"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever" (Ps. 136:1-3, ESV).
Every follower of Jesus is enrolled in the school of thankfulness—and too many people are flunking out. Because the Bible frequently urges us to thank God, expressing gratitude should be of continual interest. No matter how long you have known Him, you will never stop discovering fresh reasons for thanking Him.
In Psalm 136 we see three expansive titles for God, and each is a reason for gratitude, because each reminds us "his steadfast love endures forever." The first title "the Lord" is His awesome, sovereign name, Yahweh. The second title "God of gods" highlights His supremacy. He's not God among other, lesser gods—there's no one else in His category. The third title "Lord of lords" points to God's divine authority and His rightful rule in our lives.
We serve the awesome, sovereign, supreme God—who not only has authority to reign in our lives but authority to rule over those things that would rule over us. God loves us like no one else, ever. Yet we still find it difficult to thank Him always and for everything; we need to be schooled in gratitude.
Scripture shows there are three learned levels of thankfulness, similar to our educational process. That's why a regular review of the development of a thankful heart is important.
First, there's basic, elementary school thankfulness. Hebrews 13:15 (MEV) says, "Through Him, then, let us continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." Thanksgiving is the sacrifice.
You might think, OK, I know I should be more thankful. Fine, I'll make a list of things I'm grateful for. I'll make the sacrifice. I'll be thankful.
Congratulations—you're an elementary school graduate. It's a place to start, but don't stay there.
Once you have developed a consistent habit of thanksgiving, it's time to graduate to the next level: high school thankfulness. First Thessalonians 5:18a says, "In everything give thanks."
You're making progress in gratitude when you discover something to be thankful for in every situation. The picture may be dismal, but learn to find a bright spot—a hint of God's presence. For example, you may not feel thankful for your spouse at the moment, but you're thankful for your kids and the life you have together. Or you might not feel thankful for your job, but you're thankful for your health insurance and the ability to provide for yourself. In other words, go after deliberate, if selective, gratitude.
Finding something to be thankful for in everything is certainly a step above having only random grateful thoughts. But there is still plenty of room for developing a deeply thankful heart. Here's what you're going for: graduate school thankfulness. Ephesians 5:20 says, "Give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
No matter what's happening, no matter how dark the moment, God is in control. He can be explicitly trusted. He's working out a purpose beyond what you can imagine. Some of it you'll see in this life; some of it you'll see in the life to come. Give thanks to God—always and for everything! Go for it. Thank him for the hardest part of your life. Just say, "Thank You, God, even for this," and trust in his steadfast love that endures forever.
To learn more from Pastor James' fearless Bible-preaching, visit jamesmacdonald.com.
Pastor James MacDonald is an esteemed Bible teacher whose "Walk in the Word" radio and television programs are followed by millions throughout the United States and around the world. He's the founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel whose seven campuses are spread throughout the greater Chicagoland area.
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