Some commands of God are specific to certain situations. “Keep the Sabbath day”—in whatever sense it is meant to apply to us—is clearly limited to that one day in seven. Likewise, the command to forgive is of particular importance when you perceive someone to have wronged you. The instruction for husbands to love their wives only directly applies to you if you are currently married.
Yet it is striking how many of God’s commands are universal in their relevance. They apply to every human being, in every situation, throughout every day. They are to be obeyed whether you are young or old, rich or poor, working or retired, sick or healthy, male or female, married or single.
Every person is to love God and to love their neighbor. Everything that has breath is to be continually praise Yahweh, the one true and living God (Psalm 150:6). It is never okay to kill, steal, or covet. Paul preached to both Jews and Greeks repentance to God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). We ought always to be loathing what is evil and holding fast to what is good (Romans 12:9). We are to be praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
A command, however, that we unconsciously tend to relegate to the former category—appropriate for specific seasons or occasions in life—is the command to Thanksgiving. We feel the obligation to be grateful when we receive a bonus at work, or a clean biopsy report, or an unexpected break in the weather. And of course, we are supposed to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day. The Bible, though, makes it plain that a grateful spirit is to characterize our everyday life, actions, aspirations, and motivations. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Even our deepest longings and most urgent prayer requests to God are to be made with thanksgiving: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Gratitude Is Worship
Why is God so interested in our authentic expressions of thanksgiving? It is because gratitude in our hearts is inseparably connected with a healthy view of ourselves, this world, and our relation to God. Genuine gratitude is worship, and worship is the response of a soul that has properly apprehended the majesty of God, and precisely the goodness of God in Jesus Christ.
It is impossible to come to God acceptably or appropriately without choruses of gratitude in our hearts and on our lips. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4).
Being consistently grateful is not a matter of personality, as though some people are morning people, some people are optimists, and some people just have a thankful heart. Sincere gratefulness to God is the result of faith; it is the inevitable result of having one’s eyes open to behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The heart that is embracing the reality of God’s grace is a heart that is overflowing in grateful worship to God for all his goodness. And because God’s grace infuses our entire life with purpose, hope, and joy, it is only appropriate that we be always grateful.
Constant worship is the proportionate response of faith to what God has given us in Jesus.
Gratitude Is Walking In Jesus
Paul gives us an incredible insight regarding a grateful spirit in his letter to the Colossian church. He writes, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). Paul here connects abundant thanksgiving with receiving Jesus as Lord, with walking in Jesus, with being built up in Jesus, with having a well-established faith in Jesus.
In other words, biblical thanksgiving is not merely being happy with what you have, or being generally and generically appreciative of some pleasant experience that has come your way or even feeling unworthy of the good things you enjoy. Biblical thanksgiving is consciously and exclusively grounded in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
God is not pleased with people who are merely pleased when something good happens to them. To reiterate Jesus’ point, “Do not even the publicans so?” Even an unbeliever can be thankful when they have some pleasant or desirable experience. The question, though, is to whom or what are they thankful? A superstitious person is thankful to “their lucky stars” when something nice comes their way. A pagan will see any good think as a reward for their idol worship or sacrifices, and so will bow down once again to their idol to give thanks. Even the atheist may express gratefulness or a sense of unworthiness for the good things he has experienced or the bad things from which he has been spared.
Only the Christian, however, can offer up acceptable thanksgiving to the God of heaven, because the Christian is grateful—not just to “the fates” or “the powers that be”—but for God’s grace in and through Jesus Christ. Notice this inescapable point to Paul’s words a couple of chapters later in his same letter to Colossi: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Everything we do is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Gratitude that is not in the name of the Lord Jesus, or thanksgiving to God that is not by Jesus, is not acceptable or pleasing to God. Only gratitude that arises out of a personal walk with Christ is one that truly honors God.
Put another way, the gratitude that is commanded by God is not satisfied by people saying, “I don’t care about your Son Jesus Christ, I don’t believe in him — but I really do appreciate the job promotion.” Just any expression of thanksgiving will not do. Only those things that we do in the name of Jesus as our Lord, and only the thanks we offer to God by Jesus Christ, are acceptable or pleasing offering to Him.
So Gratitude Should Be Constant
Gratitude is worship, and is the result of a consistent walk with Jesus as our Savior, whereby we are commanded to be continually grateful. We can never worship God too much, and we can never walk too closely with his Son Jesus. There is never a time when our heart should not be overflowing in gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, as Christians, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
The writer of Hebrews sums up the matter well with these words: “By him (Jesus) let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15 NKJV). Biblical gratitude is worship, and the sacrifice of praise that is genuinely pleasing to God is our lips giving thanks to his name by Jesus.
Those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior have—right now, present tense—“every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). How could we not be thankful to God for Jesus? There is never a time in our day, or an occasion in our life that the goodness of God in Jesus is not worthy of our greatest expressions of gratitude!
Justin Huffman is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and pastored churches in the States for over 15 years. He is currently lead pastor of Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Chau and their four children. Justin is the author of the “Daily Devotion” app, as well as numerous books and articles, including his newest book Behold: an Invitation to Wonder. Connect with him at justinhuffman.org.