What Do You Say?

by Reggie Austin
Part of being a parent is teaching your young children how to navigate the world. Whether it’s learning to be kind to others or using the “magic word,” parents show their kids the right things to say and do, lessons their parents hope they take into adulthood. This requires diligence, patience, and many reminders by parents, as “folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). But it’s not just children who need regular reminders of what they ought to say and do; our hearts as adults are just as prone (if not more so) to wander.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In this call to gratitude, we are given a directive by God that should shape our lives as His children — be grateful! Gratitude marks the life of a Christian. If grateful is what we are called to be, how should we express it in our lives? More than just saying the right words, what does God want to teach us about gratitude?

To whom should we be grateful?

The “good Christian answer” is God, and of course, that’s correct. As the source and giver of all good gifts, thankfulness to God is always a proper response. But if we are called to a life of thanksgiving, there’s also ample opportunity to express gratitude to other people as well. When other people are kind or generous toward us, they are reflecting the giving nature of God. As such, it is right to appreciate how they image God in their actions.

When should we be grateful?

It’s tempting to only be thankful when we feel like it — when circumstances are lining up the way we hoped they would.  But Scripture calls us to something higher: we are to give thanks “in all circumstances.” That means there is no situation where giving thanks isn’t warranted. This does not mean we should ignore our sadness, pain, or disappointment. God does not call us to paper over our pain with superficial thanksgiving. We acknowledge bad things as bad things and appropriately weep and mourn. We’re not called to be thankful for all circumstances, but we are called to be thankful in all of them. In fact, it is only when we do acknowledge our pain and grief that we find ourselves in a place to give deep thanks. Only when we face up to our hardship will we realize what it means to be thankful that, for example,  Jesus is “with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Why should we be grateful?

The Bible says we should be thankful, and we need to be obedient to God. But the motivation for our thankfulness is not superficial. Thankfulness isn’t just God’s will for us, it’s His will for us. 1 John 5:3 says “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” Obedience to God’s commands isn’t the necessary requirement of dutiful subjects, but the lavish gift of blessing from a loving Father. It draws us closer to God’s loving heart which helps shape and change us for the better. Being thankful acknowledges that a need has been met. Regular expressions of gratitude are a reminder of the fact that our lives are meant to be ones of complete dependence on Him.

How should we be grateful?

Well, this one’s easiest of all. Just say thank you, right? Still, when you remind a child, “What do you say?,” the words aren’t nearly as important as the heart behind them. Scripture offers much instruction about a heart of gratitude:
  • Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Words should never be just words.
  • James 5:12 says you should “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.”
  • Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” What we say matters as does how we say it.
  • Colossians 4:6 says that our “speech should always be gracious.” What we say should be earnest and genuine and come from a heart that is full of the love of God, which in turn is expressed toward others in love and good works.
Gratitude is something that is easy to overlook and take for granted, but it is meant to be a blessing for others as well as for ourselves. For the Christian, it is more than just an annual one-day event. May we look for more opportunities in all our circumstances to put into practice a life of thanksgiving.