“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” writes the Psalmist in his 136th poem. With thanksgiving recently past and Christmas soon before us, let us reflect upon the virtue of gratitude, not merely as a practice around the holiday dinner meal, but as a testimony to trust in Christ. Gratitude is the response to God’s mercy, which manifests itself through joys and sorrows. Gratitude refocuses our perspective and activates trust in Christ; it is an acknowledgement of all life’s circumstances as gifts from God.
In modern American culture, we have formed an ideal of “Thanksgiving”—a holiday enveloped in consumption—whether it be in too much food or black Friday shopping. For weeks prior to the Thanksgiving festivities, advertisements and sale prices for Christmas goodies overwhelm media and malls alike. While family members attempt to enjoy movies or sports together, commercials interrupt with outlandish deals that claim to encourage the spirit of giving but really spread the disease of ingratitude. And despite the history of the holiday, many Americans celebrate by gluttony to the point of fatigue and blurry vision. After the grand turkey dinner, black Friday shopping arrangements commence before the leftovers have been stored, and conversation recalls what we do not have and will buy tomorrow instead of resting in contentment.
Consider, in contrast, the simplicity expressed by David in his Psalm. God “made the heavens with understanding” (v. 5), and so we give thanks. For how insignificant is my understanding in comparison to that of the Fashioner of Creation? God “made firm the earth on the waters” (v. 6), and so we give thanks. And how would I drown in the sea of my sins if Christ had not provided ground on which I may stand to sing His praises?
In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth out of love for humankind, vivifying Adam with His own breath. While the bulk of today’s holiday discussions waste human breath by making an idol of material goods and stress over plans and attempts to avoid family disagreements, David, in his humility, praises God by giving thanks for His mercy and offering his breath as a sacrifice back to God. Just as God “gave food to all flesh” (v. 25) that it may nourish and sustain mortal life, so also should we consume holiday meals as a gift to be taken as needed and not consumed frivolously or excessively.
But what is there left to praise God for when there are no blessings? Is it merely a problem of perception? Consider verse 23: “For in our humiliation the Lord remembered us, for His mercy endures forever.” When strife befalls us, let us thank God for the opportunity to practice our faith by active trust in Him. When we sin, let us thank God for the opportunity to practice humility and to remember that it is more joyful for a soul to return to Christ than it is for one never to have fallen. As Paul learned to praise God for the thorn in his side, let us thank God for His merciful strength throughout the uprooting winds of this world. Such gratitude encompasses both joys and sorrows and does not rest on the comfort of a good celebration, as wonderful as good celebrations may be..
What more loving action can God perform than to show His creation mercy? By mercy God breathed life into Adam, visited Abraham, redeemed Ruth, took on flesh and was born in a manger, taught in the synagogue, hung on the cross, penetrated Hades, and ascended with the promise for the future of the world. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Keeping the faith given by mercy requires trust in God. This will be difficult. An active trust in Him requires gratitude for the trials set before us. It is a habit of simplicity and faith.
A grateful disposition is at peace despite the movements of this world because it is confident in God’s sovereignty, for God looks upon the earth “with a strong hand and an upraised arm” (v. 12). It is a measure to praise Him and thank Him for the difficult and unpleasant things so that we may abide in trust for Him. As Job says, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5). While every calamity befell Job, he repented and learned to thank God for his mercy and His presence continually. Gratitude acknowledges the goodness of Christ and despoils the foothold of bitterness, victimization, and expectation. What wind can befall a soul armored with the shield of faith, lit by the light of peace, and decorated with the flower of gratitude?