Jeremy Writebol gives us three reasons why praying before meals is a simple, ordinary, and powerful means of walking with Jesus every day.
As a child, Christmas Day was the one time of year I would gladly wake up early. My brother and I would slide down the banister (against my mother’s persistent commands not to) and race toward the Christmas tree. While we waited for my parents to wake up, we marveled at all the gifts, and we'd nudge the boxes to see if we could guess what was inside. I just knew Addy, the American Girl Doll I wanted, was waiting for me.
If I’m honest, Christmas was exciting because we knew we would get a lot of toys. And if we’re all honest, this is probably where our hearts naturally lean. We’re prone to focus more on what we can get rather than what we can give. But when the Bible talks about giving, it almost always places a strong emphasis on the heart of the giver and the blessing it is to give.
Even the world recognizes this truth, in some respects. Giving Tuesday is known as a global day of giving that seeks to “connect diverse groups of individuals, communities, and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving."
It’s wisely situated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and right in the mix of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was started, in part, as a response to the consumeristic nature that marks the holiday season. Though Giving Tuesday wasn't started as an explicitly Christian movement, it gets at the heart of Jesus’ words that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
THE BIBLICAL PRINCIPLE BEHIND GIVING TUESDAY
If that principle is true, then both giving and receiving are good things. But if you had to choose one, Scripture says it’s better to give.
Do we really believe this, though? Our natural inclination is to hold on to what God has given us. We may wrongly assume that because God has given us wisdom, wealth, or influence, those are ours to use for our comfort on this side of glory.
While our natural inclination may be to withhold, God has given us our time, talents, and treasures to be a blessing to others. When God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would be as vast as the stars in the sky, he ends his promise by saying “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through [him]” (Gen. 12:3).
God was not just blessing Abraham so that he would accrue wealth, status, and influence (although he did have those). God was blessing Abraham so that he would be a blessing to the world. God’s blessing Abraham was not an end in itself. It was the means by which God would bless others.
Giving Tuesday is beautiful in its attempt to fight against our natural inclination to get more during the holiday (and every) season. Instead of asking how we might get our children, spouse, or friends the latest and greatest gifts, maybe we should ask how we can give to those that can give nothing back to us? Perhaps we should be asking how we can serve, love, and care for those on the margins of our society? Giving Tuesday campaigns provide spaces to answer these questions and to turn our questions into actions in the context of community.
GIVING IN COMMUNITY
In the west, we often view giving as an individual act. In December, my husband and I write our end-of-the-year donations to the nonprofits we support, and we usually pray for their work during this time. This is good, appropriate, and necessary, but Giving Tuesday has challenged me in the communal effort and impact of giving.
Giving Tuesday emphasizes whole communities that are working together toward causes that impact their cities through their “community campaign." In Charlotte, NC, the SHARE Charlotte community campaign raised $7 million for 235 Charlotte nonprofits in 2017. There’s something beautiful about collaborative community efforts that seek to push back the effects of sin in small ways.
We see similar efforts in God’s Word. In 2 Cor. 8-9, Paul exhorts the churches in Corinth to continue to give their resources to the persecuted saints in Jerusalem. This petition was not an uncommon practice for Paul (see 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15; Rom. 15:25). Throughout his letters, we learn that Paul raised money among Gentile churches for Jewish believers. Paul's efforts were evidence of God’s grace to his people since they historically did not get along.
In the case of Paul’s letters, these were groups of people (local churches) that were giving together for the good of God’s people in other locations and the advancement of his Kingdom.
Furthermore, these examples show us there is more than one way to give. Some may provide financially, like the Corinthians church’s offering to the believers in Jerusalem. Others, like Paul, may give of their time by volunteering with an organization. And some may provide talents they have to offer.
Whether you are giving your time, talents, or treasures, what might it look like for our generosity to exceed writing individual checks at the end of the year to include tangibly working alongside others to help the weak?
WHERE GIVING TUESDAY FALLS SHORT
In the SHARE Charlotte Giving Tuesday campaign video, a woman said they wanted to give people an easy way to do good. Giving Tuesday is a good and noble cause, but it falls short where many good works that are done apart from Christ fall short.
God does not just care about what we do, he also cares about why we do it. It’s not enough to give our time, talents, and treasures. The motive behind our giving matters.
The motivation of the Christian’s giving should be different. We are generous stewards because Christ has been generous to us. The God of the universe, who was rich in every regard, generously made himself poor so that we might become rich. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9).
