Thankfulness is a really important theme in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are simply prayers of thanksgiving.
The trouble for us is – we often have a problem with our perspective. We act as though our lives are the Big story and God’s story fits into ours. We all do it. It’s part of our humanity. We get obsessed with the details of our own lives and our focus gradually turns from God and onto ourselves.
We begin to try to make things happen for ourselves, trying to do stuff instead of receiving from God. Or we are so focussed on our problems or circumstances or business that we miss what God is doing in our lives.
We need help to keep looking to God. Thankfulness is a simple and helpful practice which really helps. It is not a new method or the latest idea but it is something the Bible has taught over centuries and many christians have made it a daily practice. Instead of reciting our list of requests we begin with thanks.
In Psalm 103 King David speaks to his soul, “forget not all his benefits”, many hymns take up this theme too. Why do we need reminding not to forget all that God has done for us? Isn’t it so incredible that we couldn’t possibly forget? Well Yes – and No. It is incredible but we do tend to lose sight of all the blessings we have in the light of other things that are going on for us. This is why it is so helpful for us to be reminded. What are those benefits that King David remembered?
- that God forgives all our iniquity
- he heals all our diseases
- he redeems our lives from the pit
- he crowns us with steadfast love and mercy
- he satisfies us with good
- our youth is renewed like the eagle’s
- He works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed etc
It’s all about God’s goodness towards us. It’s great to read it through thinking about how each of these phrases is true for us individually.
In Lamentations there are some very familiar verses:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lam.3:22)
Ask yourself what are those mercies that are new every morning? They can be as simple as I have breath in my lungs, food on the table, a roof over my head etc – things that we can take for granted. Since having had breast cancer I am so thankful to be healthy, to be alive, that I have lived to see my son marry. I am thankful for friends who love me and support me. But of course there is so much more than that. Every day we wake up loved by God. What a mercy that is! We should remind ourselves of this and all that God has done for us everyday.
The Bible encourages us to be thankful not just because God deserves our thanks but because thankfulness changes us too. It changes our focus. It is a great way to help get our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances. We need help don’t we? When we are bogged down in the everyday mundane things of life, when we experience pain and hardship, when we are really joyful and happy. Emotions overwhelm us at times and our gaze turns inward. There is a reason why the Bible so often encourages us to lift up our heads. It’s because we need to. It helps us gain a different perspective. To relocate our lives into His big picture, to be dependent on Him.
Thankfulness is also a good start if we are struggling to pray or don’t know how to pray – because we always have something to thank God for.
Psalm 104 tells us I will Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His courts with praise. In the ancient world the courts were the way into the Palace, where the King lives. Where He is. Thankfulness helps us to come into the presence of God. As we begin to thank Him, Praise for him begins to rise in our hearts.
Some practical ideas
Do you love lists? I do. Why not make lists of things you are thankful for. You can write a new list each day, each week or month. Whenever you do it, it is a great discipline to reflect on our lives and remember the things we are grateful for. How about starting a Gratitude Journal? You can do this in all sorts of ways to suit you. You don’t need to write paragraphs. You can write a list for every day. At the end of the day just spend a few minutes reflecting on your day and noticing the things you are thankful for.
You might want to use some prompts:
Today I am thankful for ………………
I felt joyful today when ……………
My favourite part of the day was …………….
You might want to take Psalm 36 as a template – take your list of things to be thankful for and after every line insert “for His love endures forever”.
Remember though, the point of the exercise is to use the list to help you give thanks to God. Don’t just make the list – use it to fuel your prayers.
Secular studies show that people are happier and healthier if they are thankful even if they don’t know who they are addressing their thanks to*. For us as Christians thankfulness holds so much more meaning and it is powerful. Being thankful reminds us that there is One to be thanked, whose love and goodness are always directed towards us whatever our circumstances might be and that He is worthy of all our praise and honour.