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Why Give Thanks?

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble.  – Psalm 107:1-2

Psalm 107 doesn’t begin by marshaling reasons to thank God. Rather, the worshipper leads off with gratitude: “Oh give thanks to the LORD!” Bubbling over before the Lord, he enjoins us to worship with him. Sometimes we find it difficult to be spontaneously grateful to God. Complaining comes more naturally. Fortunately, the Psalmist gives us specific reasons we should give thanks to God. Two big reasons we should be grateful to God are: 1) Because he is good and 2) Because his goodness overflows.

Give Thanks Because He is Good

The first reason for giving thanks to God is because he is good. You might be thinking, “You don’t know how much bad I’ve experienced this year.” Hold on. Notice the writer doesn’t say give thanks because of what God has done. Rather, we are to give thanks because God, in his essence, is good. We have to get our attention off of ourselves to see it. What does it mean for God to be good? His goodness can refer to his moral excellence, an inherent goodness. We thank him because he is the origin and fountain of goodness. In fact, apart from God being the source of good, we wouldn’t know and experience the good. We would have no basis for delighting in the good done by our children or praising the character of a public servant saying, “That was good.” God gives us a reason for goodness—himself—and as a result we have a moral compass. We can discern between good and bad and delight in what is good.

Goodness can also refer to God’s beauty. This meaning of goodness refers to the superior quality of his goodness. When a mountain top view of moving film is particularly striking, we will say: “That was very good” or perhaps “Awesome.” Beauty calls out awe. God’s innate goodness isn’t just morally laudable; it’s aesthetically provoking. His glory furnishes us with a sense of beauty, an aesthetic witness that says, yes, there are things that are truly beautiful because there is a God of beauty. Elsewhere the psalmist tells us: “Out of Zion the perfection of beauty, God, has shone forth” (50:1). We should thank God because He is morally good and aesthetically good, both virtuous and beautiful. He has left us a moral compass and an aesthetic witness.

Give Thanks Because His Goodness Overflows

With God’s goodness in view, why can we give thanks for his goodness? Because God’s goodness overflows. God is so good he can’t contain himself. He has to overflow his goodness in an expression of everlasting love. Not only do we get morality and beauty from his goodness, but we also receive love. Through his love he imparts his goodness to us. We know he is good because he is good to us. So, we thank him, not just because he is good in abstract glory, but also because he is good to us in concrete ways. How is he good to us? Through his never-ending love. His goodness isn’t a side hug or a splash of affection. It is a continual, never-stopping, never-giving up, always and forever love (thanks, Sally-Lloyd Jones). A never-ending fountain. He loves you. He loves us, with love inexhaustible. Now you may think you are unlovable, but the goodness of God transcends the mess of your life. You may say, “Oh, you don’t know my life. God can’t really love me.” Or, “You don’t know how many mistakes I made this year.” It simply isn’t true, his steadfast love endures forever; it extends beyond anything you’ve ever done. Instead of asking: “Can he love me?” We should ask: “How can I get under his love?”

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble. – Psalm 107:2

It’s the redeemed that can sing of God’s goodness and love. How can we get under his fountain of love? We become one of the redeemed. How are we redeemed? Not by being moral, not by being good. We get redeemed and loved by actually giving our badness to God. Like the Israelites, we return from exile. We open up honestly and say to him: “I’m bad, I’m actually worse than I really know, and I’m an offense to you in your never-ending goodness. Forgive me and take my badness. Take it in exchange for your goodness, the goodness that overflows to me in Jesus.” We get under the fountain of God’s love by walking under it with Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Romans 8:38 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” How do we get under God’s goodness? By faith in Jesus, God becomes good for us. He is good, and he overflows in never-ending love for all who hope in Jesus. So, we give thanks to God because he is good. And he is good, not just as a basis for morality or an object of spiritual adoration, but in the gift of his goodness through the gospel, through the good news that God takes our badness in exchange for his goodness, our deformity for his beauty, our imperfection for his perfection in Jesus.

The Redemption of Thanksgiving

Why should we be filled with gratitude to God? Because he redeems us from trouble. The redemption here isn’t individualistic with God redeeming little individuals from little troubles all over the world. No, his redemption is corporate. God is redeeming a people, a community. He says: “And gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (Psalm 107:3). Historically, this is a reference to God rescuing Israel from exile. And yet, he’s continuing this gathering through Jesus, people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language (Rev 5:9) and this people is the church. When God redeems; he gathers. He redeems us into a community. He converts us not just to the Head but to the Body. God redeems, not individuals but a people, a community that joyfully shares in their redemption, giving thanks for their Redeemer. He redeems us from trouble into a new community. As you consider God’s goodness, don’t forget to see it overflowing in the community around you. The church is his gift to us, and though awkward at times (because we are awkward at times), God’s people remind us of God’s redeeming grace. Pause to look back and look around you to consider the ways he has redeemed you and others from trouble. Often we see him redeem us from our trouble by sending us a community who reveals God’s goodness to us by buying us groceries when we cannot afford them, being supported through grief, pointed to Jesus in our sin, encouraged about our growth, prayed for and loved.

Gratitude is not complete until it is expressed. I can be grateful for my wife in my heart, but if she never hears it, she never benefits. Express your gratitude with words. Like a fountain, like God, gratitude for goodness should overflow. Take some time to call, email, or text someone today to point out the goodness of God in their lives. Thank or encourage a friend, someone from your church family, or a relative. Most of all, pause and give thanks to God. Give thanks to God because he is good–morally, aesthetically, and redemptively. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!

Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter: @Jonathan_Dodson

For more work from Jonathan on thinking through the implications of the gospel in our everyday lives, check out Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson. It is now also available in print.

For more free articles on the gospel and holidays, read: Against Transactional Sanctification by Bill Streger and 8 Ways to Fight Consumerism by Hugh Halter.