GIVING IS WHO WE ARE
If there ever was good work, this is it—Jesus Christ laying down your life for his people (John 15:13). So, when we give, it is not just out of a motivation to do good. When we are generous to others, it’s because the most magnificent and undeserved gift has been given to us—salvation in Jesus Christ. It is from this salvation that our generosity flows.
Because of what Christ has done for us, Christians give beyond Giving Tuesday. Giving is not just what we do; giving is who we are.
We give because of what, in Christ, has been given to us. We give because we know that it is better to give than to receive. We give because, he who did not spare his own Son will, in him, graciously give us all things (Rom 8:32).
SharDavia “Shar” Walker lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Paul. She serves on staff with Campus Outreach, an interdenominational college ministry, and enjoys sharing her faith and discipling college women to be Christian leaders. Shar is a writer and a speaker and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Christian Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“How’s Jesus treating you today?” I asked her, taking a seat at her bedside. Hospice had recently brought in a hospital bed to make it easier to help her in and out. That word—hospice—signaled to all of us that in the eyes of medicine, the end was near. It was just a matter of time.
To most people, it didn’t seem like Jesus was treating her well at all. But she saw things differently.
It took her a moment to answer. Her mind was alert, but her speech had been severely impaired by the pressure of the tumor in her brain. “I know Jesus loves me,” she said, “because he sent you to visit me.”
HUNGRY FOR GRACE
Amid suffering, her eyes had become finely attuned to recognize the grace of God. My friend was on her deathbed, yet she had the clearest sight of anyone I knew.
She was so hungry for grace that she was ready to recognize and receive any gift that came her way. She could easily have rejected the little gifts—like me of all things!—because they weren’t the gifts she really wanted (like healing and wholeness).
She had become adept at recognizing streams in the desert. Her context of disease, suffering, and impending death did not deaden—but rather, amplified—her ability to receive the grace God was lavishly pouring out on her. How is this possible?
HOW GRATITUDE IS CONNECTED TO SPIRITUAL HEALTH
In Romans 1, The Apostle Paul connects gratitude to spiritual health:
"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images" (Rom. 1:21-23, emphasis added)
Spiritual decay begins when God is no longer recognized as the gift giver. When we separate God from his gifts, the gifts eventually take his place. Ceasing to give thanks is the beginning of this long downward spiral away from God. Ingratitude leads to spiritual death.
On the other hand, gratitude leads to spiritual vitality. Show me a grateful person and I’ll show you someone who is growing spiritually. Gratitude—hunting for grace and saying “thank you” when you find it—is a discipleship issue. A life of following Jesus should be increasingly marked by gratitude.
THANKSGIVING IN THE CRUCIBLE
The first followers of Jesus took it as a given that discipleship is worked out in the furnace of suffering. Peter reminded his flocks to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Jesus himself promised a crucible, not a coddling, for those who follow him (see John 15:18-20).
This difficult setting for a life of discipleship isn’t obvious to all because a tension exists in our mind between gratitude and suffering. We find it difficult to believe that a young mother dying of cancer could find anything to be grateful for. We wonder at her ability to draw closer to her Savior at the same time she draws closer to her death.
Scripture, however, reminds us that gratitude best finds its meaning in the face of suffering. Thanksgiving regularly holds hands with lament, a reality understood by the psalmists. Over half of the psalms include lament—or giving voice to the reality that human life is regularly marked by the presence of suffering—such as:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).
In light of who God is—“my salvation and my God”—the downcast poet calls himself to hope amid turmoil, to rejoice amid tears, and to give thanks amid lament. Gratitude must come even, or perhaps especially, when it doesn’t make sense; a reality understood by Abraham Lincoln.
WHY THANKSGIVING IS CONNECTED TO LAMENT
On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the famous Thanksgiving Proclamation, marking the last Thursday of November as a national day of prayer and repentance. He wrote this proclamation at the height of the Civil War, within two weeks of one of the bloodiest battles in American History.
The juxtaposition of thanksgiving and tragedy doesn’t seem to make sense. But Lincoln understood the deep connection between gratitude and lament. He saw gratitude as lament’s counterbalance and knew that the way forward for a broken nation would somehow walk the narrow road between the two. Neither could be left out, for thanksgiving without lament would become naive optimism, and lament without thanksgiving would degenerate into hopeless cynicism.
Thanksgiving makes true lament possible because it anchors tragedy, brokenness, illness, pain, and suffering in the person of God. Without God, lament can never find resolution or meaning because it’s detached from an object: someone to whom we can lament. Thanksgiving is the formational practice of thanking that very same Person, providing a relational context where Godward lament makes sense.
