our interactions with other people is also true for our relationship with God: it is only right that we thank Him.
For everything that God has graciously given us, and for all who God is in His holiness and glory, we ought to acknowledge Him with thanksgiving. Such gratitude is an essential part of remembering what is true about ourselves and what is true about God. We need to be ever mindful that while we are wholly undeserving, God is richly generous.
Just like parents will rightly expect their children to be grateful, so God expects this from the creatures He made in His own image. Thanksgiving is commanded repeatedly in the Scriptures, such as in 1 Thessalonians 5:18,
Give thanks in all circumstances.
It is divinely commanded and ethically expected, but thanksgiving is also the increasingly instinctive response of a person who has been redeemed and renewed through Christ. One who has received much from God comes to delight in gratitude, and loves to show it to the Giver.
Indeed, a truly grateful response to God’s benevolence is more than an emotion, more than a passing feeling of appreciation. As far as feelings go, perhaps it is easy or natural for anyone to have a sentiment that borders on thankfulness. After a hearty meal or a productive day at work, it is simple to sit back and say, “Boy, I sure am thankful! I have definitely been blessed.” As a feeling, it is appropriate.
But where do we channel our surge of thankfulness? From our grateful heart, where does the response travel? Because of the nature of our hearts, the feeling rapidly dissipates, the emotion subsides, and the good things that have been granted are soon taken for granted.
And so we seek to develop and promote the God-given ability to give thanks in all circumstances. In doing so, we recognize that we are actually an ingrateful and discontent people by nature. Growth in gratitude requires putting to death our innate sense of entitlement and our habitual dissatisfaction, and requires increasing in our loving knowledge of God.
In speaking about gratitude like this, we recognize that we are not able to repay God for all his goodness toward us. This is what the Psalmist asks in Psalm 116:12 as he recounts how God mercifully delivered him from death,
What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?
What can I ever give to the One who has given so much? Of course I cannot reimburse Him, but I can praise Him.
Such is the awe-filled response of a person who has been given everything, even if our humble thankfulness to God can never be proportionate to His immense goodness toward us.
For our whole lives long, God desires that His children be filled with gratitude: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:17).