A Deeper Gratitude
Every Thanksgiving, the tradition of going around the table and proclaiming thanks one by one leaves me feeling frustrated. Why does this practice feel empty and insufficient to me? I think it’s because thankfulness, as a sinner-made-saint, demands an understanding of gratitude far beyond a last-minute toss-up. And so I search my heart for the remnants of a truly thankful posture as Thanksgiving approaches. If gratitude is not a toss-up, then what is it?
It’s a way of life. It’s an action birthed from belief in the Almighty Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Gratitude compels us to praise him for all he is and has done. It is a part of the everyday walk of a disciple of Jesus because the chief end of the Christian is to glorify God.
Our reality, however, is that the enemy seeks to draw us away from God. He crouches at the door waiting to delude our minds. We enter a genuine spiritual battle every day. If left to ourselves we would fail. But we do not battle our enemy alone. Jesus has gone before us. He resisted temptation in the wilderness with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1–11). When we understand that true saving faith is accepting God’s truth as reality over our circumstances, we will exercise not only belief but the fruit of gratitude.
This gratitude is so much more than a dinner table toss-up. It is a guard for our souls.
In his letters to the church, Paul warns that man is prone to glorify himself (Romans 1:21). Every human being knows God through general revelation. This means the existence of his divine nature through the creation around us. But not all choose to honor God for it. Just like enemies of God can know Bible verses and fragments of truth, without the Spirit they will never understand the significance of the gospel and respond. But by the power of the Spirit, a dead sinner is made alive with Christ and puts on a brand-new self (Ephesians 4:18–24).
Scripture admonishes believers to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our minds are the control centers of our hearts and actions. As we pursue a relationship with the Lord through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and studying God’s Word, our minds are being renewed. These practices remind us day after day of who our Savior is, what he has done, and how that affects the way we live. With the help of the Spirit, we can choose to give glory to God regardless of the details of our present circumstances. This thankfulness for God, his Word, and the gospel guards our souls against the enemy’s antics.
Paul also writes in Colossians about what it looks like to “put on the new self” and live according to grace (Colossians 3:10). At the end of the book, Paul provides final instructions to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2).
Paul warns the church to remain steadfast in prayer and pay close attention by thanksgiving. In other words, a sure way to guard our souls and minds against false teaching is by grounding ourselves in gratitude for the Lord. We are to remember the foundation of our testimony, the newness of life by the mercy of the cross, and never stray from its truth.
The terminology here is urgent and passionate: “Be watchful.” If we know that our flesh is prone to wander and our minds are weak, how do we ensure our joy for the Lord? Paul says we are to be watchful, to pay close attention. In other words: be intentional.
What can this look like in practice? How do we guard our souls with gratitude? Consider three spiritual habits that can cultivate lasting gratitude:
1. Prayer Journaling
We know that our minds are finite and our flesh is weak. There are distractions all around us, including our own thoughts. The discipline of writing out prayers may be one of the most intentional, simple rhythms to add to our daily pursuit of Jesus. This doesn’t have to be extensive—or it can be. Putting pen to paper and forcing our minds to remain focused on the God of all will inevitably produce gratitude and joy. For just a moment in our busy days we will be undistracted and attentive to our Savior.
Fasting is a lost discipline that needs to make its way back into the church. We all may be coming to the table with a lot of preconceived notions about what fasting is and what it should look like. I suggest a wonderful book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Faith by Donald Whitney, to dive deep into this. The simplest definition I have found is from A Hunger for God, by John Piper: “Christian fasting at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.” We can fast for many reasons, but the core principles are abstinence for spiritual purposes, intentional consultation with the Father, and setting our minds on things above.
3. Scripture Memory
If the Bible contains words of life, the foundation of our faith, and the revelation of our Redeemer, storing it up in our hearts and minds will help us in the spiritual war we face every day. The Spirit is our Helper in the fight. But it is essential to stock our armory with the ultimate weapon: the Word of God.
Discipline of Gratitude
These are just three spiritual disciplines to cultivate soul-guarding gratitude. But a synonym for discipline is effort. All things related to God are against our human, sinful nature. We must put intentional effort towards living out our faith, fueled by the Holy Spirit. If in the midst of hardship, turmoil, and grief we can face our circumstances head-on and praise God for who he is, the enemy is silenced. Gratitude guards our souls.
As we approach another Thanksgiving, let us consider what gratitude truly is: a worshipful posture before the Lord God Almighty—and what it does: guards our souls for the sake of his name.
Meet the author:
Amy Hornbuckle works in full-time ministry in Lakeland, FL. She loves the mountains and teaches believers how to become independent students of God’s Word. You can read more of her writing at @walkwithamyhornbuckle or grab her biblical literacy tool, The Bible Study Workbook, at ingraceandknowledge.com.