A life of following Jesus is a life increasingly marked by gratitude. If you want to become more like Jesus, say “thank you” more often. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” wrote Paul (1 Thess. 5:18). But how?
The foundational work of thanksgiving is to hunt high and low for grace and, having found it, to say “thank you” for it. We can train ourselves to “give thanks in all circumstances” by implementing habits of gratitude, such as:
Say “thank you” more than “you’re welcome.” Jesus called his disciples to exercise hospitality toward those we wouldn’t normally invite to our table, especially those who can’t repay us (Luke 14:12-14). In this instance, it would be easy to see ourselves in the role of benefactors: giving freely from our abundance. But what if Jesus wanted us to see that even in our acts of generosity we should have eyes to see grace coming towards us rather than going out from us? Even in our generosity, God is the one extending undeserved grace to us: “…and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:14).
Say “thank you” for difficult things. God is constantly trying to train us to see his hand in all things. We are at risk of missing his work when we limit the ways we think he can act. That flat tire you had when you were already running late for work? Say “thank you.” The conflict at work that keeps you up at night? Say “thank you.” Could you even say “thank you” for a marriage on the rocks? For losing your job? For a cancer diagnosis? James would say so: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
Say “thank you” to others regularly. Write thank you cards. Speak words of affirmation. Making saying “thank you” a regular practice. As you practice saying thanking those around you, you will find yourself regularly on the hunt for grace in the lives of others. Not only that, but you will teach others to say “thank you” when they may never have thought to do so.
Keep a running “thank you” list and review it regularly. This is one of the easiest ways to train yourself to hunt for grace: every morning (or evening), write down at least one thing you’re grateful for. At family meals, rehearse aloud even the smallest graces of God—warm food, shelter, sleep, chocolate, good music, friends. Finding things to be grateful for in the mundane is the training ground for grateful disciples.
GRATEFUL FOR GOD’S GRACE
Gratitude is a recognition and affirmation of the grace of God. There can be no spiritual maturity without thankfulness.
As you pursue a life of discipleship, practice saying thank you in the mundane things, in the difficult things, and even in the unexpected situations. The Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to start.
May you find yourself—even when despair seems right—inadvertently and unconsciously “giving thanks in all circumstances” to a God who is constantly pouring his grace out on you.
Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.
What if God had more for our kin this Thanksgiving than the Macy’s parade, tryptophan-induced naps, and NFL football? What if we saw our gatherings with extended family not as a chance to check out, but as an opportunity for Christian mission? It should be good news to us that we don’t have to be Jedi-master evangelists to be agents of gospel advance among those whom we know best. In fact, it may be better if we’re not.
So before bellying up to this year’s turkey feast, here’s a few thoughts from a fellow bungler to help us think ahead and pray about how we might grow in being proxies for the gospel, in word and deed, among our families this Thanksgiving. These are some practical ideas for what it might mean to see ourselves as sent among our relatives. These suggestions are inspired by Randy Newman’s excellent book Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.
Sent on Thanksgiving
1) Pray ahead.
Begin praying for your part in gospel advance among extended family several days before gathering. And let’s not just pray for changes in them, but also pray for the needed heart changes in us — whether it’s for love or courage or patience or kindness or fresh hope, or all of the above.
2) Listen and ask questions.
Listen, listen, listen. Perhaps more good evangelism than we realize starts not with speaking but with good listening. Getting to know someone well, and specifically applying the gospel to them, is huge in witness. Relationship matters.
Ask questions to draw them out. People like to talk about themselves — and we should capitalize on this. And most people only enjoy talking about themselves for so long. At some point, they’ll ask us questions. And that’s our golden chance to speak, upon request.
One of the best times to tell the gospel with clarity and particularity is when someone has just asked us a question. They want to hear from us. So let’s share ourselves, and Jesus in us. Not artificially, but in genuine answer to their asking about our lives. And remember it’s a conversation. Be careful not to rabbit on for too long, but try to keep a sense of equilibrium in the dialogue.
3) Raise the gospel flag early.
Let’s not wait to get to know them “well enough” to start clearly identifying with Jesus. Depending on how extended our family is, or how long it’s been since we married in, they may already plainly know that we are Christians. But if they don’t know that, or don’t know how important Jesus is to our everyday lives, we should realize now that there isn’t any good strategy in being coy about such vital information. It will backfire. Even if we don’t put on the evangelistic full-court press right away (which is not typically advised), wisdom is to identify with Jesus early and often, and articulate the gospel with clarity (and kindness) as soon as possible.
