When you get to heaven, what will be the first words out of your mouth? I suspect it will be something along the lines of “thank you” for many of us. Two words. Two syllables. Are you practicing today what you’ll be saying throughout eternity?
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The words “thank you” encompass what volumes of Christians have 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, hoping that He would heal them of a dreaded disease. Jesus responded with love, compassion, and practical help.
Though sin had decimated them, He was willing to love His new friends by healing them (Romans 5:8). He asked them to go and show themselves to the priests, and if they did this, they would experience healing. They believed and went on their way to the priests, and while they were in process, healing came. The text says it this way.
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
When we get to heaven, there will be an uninhibited response to be grateful. In the text above, Luke ties gratitude to a form of praising God. Like hydrogen and oxygen are two components of water, gratefulness for God and praise 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” that spills out when you think about what He did for you. Gratitude is the ontological disposition for any Christian. Let me explain.
If you fill a cup with water and bump it, some of the water will spill out of the container. This illustration 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 possibility is something the non-Christian cannot possess or express. Authentic, God-satisfying thanksgiving comes out of Christian hearts.
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
You cannot withhold gratitude for God because of His great work through the cross. This attitude is the kind of heart disposition the Redeemer 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 God brings a dead man to life, he opens his eyes for the first time and expresses gratitude for what the good Lord did to him.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sin. 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
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
Is there anything in your life that has mitigated your gratitude? This question may be hard for some folks–especially if relationships are challenging or other disappointments are vying for domination in your soul. Though gratitude and thanksgiving are born out of the empowering grace of God in a person’s life, situational challenges can overcome grace while sucking gratefulness out of you.
I love sports. A lot! Or, at least I used to enjoy them. I would watch games whenever I could. I typically listened to sport’s podcasts each day. I currently have a “sport’s ticker” on my phone so I can keep up with certain teams. This new strategy is better because I can get the scores without watching games.
One of the more common observations I have seen with sports fans is how the “ups and downs” of their team can control their thinking and emotions. If their team is winning, they are generally positive. With some fans, when their team is losing, they are noticeably unhappy.
I understand why they respond the way they do. Sporting events can cause vacillating and visceral responses. The sports fan is motivated and controlled by something that is outside of his ability to manage, and his responses are consistent with the outcome of his team.
We are similar to sports fans in that the “ups and downs” of something that is outside of our ability to manipulate control us. The difference is that there are never any “downs” because Christ is always the victor.
- Jesus consistently provides overcoming grace.
- The Father is authoritatively ruling over us.
- The Spirit is profoundly comforting and empowering us.
- 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
The Christian always has the assurance of victory. This kind of confidence does not negate disappointment. And gratitude does not displace pain and suffering, but it can be an antidote for pain and suffering. It is gratitude and thanksgiving that comes to our aid when we are not getting everything we want.
Isn’t this one of the most remarkable things about the martyrs throughout church history? As you read books like “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” you cannot help but be struck by the gratitude and thanksgiving God’s children offered to Him, even while the enemies of Christ are executing them.
Gratitude and thanksgiving, born out of the gospel-centered worldview, is a transforming 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
Some struggling souls 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 despair can be a strong temptation.
I am no different from you. I am not in heaven yet. I am a sinful man, living among other corrupt people, in our fallen world. This condition is a triune combination that ensures pain and suffering. There are times in our lives when gratitude is hard to muster, particularly in seasons of sorrow and grief.
Still yet, something else should characterize Christians. It should be something that transcends what is happening to our earth-tethered lives. You will have seasons of despair. We all do. But this possibility should not be the consistent characterization of our lives.
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
Let me make a gentle appeal: If Christ has raised you from the dead, you are directed to set your affections on things that are not on this earth. Despair is real, and 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, you must seek to cooperate with the Spirit of God as you try to appropriate His grace to your situation. In time, gratitude will displace the despair, which will not come easy. It 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 your options. He has only one reality, only one perspective, and only one life. The Christian has two guiding truths, two possibilities, and two worlds: 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 individual 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.
Your call as a child of God is to make sure your heart is oriented by a gospel of gratitude while seeking to serve others who feel the weight of despair.
- Would you say your usual disposition is an attitude 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 excellent conversations about their perception of you? Ask them to share their thoughts regarding your gratitude. If you are not characterized as a person of gratitude, you have some soul-searching opportunities ahead of you.
Gospel and Gratitude
A grateful person has a right understanding of the gospel. If I understand this truth: God, in eternity past, thought about my depraved condition and constructed a plan to rescue me from death and destruction, that story should have a transformative effect on me.
If you are a Christian, you are in this kind of 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–the one He is writing for you.
God is working His plan of redemption in your life. It is essential for you to reorient your mind back to the gospel regularly. Christ died for you, and you are safely secure in Him. Whatever is assailing you today will not overcome you. Let these five words define and motivate your gratitude: Christ died for your sins.
Call to Action
- Are you generally amazed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
- Will you list four or five ways you practically remind yourself of the gospel on a daily basis?
- Does your gospel-motivated gratitude regularly control you?
- How often do you generally express gratitude to God?
- How aware are your family and friends of your gratitude for the gospel?
- Will you take some time today to talk about the content of this article?
Also published on Medium.