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Contemporary Issues 
"Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude to God"

by Rev Jack Sin 
(Pastor, Maranatha B-P Church)
 
Introduction

In the Old Testament both the language and the concept of thanksgiving are prevalent in the lives of the Hebrews as they are constantly reminded of God. We are often forgetful of the goodness of God. Ingratitude reared its ugly head when, after the exodus, Israel grumbled again and again about the food and harsh conditions (Num11) rather than thanking God for His deliverance and for manna that literally fell from heaven, the shoes that did not wear out, the water from the rock and supplied their physical needs.

The laws for thank offering could be seen as God’s reminders to check Israel’s failures to give thanks. The thank offering was one type of peace or fellowship offering within the sacrificial system of the Mosaic covenant. Distinct from the sin and guilt offerings, they were a part of the peace offering, ordained to express gratitude to the Lord for any deliverance, any act of love (Lev 7:11–16; Ps 107:21–22). Even apart from the sacrificial system on thanksgiving, the Psalmist and wise Solomon encourages gratitude for God’s material provision and exposes the folly of greed, discontentment and ingratitude (Ps 104:15–28; Ecc 5:8–6:9).

Thanksgiving by the Covenant People of God

Thanksgiving is seen throughout the book of Psalms. Consider "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good" is a common refrain (Ps 106:1; 118:1; 136:1). Some Psalms specify a reason, linking thanksgiving with acts of love and worship, exhorting worshippers to glorify God with thanksgiving (Ps 69:30), come before him with thanksgiving (Ps 95:2), enter his gates with thanksgiving (Ps 100:4), sing to the Lord with thanksgiving (Ps 147:7). Perhaps surprisingly, many cries for aid and laments conclude with thanksgiving (individual cries for help in Ps 7:17; 28:7; 35:18; 52:9; 54:6; 86:12; communal cries in Ps 79:13; 106:47).

The books of Chronicles and Nehemiah often mention thanksgiving, as in the temple and the offerings and songs that rise from it to God a sweet savour sacrifice. For example, when David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the people sing Psalms that call Israel to give thanks again and again (1 Chr 16:4, 7, 8, 34, 35, 41). David also appointed Levites whose special task is to thank God morning and evening in the temple (1 Chr 23:30), and he thanked God as his life ended, exhorting the people to join him in giving to the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Chr 29:13–20). His life is one of grateful praise and thanks to his Jehovah God.

Gratitude in the hearts of redeemed and justified men is foundational for covenant life in the Old Testament. The law rested upon gratitude and love to Jehovah for God’s redeeming work, not on coercion and punishment. As God said to Israel through Moses, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage." By that deliverance, Israel became the Lord’s treasured possession.

Thanksgiving in the Early Church

In the New Testament the exhortation for thanksgiving and gratitude was given by both our Lord and the apostles. Thanksgiving should be an abiding motive for Christian life and conduct, an attitude towards both the blessings and trials of life, a central part of prayer, and the context for the proper use of material things.

In the Gospels and Acts thanksgiving most often occurs in prayer over a meal, (ie saying grace) such as the feeding of the multitudes (Matt 15:36; Mark 8:6; John 6:11, 23) or at the Last Supper (Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17,19). Yet the multitudes that surrounded Jesus often repeated Israel’s sin at the exodus, by gobbling up the bread Jesus multiplied and enjoying his miracles without expressing gratitude (John 6:22–24).

Paul thanked God for his final meal on the shipwrecked boat that took him to Malta (Acts 27:35). Our Lord Jesus Christ also thanked His heavenly Father for hearing his prayer (Matt 11:25; Luke 10:21) and to raise Lazarus (John 11:41). In the worship scenes of Revelation, the heavenly hosts give thanks to God for creating all things (Rev 4:9–11) as well as redeeming chosen men of all humanity (5:9–14).

The Gospels introduce and the Epistles develop the concept that gratitude for God’s deliverance in Christ characterises the believer. When an immoral woman interrupted a conversation to anoint Jesus with precious ointment, Jesus told his host that her action sprang from gratitude for forgiveness (Luke 7:40–47). When Jesus healed ten lepers as they walked to the temple, he marveled that only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him though 10 were healed (Luke 7:11–19). Do we remember to give thanks to the Lord when He bless us? Paul asserts that believers should be thankful for every individual provision and that gratitude for God’s saving grace envelops the entire Christian life. Those whom God has brought from death to eternal life should offer their bodies to Him as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:13). In view of God’s mercies, knowing they were bought at a price, they are exhorted by Paul to give of themselves to God as living sacrifices and honour Him with purity and holiness (Rom 12:1; 1 Cor 6:20). Those who have received a glorious heritage from God should be thankful, worship God, and faithfully endure the hardships of tribulation and trust God for his deliverance (Heb 12:28, 29).

A general attitude of thanksgiving in both the trials and blessings of life distinguishes the Christian from unbelievers. Paul enjoins his churches to give thanks for all things, in all circumstances(Eph 5:20; 1 Thess 5:18), even in suffering (Rom 5:3–5; James 1:1–4), and to do everything in the name of Jesus out of a spirit of gratitude (Col 3:17). On the other hand, thanklessness marks godless and wicked men who suppress the truth about God (Rom 1:18–21).

Believers retain joy and peace especially when, "in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to make their requests known to God" (Phil. 4:6–7). Thanksgiving is a central component of prayer for Paul. He prays that his churches will be thankful (Col 1:12), and gives thanks in turn for answered prayer, especially for the extension of the gospel and the strength of his churches (2 Cor 4:15). Paul begins most of his letters (with a few exceptions) with expressions of thanksgiving to God for the church or individual to which he writes. The thanksgiving usually leads to a prayer, and the two together introduce Paul’s themes for the letter. For example, Paul thanks God for the faith and testimony of the Roman believers (Rom 1:8), for His grace given to the Corinthians so that they lack no spiritual gift (1 Cor 1:4–7) and for the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:3–5; see also 1 Thess 1:2–3; 2 Thess 1:3–4).

A legalistic asceticism has afflicted some (1 Tim 4:1–3) and led toward thanklessness and discontentment (Rom 1:21; 2 Tim 3:2). Believers, on the contrary, ought to give thanks for all material things, and consecrate them with prayer (1 Tim 4:4–5). No food or drink, no created thing is unclean in itself; all are good if used with thanksgiving, to the glory of God from a grateful heart (Rom 14:1–6; 1 Cor 10:30–31). Saying grace each time before we eat our meal is a good spiritual exercise that is not to be done in a mechanical and hundrum manner but with sincere and appreciative hearts from all of God’s provision for us which is often taken for granted. Let us give thanks in all things, to the praise and glory of God.

Conclusion

Remember the song "Count Your Blessings, name them one by one, count your blessing see what God has done. Pause for a moment and begin to recall God’s faithfulness to you and your manifold blessings today. Be amazed at the bountiful goodness of our gracious and loving Almighty God in your life all these years. It is edifying to give thanks verbally or in a testimony publicly or in a written form as in an article or sharing and express it tangibly in a thanksgiving offering and regular tithing in worship to the Lord every week from your heart in His sanctuary (Luke 8:38, 1 Cor 9:7). Be filled with a heart of appreciation and thanksgiving to the Lord like the Samaritan who returned thanks to Christ who truly deserve our honour, praise, worship and adoration for who He is and for what He has done for us.


 
 
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