No one’s impressed to discover years into a relationship that we’ve withheld from them the most important things in our lives.
4) Take the long view and cultivate patience.
With family especially, we should consider the long arc. Randy Newman is not afraid to say to Christians in general, “You need a longer-term perspective when it comes to family.” Chances are we do. And so he challenges us to think in terms of an alphabet chart, seeing our family members positioned at some point from letters A to Z. These 26 steps/letters along the way from distant unbelief (A) to great nearness to Jesus (Z) and fledgling faith help us remember that evangelism is usually a process, and often a long one.
It is helpful to recognize that not everyone is near the end of the alphabet waiting for our pointed gospel pitch to tip them into the kingdom. Frequently there is much spadework to be done. Without losing the sense of urgency, let’s consider how we can move them a letter, or two or three, at a time and not jerk them toward Z in a way that may actually make them regress.
5) Beware the self-righteous older brother in you.
For those who grew up in nonbelieving or in shallow or nominal Christian families, it can be too easy to slide into playing the role of the self-righteous older brother when we return to be around our families. Let’s ask God that he would enable us to speak with humility and patience and grace. Let’s remember that we’re sinners daily in need of his grace, and not gallop through the family gathering on our high horse as if we’ve arrived or just came back from the third heaven. Newman’s advice: “use the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ far more than ‘you’” (65).
6) Tell it slant.
Some extended family contexts may be so far from spiritual that we need to till the soil of conversation before making many direct spiritual claims. It’s not that the statements aren’t true or desperately needed, but that our audience may not yet be ready to hear it. The gospel may seem so foreign that wisdom would have us take another approach. One strategy is to “tell it slant,” to borrow from the poem of the same name — to get at the gospel from an angle.
“If your family has a long history of negativity and sarcasm,” writes Newman, “the intermediate step of speaking positively about a good meal or a great film may pave the way for ‘blinding’ talk of God’s grace and mercy” (67). Don’t “blind” them by rushing to say loads more than they’re ready for. As Emily Dickinson says, “The truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”
7) Be real about the gospel.
As we dialogue with family about the gospel, let’s not default to quoting Bible verses that don’t really answer the questions being asked. Let’s take up the gospel in its accompanying worldview and engage their questions as much as possible in the terms in which they asked them. Newman says, “We need to find ways to articulate the internally consistent logic of the gospel’s claims and not resort to anti-intellectual punch lines like, ‘The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.’”
Yes, let’s do quote Bible when appropriate — we are Christians owing ultimately to revelation, not to reason. But let’s not make the Bible into an excuse for not really engaging with their queries in all their difficulty. (And let’s not be afraid to say we don’t know when we don’t!)
8) Consider the conversational context.
Context matters. It doesn’t have to be face to face across the table to be significant. “Many people told me their best conversations occurred in a car — where both people faced forward, rather than toward each other,” says Newman. “Perhaps the indirect eye contact posed less of a threat” (91). Maybe even sofas and recliners during a Thanksgiving Day football game, if the volume’s not ridiculous. Be mindful of the context, and seek to make yourself available for conversation while at family gatherings, rather than retreating always into activities or situations that are not conducive to substantive talk.
9) Know your particular family situation.
In some families, the gospel has been spoken time and again in the past to hard hearts, perhaps there has been a lack of grace in the speaking, and what is most needed is some unexpected relational rebuilding. Or maybe you’ve built and built and built the relationship and have never (or only rarely) clearly spoken the message of the gospel.
Let’s think and pray ahead of time as to what the need of hour is in our family, and as the gathering approaches pray toward what little steps we might take. And then let’s trust Jesus to give us the grace our hearts need, whether it’s grace for humbling ourselves enough to connect relationally or whether it’s courage enough to speak with grace and clarity.
10) Be hopeful.
God loves to convert the people we think are the least likely. Jesus is able to melt the hardest of hearts. Some who finished their lives among the greatest saints started as the worst of sinners.
Realistically, there could have been some cousin of the apostle Paul sitting around some prayer meeting centuries ago telling his fellow believers, “Hey, would you guys pray for my cousin Saul? I can’t think of anyone more lost. He hunts down followers of The Way and arrests them. Just last week, he was the guy who stood guard over the clothes of the people who killed our brother Stephen.” (53)
With God, all things are possible. Jesus has a history of conquering those most hostile to him. We have great reason to have great hope about gospel advance in our families, despite how dire and dark it may seem.
When We Fail
And when we fail — not if, but when — the place to return is Calvary’s tree. Our solace in failing to adequately share the gospel is the very gospel we seek to share. It is good to ache over our failures to love our families in gospel word and deed. But let’s not miss that as we reflect on our failures, we have all the more reason to marvel at God’s love for us.
