Psalm 118 opens and closes with an identical exhortation: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (vv. 1, 29). This dual exhortation to gratitude brackets everything else said in the psalm. It is a psalm in which the writer expresses the great difficulty he is facing, and one in which he expresses confidence in the Lord’s ability to deliver him. But whether bemoaning trials or rejoicing in deliverance, he is thankful.
Gratitude is one of the first lessons we teach our children. It’s polite to say thank you, we tell them. When someone gives them a gift, we prompt them: “What do you say?” Sadly, for too many of us, expressing thanks becomes little more than a habit. It’s polite and nothing more. We thank the cashier at the shop, the petrol attendant who fills our car, and the fast food worker who hands us our food. We are so accustomed to saying (and hearing) “thank you” that it can become a phrase that is stripped of all meaning. And while thanklessness is seen as impolite and inconsiderate, it’s rarely listed as one of the more negative vices.
Scripture takes a very different approach. Paul told the Romans that it was precisely because humans “did not give thanks” to God that “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). The result was blatant idolatry (vv. 22–23), impure desires (vv. 24–25), distorted sexuality (vv. 26–28), and a litany of other sins (vv. 28–32). It all started with ingratitude.
Psalm 118, and all Scripture with it, calls Christians to gratitude. Many before have played on the word, and they are correct: We are called not only to thanksgiving but to thanksliving—to a lifestyle of heartfelt gratitude to God.
Lisa Appelo is a single mother of seven who was unexpectedly widowed a few years ago. Reflecting on how the death of her husband taught her the reality of thanksliving, she suggests that there are at least seven things that every single one of us should be deeply grateful for.
First, we should be thankful to God for what he has done for us. He has saved us in Christ. He has provided for us. He has protected us in so many ways. We have so many opportunities to reflect on his kindnesses to us and express gratitude for them.
Second, we should be thankful to God for who he is. Rather than focusing only on what he has done for us, we should take time to consider who he is, as revealed in Scripture, and thank him for his character and his revelation of that character to us.
Third, we should be thankful to God for the things he has protected us from. Consider all the millions of things that could go wrong but haven’t and be thankful that God daily sustains you from things you don’t even normally think about.
Fourth, we should be thankful to God for the things we can’t see. Appelo quotes John Piper, who says that God is always at work in ten thousand ways in our lives, and we are only aware of a fraction of them. We can cultivate an attitude of gratitude even to the ways God is at work but of which we are ignorant.
Fifth, we should be thankful to God for what he will yet do. We know that God is always working every situation for our ultimate good and it is a helpful exercise to cultivate a lifestyle of thanksgiving for those things he has yet to do.
Sixth, we should be thankful to God for our eternal inheritance. Whatever he is doing for us in this life pales in comparison to what he is preparing for us in eternity. He is preparing a world devoid of fear, sin, and sorrow. We should be profoundly thankful.
Seventh, we should be thankful for trials. Trials teach us to lean on God. They wean us from dependence on the world. They help us gain an eternal perspective. Ultimately, they conform us to the image of Christ.
As Appelo says, “Thanksgiving is too big for one day. Instead, we’re called to a life of thanksliving.” Allow the exhortation of Psalm 118 to teach you today to live in deliberate and conscious gratitude to God.