Are you characterized as a thankful person?

When you get to heaven, what will be the first words out of your mouth? I suspect for most of us it will be something along the lines of “thank you.” Two words. Two syllables.

The words “thank you” encompass what volumes have been written about for 2000 years. The words “thank you” express the nearly inexpressible. Sometimes less is more and “thank you” sums it up well.

A thanksgiving story

Luke tells us the story of ten lepers who needed healing. They came to the Savior to be healed of a dreaded disease. The Savior responded with love, compassion, and practical help.

Though they were decimated by sin, He was willing to love them by healing them (Romans 5:8). He asked them to go and show themselves to the priests and if they would do this, they would be healed. They went on their way to the priests and while they were in process, they were healed. The text says:

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” – Luke 17:15-18 (ESV)

Worship expectation

When we get to heaven I think the Savior will expect us to have grateful hearts. In the text above, He ties gratitude to a form of praising God. Like hydrogen and oxygen are two components of water, gratitude for God and praising to God are two inseparable expressions of our worship of God.

The Father expects gratitude to be part of our worship. Is this true for you? His expectation is not just a linear “thank you” which spills out when we think about what He did for us. Gratitude is the ontological disposition for any Christian.

Let me explain.

If you fill a cup with water and then bump it, some of the water will spill out of the cup. This is what I mean by an “ontological disposition for any Christian.” Gratitude is not only in us, but it is who we are. Jiggle us a little bit and gratitude spills out of our mouths. This is something the non-Christian cannot possess or express. Authentic, God-satisfying thanksgiving is born in the Christian heart.

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. – Romans 1:21 (ESV)

We cannot withhold gratitude for God because of His great work through the cross. This is the kind of heart disposition the Savior expects from those who have been healed by Him (Luke 17:11-18).

The first words out of the mouth of the newly born Christian are, “Thank you.” When a dead man is brought to life, he opens his eyes for the first time and expresses gratitude for what was done to him.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. – Ephesians 2:1-5 (ESV)

From the point of regeneration forward, the Christian is empowered to not only understand what happened to him, but he is now able to live a life of grateful response to God’s great work in his life. His life becomes characterized by gratitude.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:15 (ESV)

On this Thanksgiving day, it would be good to self-assess our gratitude to God and for the life He has given us thus far.

  • Are you a grateful person?
  • Is there anything in your life which has mitigated your gratitude?

This may be hard for some–especially if relationships are challenging or other disappointments are vying for your soul. Though gratitude and thanksgiving are born out of the empowering grace of God in a person’s life, our situational challenges can overcome grace and suck the gratitude out of us.

Being controlled

I love sports.

A lot!

I watch sports whenever I can, though it is not much any more. I typically listen to some sports podcasts each day. Certain ESPN shows have become my Monday – Friday companions. I also have a “sport’s ticker” which comes across my phone so I can keep up with certain teams.

One of the more common observations I have seen with sports fans is how the ups and downs of their team(s) can control their thinking and emotions.

If their team is winning, they are generally positive. With some fans, when their team is not winning they are not happy. I understand why they respond the way they do. Vacillating sporting events can cause vacillating visceral responses.

The sport’s fan is motivated and controlled by something which is outside of his ability to manage. He is controlled by his team and his responses are consistent with the ups and downs of his favorite team.

Christians are similar to sport’s fans in that we are controlled by the ups and downs of something which is outside of our ability to manage. The difference is there are never any downs because Christ is always the victor. Jesus is always providing overcoming grace. The Father is always ruling over us. The Spirit is always comforting and empowering. And the Bible is always guiding us.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)

Victory is always assured for the Christian. This kind of assurance does not negate disappointment. Gratitude does not replace pain and suffering, but it can be an antidote for pain and suffering. In fact, it is gratitude and thanksgiving which comes to our aid when we are not getting everything we want in life.

Isn’t this one of the most remarkable things about the martyrs throughout church history. As you read such books as Foxes Book of Martyrs, you cannot help but be struck by the gratitude and thanksgiving God’s children offered to Him, even while being executed.

