Tip #4 in our series “Cultivating wellbeing in a church community”

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever.”
Psalm 136:1

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“…rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” 
Colossians 2:7

Suffering is not a good thing, so we don’t thank God for it. But even in the midst of such trials we can gratefully remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus and that we have spiritual blessings that ever remain.

That means that thankfulness and lament can sit together.

Thankfulness is part of the DNA of a Christian believer. We are people who say thank you to God for his blessings in the past and the way he continues to bless us each day. The bible is filled with the language of gratitude and thankfulness to God.[1]

But thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Perhaps we’re a bit like the Israelites after they had left Egypt. Despite the fact that they had been rescued, they grumbled and complained. God provided the food and drink they needed for each day, but their thoughts turned to what they didn’t have – the cucumbers, melons, onion and garlic that had been available in the land of their captivity.[2]

Thanklessness is a spiritual problem. In Romans 1 we find a great catalogue of human wrongdoing. But underlying them all, says the apostle Paul, is a failure to give thanks to God.[3]

Perhaps this is why we find so many encouragements to be thankful in the bible. Maybe we need to be reminded with expressions like, “in all circumstances”, “always”, “overflowing”. 

Secular research has found that being thankful and expressing gratitude is good for us.[4] It changes neural pathways in the brain. Studies have shown that if you write down three things you are thankful for each day, after four weeks your mood will have improved, and after six weeks your brain rewires so that you are naturally noticing the positive things in your life. Rather than noticing that you have no cucumber or garlic, you notice the pink frangipani, the beautiful tree, the food on the table, a roof over your head, the sunshine … and you give thanks. The secular research commends gratitude; Christian faith thanks the one who richly provides such blessing and goodness.

Notice that the words in the verse from 1 Thessalonians are not “for all circumstances,” but “in all circumstances”. There are times in life that are sad and difficult, when we are grief stricken and want to lament. Suffering is not a good thing, so we don’t thank God for it. But even in the midst of such trials we can gratefully remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus and that we have spiritual blessings that ever remain.

That means that thankfulness and lament can sit together. We may struggle to find words, but we can turn to the Psalms for assistance.[5] When we are in that pit or dark valley and tears stream down our faces, we can turn to these words and use them as prayers to our God. And also still thank him for the blessings that are ours that cannot be lost.

Churches filled with thankful people are attractive places. They will be places where joy and delight are expressed. They will be places where people will be drawn to find out more about Jesus and God’s story of salvation.

Cultivating the habit of thankfulness in your churches: 

  • Write down three things each day that you can give thanks to God for over.  After a month, start increasing this number to five, then ten. It’s all about noticing those little blessings in your life.
  • Each day thank God for your salvation.[6]
  • Uses verses in Scripture to remind yourself of what God has done for you that you can respond to with thankfulness.[7]
  • Ask others, “What are you thankful for?”
  • When meeting in small groups, ask the question: “What are you thankful for today or in the last week?”
  • Write down some prayers that will help you give thanks to God[8] and use them in your prayer time.
  • Encourage your church to preach on thankfulness. 

[1] For example: Psalm 100, 103, 136, 145-150, Colossians 3:15,17, Ephesians 5:20.

[2] See Numbers 11

[3] “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him….” Rom 1:21

[4] See Editorial, ‘Gratitude – more than just a platitude? The science behind gratitude and health’ British Journal of Health Psychology 2019, 24, 1-9.

[5] For example: Psalms 27,28, 30, 31, 34, 63, 86.

[6] Here is an example:

Gracious God,
I humbly thank you for all your gifts so freely given to me,
for life and health and safety,
for power to work, leisure to rest,
and for all that is beautiful in creation and human life.
But, above all, I praise you
for our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
for his death and resurrection,
for the gift of your Spirit,
and for the hope of sharing in your glory.
Fill my heart with all joy and peace in believing
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

[7] Here is an example:

“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

[8] Here are some examples:

“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendour and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head overall. Riches and honour come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.” 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 

“O Lord, to you we give thanks. Your wondrous works proclaim that you are among us in all your glory.  The revelation of your name as the ever present “I AM” declares that you are always near. So, let us bless The Lord. Let all that is within us bless his holy name. Let our souls bless The Lord and never forget any of His benefits.  (Ps 75:1, Ex 3:14, Ps 103:1,2)

We praise you, O Lord, for glorifying you is the most important thing we can do. Praise is pleasant, a beautiful thing for the upright. In every way it is good to give thanks to you, our Covenant Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O Most High God. We will proclaim your covenant love in the morning and your faithfulness every night. We shall exalt you, our God the King.  We will bless your name forever and ever.  Every day we will bless you. We will constantly pour forth every memory we have of your great goodness, and joyfully sing of your righteousness. (Ps 147:1, 92:1,2, 145:1,2,7) Matthew Henry 1710

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