The Bible has a great deal to say about gratitude and often links it with God’s glory. This is understandable since our opinion of God is linked to our opinions of the people who believe in him. What we think about God will depend, in part, on whether our acquaintances who believe in him are grateful.
For this reason, a believer who is content and grateful will impact people very differently from one who is always complaining. It is no wonder St. Paul ordered Christians to “Do everything without complaining and arguing… Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”
Most of us know someone who has almost ceased being a complainer and is now not much more than a complaint. Every word from their lips, every look on their face, is tinged with resentment: people have let them down; life isn’t fair; the future is bleak. When such a person professes faith in God, people who know him or her can only assume that a life of faith is a bad investment.
The complaining believer is a zero-star review for God. The grateful person, on the other hand, gives God five stars. The person “overflowing with thankfulness,” as St. Paul describes it, is the best publicity there is for God. Thanksgiving advertises God. It overflows, as Paul says, “to the glory of God.”
Sincere believers who understand this might regret the complaining they’ve done and decide to be more grateful. But this is getting the cart before the proverbial horse. The place to start is not with what one must do but with what one must know. Grateful people know two fundamental truths about God: “…that you, O Lord, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” They have not only grasped these truths; they have been grasped by them.
God is strong. An ungrateful person testifies that God is weak. His God is not “the God of Abraham” and “the Fear of Isaac,” whose name is “great and awesome.” His God is not the Lord who “is enthroned as king forever.”
The second truth is that God is loving, which is to say he wants and pursues what is good for people at all times. The God of the ingrate is not loving, not the one “who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” To become a grateful person, these two fundamental truths about God - that he is strong and loving, great and good - must become part of the fabric of one’s thinking.
The Bible rehearses these truths again and again. For example, “that you, O Lord, are strong” is the theme of Psalm 136, repeated in nearly every verse. He is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, and the worker of wonders. He created the universe. He entered into history and redeemed a people. He swept away Pharaoh’s army and struck down kings. He is strong.
But he is also loving. If the psalm’s theme is that God is strong, its refrain is that God is loving - the two truths that all consistently grateful believers know. Psalm 136 repeats that refrain - as if to drive it home - 26 times: “His love endures forever.”
To believe in God’s love means to believe that he intends our good, in every situation, no matter what. Without this belief to anchor the soul, gratitude will come and go with the changing winds of circumstance.
There is no circumstance in which God does not seek our good, but we must be clear about what that means. If by “good” we mean merely comfort, success or pleasure, it will appear to us that God is not always seeking our good, just as it appears to a 5-year-old that his parents are not seeking his good when they deny him candy before dinner.
Comfort, success and pleasure are like candy: good alongside a loving and transformative relationship with God; bad as a substitute for it. The loving and strong God is committed to that relationship. When we are also committed to it, we can be confident and grateful, even in difficult circumstances.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.