Gratitude and thanksgiving, born out of the Gospel, is an amazing experience for the Christian and an affirmation of the power of God.

Expressions of gratitude will be our primary eternal response when we get to heaven. Shouts of “worthy is the Lamb” will come from all those gathered around the throne of God, as we see and experience Him who died for us. How could it be otherwise?

One of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you…

Then I looked, and I heard…[many]…saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” – Revelation 5:5-12 (ESV)

Transcending suffering

Some may respond with, “We’re not in heaven yet.” Or, “You don’t know my story.” I do understand because I have experienced the hurtful realities of sin and have been tempted to despair.

I am no different from you. I am not in heaven yet. And I am a sinful man, living among other sinful people, in a sinful world. This is a triune combination which necessitates pain and suffering. There are times in our lives when gratitude is hard to muster, particularly in times of sorrow and grief.

Still yet, Christians should be characterized by something which transcends what is happening to our earth-tethered lives. You will have episodes of despair. We all do. But this should not be how we are generally characterized.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)

Let me make a gentle appeal: If you have been raised with Christ, then you are directed to set your affections on things which are not on this earth. Despair is real. So is the grace of God.

There have been many nights where I prayed to God through bitter tears. There seemed to be no end to the pain and disappointment. Still yet, I prayed, voicing my hurt and my hope to the one who gave His all for me.

When moments of adversity come we must seek to cooperate with the Spirit of God as we try to appropriate His grace to our situation. In time, gratitude will displace the despair. This will not come easy. This will take time. But it will come to any hurting heart who is looking for the LORD’s grace in times of trouble.

The non-regenerated person does not have our options. He has only one reality, only one perspective, and only one life. The Christian has two realities, two perspectives, and two lives–the temporal and the eternal.

The Christian is not only living here, but he has been born for another place. He has another experience the non-regenerated man cannot perceive or experience (2 Corinthians 2:14). We have an answer. We know the solution. He is Christ–the only person who was able to transcend the suffering in our world.

Our call as children of God is to make sure our hearts are oriented by a Gospel of gratitude, while seeking to serve others who are currently tempted toward despair.

  • Would you say your normal disposition is a disposition of gratitude?
  • Perhaps you work in a team environment. Ask your peers how they generally experience you. Would they characterize you as a grateful person?
  • Take some time during this season to ask your friends or maybe your spouse if they generally see you as a person of gratitude.
  • If you have children, will you lead them in a few wonderful conversations about their perception of you? Ask them to share their thoughts regarding your gratitude.

Per chance you are not characterized as a person of gratitude. If so, then you have some wonderful, soul-searching opportunities ahead of you.

The Gospel and gratitude

A grateful person has a right understanding of the Gospel. If I really understand this truth: God, in eternity past, thought about my depraved condition and then constructed a plan to rescue me from death and destruction, then I should be affected by His story.

If you are a Christian, then you are in the Gospel story. Though you may feel as though you are living in another narrative at this moment, it is not true. You are living in one story and it is His story–the one He is writing for you and me.

God is working His plan of redemption in our lives. It is important for us to regularly reorient our minds back to the Gospel. Christ died for us and we are safely secure in Him. Whatever is assailing us today will not overcome us. Let these five words define and motivate your gratitude: Christ died for my sins.

Application questions

  1. Are you generally amazed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
  2. Will you list four or five ways you practically and specifically remind yourself of the Gospel on a daily basis?
  3. Are you regularly controlled by your Gospel-motivated gratitude?
  4. How often do you generally express gratitude to God?
  5. How aware are your family and friends of your gratitude for the Gospel?
  6. Will you take some time today to talk about the content of this article?
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About Rick Thomas (Team Member)

Rick is an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. He has been encouraging and training Christians since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization in order to encourage and equip people for more effective living. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. Later he earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Today his organization reaches people globally through training, blogging, podcasting, counseling, and coaching. His cyber home is RickThomas.Net.

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