Be astonished that his love is so lavish that he does not fail to love us, like we fail to love him and our families, and that he does so despite our recurrent flops in representing him well to our kin.
This week until Thanksgiving, everyone will be talking about thankfulness, so it’s especially important to ensure we understand it from a biblical perspective. Scripture has plenty to say on this subject. Among other things, it tells us that thankfulness is deeper, louder, and more dangerous than we might think.
Designed by God
Thankfulness goes much deeper than we might think. It’s not a human idea. In fact, it was in the Creator’s mind when he created. The Apostle Paul says food was created by God “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth . . . ” and then immediately goes on to broaden this out to ‘everything’ God created (1 Tim. 4:3-4). This is a massive theological claim. God created corn on the cob, steak, pasta, avocados (dare we say even brussel sprouts and liver?) with a specific purpose in mind: that they would be received and then result in thanksgiving flowing back to him. Even a grape and a tangerine can lead a purpose-driven life. Who knew that baby carrots and barbecue ribs and escargot had a telos? They do. So do sunsets and flowers and rain, and good conversations and sweet sleep. God intended them to produce thanksgiving. Thankfulness is the God-designed follow-through to God-given blessing.
Giving thanks to God is living along the grain of the universe, savoring God’s creation in sync with the Creator. It’s one of the very best ways of bringing glory to God (2 Cor. 4:15). On the other hand, enjoying a meal or conversation or movie without feeling thanks to God is a tragic exercise in missing the point. It’s a waste, like using a laptop as a paperweight. It’s a damaging mistake, like using a light bulb as a hammer.
Meant to Be Overheard
Thankfulness can be silent and personal. But very often it ought to be loud enough to be heard by others. Thankfulness wants to point others toward God. And it wants to be a group activity. “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!” Thankfulness is much happier when someone else can say “Amen” (1 Cor. 14:16-17).
In John 11, God (the Son) gives thanks to God (the Father). Jesus stands before the tomb of Lazarus and prays aloud, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” He then continues praying, stating to God why he said just thanks out loud: “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” In other words, Jesus gives thanks to God aloud because he wants the other people present to overhear his thanksgiving and believe in God and in his mission. That’s the whole point. Thankfulness is meant to point others toward God.
In Acts 27, the Apostle Paul is sailing for Rome as a prisoner. The ship he’s traveling on gets caught and driven along in a storm for many days, the crew frantically throwing all the cargo overboard. Finally, they approach land and spend a long night in the dark, anchors down. In the morning, here’s what happens: “Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. It will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.’ And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.”
I love this little phrase “. . . And giving thanks to God in the presence of all . . . ” It had been fourteen days since Paul had eaten! He must have been starving. Here was bread in his hands, finally. But he paused and prayed. He gave thanks “in the presence of all”—clearly meaning for these sailors to learn something about God and about the purpose of food. Paul was living with the grain of the universe, going vertical with thanks, and doing it loud enough for others to hear.
But thankfulness can be dangerous. It’s striking that in the famous story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), the one who’s recorded as expressing thankfulness is the Pharisee. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Of course, this isn’t true thankfulness. True thankfulness is a posture of great humility before God the giver. The Pharisee is using his supposed thankfulness in order to puff himself up. He’s taking something designed to make much of God and instead using it to make much of himself. His thankfulness is false cover for his pride. The spotlight operator has turned the spotlight from the stage and is now standing, lit up with ludicrous glory, on the balcony. Pathetic and bizarre. God is clearly not pleased with this perversion of thankfulness. He rejects the Pharisee.
But lest we run too quickly to judgment . . . have we ever used thankfulness amiss? Have we ever publicly thanked God for an accomplishment and in so doing, wished for the accomplishment to be known more than the One we’re thanking? Have we ever tweeted “Thankful to God that my new article . . . my most recent speaking engagement . . . my kids . . . ” and mainly used our thankfulness to announce our latest achievement? Maybe? Just saying. How easy it is for the spotlight to turn from the stage to the stage hand.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for thankfulness, thankful that God has built it into the fabric of the universe, maximizing both his glory and our joy as we live in sync with his design.
Stephen Witmer is Pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, MA and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of the forthcoming Eternity Changes Everything: How to Live Now in the Light of Your Future (Good Book Company). Follow him on Twitter: @stephenwitmer1.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Give Thanks Because God Redeems Us From Trouble
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 City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Unbelievable Gospel, and Raised? 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