Bedtime is a precious time in the Gilbert home. With two boys under two, both full of energy, evenings, from time to time, find us all a little grumpy and a lot tired. After dinner, the boys are still ready to play, but they are clearly starting to wind down. It doesn’t take much to upset our (almost) two year-old, Jude, and our 7 month-old, Jack, is tough to keep happy as the sun starts to set behind the tree-line across from our house. By this time, I’m not typically in the best of moods. There are some nights when it doesn’t take much to push my buttons. If we aren’t careful, a perfect storm of complaining and grumbling can wreak havoc in our living room.
Which is why our nightly happen of prayer as a family is so important. Every night, just before Jude goes to sleep, we come together to pray. But before we pray we ask Jude to say what he wants to thank God for. His answers are the best. Over the past week, Jude has “tanked” God for Cheerios, trucks, trains, balloons, basketballs, outside, and Jack. The simple practice of thanking God for even the smallest graces he gives is more than just a cute little tradition.
Reminding yourself and your children that every good thing in their lives is a gift from above is a tonic for grumpy, tired souls. Teaching your children to thank God for the things they love is to teach them that God is the source of all blessing. Gratitude teaches the heart to rejoice in God. Raising your children to trust, obey, and enjoy God begins with showing them that God is worthy of our thanks. Training your children to thank God is to declare war on sin and disobedience in their little hearts, as well as yours.
Gratitude is the heart’s joyful response to God’s sovereign reign and saving work on behalf of sinners. Gratitude is not strictly related to the gift that is given, but rather to the giver of the gift. When you are aware of God’s glory and grace in your life, your heart will well up with gratitude, which will then overflow in glad obedience to him. Gratitude requires you to rightly see God’s grace and rightly respond to it.
While gratitude creates faith, ingratitude is central to unbelief and idolatry. The antithesis to gratitude is pride, self-love, and the pursuit of self-exaltation. A failure to give thanks to God is a failure to glorify God. It is a failure to depend on God’s grace. The root of every sin is ingratitude. New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner has written, “All the discrete acts of sin are a consequence of failing to honor and give thanks to God.” This echoes Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).
Why is ingratitude so central to unbelief? Because in order to turn from sin and trust Christ, you have to see him as always right and yourself as always wrong. You have to see him as possessive of all the resources for the good life. You have to see him as the one from whom all blessings flow. You have to see him as a sovereign Lord in whom all things have their being. You have to see him as the source of righteousness, joy, and life. Faith requires humble gratitude, so a thankless heart is a heart that cannot and will not believe in Jesus for salvation.
The old life in the flesh is a life of thanklessness that rebels against God as sovereign ruler. The new life in Christ is a life of thankfulness that submits to God as sovereign ruler. Ingratitude says, “My way is better than your way!” Gratitude says, “Your way is better than my way!” As Paul counseled Timothy,
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Tim. 3:2-5)
Ingratitude may just be at the heart of this list. The original sin in the Garden was one of ingratitude. Adam and Eve failed to trust God to satisfy them. They failed to be grateful for what God had given them, and they craved the very thing God had forbidden them. Thanklessness led to discontentment and disobedience. The same thing happens in our homes. When we forget to give God thanks with our lips, we will forget to give God thanks with our lives. Thankless hearts lead to thankless lives.
So, we fight discontentment and disobedience with thanksgiving. Gratitude is central to saving faith, worship, and gospel living. Schreiner has said, “The call to give thanks in every circumstance represents the heart of the Pauline gospel.”
Gratitude is central to saving faith because it is through faith that we grasp God’s work on our behalf and renounce all efforts to earn his favor or live life our own way (see Luke 17:11-19).
Gratitude is central to worship because it is through worship that we see God as supremely valuable. We are teaching Jude to worship when we show him that we direct our thanks and delight to God for the good things we have and enjoy.
Gratitude is central to gospel living because it is through gospel living that we reflect God’s character to the world.
I believe the reason many of us fail to pursue holiness with joy is because our motivation for godly living is guilt, not gratitude. The reason many of us cease our spiritual growth after baptism is because we adopt the attitude that we must obey God in order to pay him back for saving us. “Jesus died for you, so what are you going to do for him?” Is this the right kind of motivation to fuel gospel living?
A better way forward to living the good life, the new life we now have in Christ, is to live every second of every day in thankfulness to God. When we are grateful to God, we are aware of his grace that he has freely given us in Christ. Gratitude creates the kind of gospel awareness necessary to cut off the lifelines of sin in our lives. Gratitude looks back in thanks to God for his grace in the past and looks forward in faith in God for his grace in the future.
Gratitude is central to gospel living because through our self-renouncing thankfulness we see both our need for God and his ability and willingness to meet our need. This empowers us to kill sin in its tracks and chase hard after righteousness. Only a grateful heart can thrive in kindness, patience, love, and forgiveness. Only a heart that recognizes God as the rightful ruler of heaven and earth will submit to his will and his ways, and so be conformed to his image.
So, teach your children to thank God for everything–Cheerios, trains, balloons, and basketballs included. Show them that every good thing they have or experience is a gift of God’s grace. In so doing, you will be sowing seeds of faith that may one day take root.