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A Grateful People

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Words and Image by Lindsay Cournia

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!" (Ps. 103:1)

This week at church my three year-old son Lincoln made a Thanksgiving craft that listed all the things he was most thankful for: toys, Mommy, puzzles, God, and elephants. Decorated with his signature crayon scribbles, it’s hanging on our fridge so I can tease my husband that he didn’t make the cut.

But I’ve been thinking about how much Lincoln’s list resembles my own, though I am 30 and he is three. In this season I am pretty good at being a thankful person. Blessings abound in my life, and I am quick to recognize them, hashtag them, even breathe prayers of thanks for them. Just as my son’s list didn’t include time-outs or green vegetables, mine doesn’t include the uncomfortable, unanswered, or inconvenient, and while God is certainly recognized, he’s squashed somewhere between the puzzles and elephants of my life.

If giving thanks is just listing all the happy things and feelings I credit God for giving me, I’m sorely missing the point. I’m missing the foundation of thanksgiving, which is the very nature and character of God. Without it, my gratitude topples. John Piper writes:

“In other words, gratitude that is pleasing to God is not first a delight in the benefits God gives (though that is part of it). True gratitude must be rooted in something else that comes first, namely, a delight in the beauty and excellency of God's character. If this is not the foundation of our gratitude, then it is not above what the ‘natural man,’ apart from the Spirit and the new nature in Christ, experiences. In that case ‘gratitude’ to God is no more pleasing to God than all the other emotions which unbelievers have without delighting in him.”

Thanks apart from deep affection and reverence for who God is, is empty. Worse, it is idolatry. Piper explains it like this: “If we are not captured by [God’s] personality and character, then all our declarations of thanksgiving are like the gratitude of a wife to a husband for the money she gets from him to use in her affair with another man.”

This might seem too weighty for a season of comfort food and cozy gatherings, but if we don’t get this, we don’t get it at all. To truly be a grateful people, God’s children are not to be thankful first for what our Father has given us or lavished on us (because it really is not about us), but for who he is first—sovereign, powerful, gracious, loving, wise, compassionate, and infinitely more—followed then by our thanks for what he has done, given, and even taken.

We can follow King David’s example in the 103rd psalm, first praising God for who he is, then remembering what he has done, and finishing with more grateful praise:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made know his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!”