Thanksgiving and gratitude are essential disciplines in the Christian life.
But gratitude in the midst of suffering can be difficult. We, in the West, can learn a lot from the Persecuted Church on this point as they often embody what it means to be thankful in the midst of suffering. Even in Scripture, there are numerous examples of God’s faithful exhibiting gratitude and thanksgiving for what they’ve been given despite bleak circumstances.
When practiced over long periods of time and incorporated into one’s daily prayer, gratitude can help us see the very real ways God is moving in our lives and providing for us.
At this point in the year in the United States, we set aside a day specifically for spending time with family, and friends, and for being thankful for what has been given to us. Now is as great a time as any to start a practice of gratitude. Below are five moments in Scripture where God’s faithful expressed gratitude and thanksgiving despite (or in light of) the circumstances. We encourage you to read, pray, and reflect on these passages:
1. Moses Giving Thanks After The Red Sea Crossing (Exodus 15)
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Exodus 15:11
After being delivered from Egypt, Moses and the people of Israel set aside a moment to thank the Lord for bringing them through suffering. Of course, the people of Israel still would have a long way to go in their journey, but the gift they had just received — their freedom and the Lord’s faithfulness — deserved celebration and thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a response to gift-giving. We give thanks to the Lord because we have received gifts from Him.
What are a few gifts you’ve received recently from the Lord that you’re thankful for?
2. The Leper Who Returns To Thank Jesus (Luke 17:11-19)
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” Luke 17:15-18
Leprosy is an intense disease that in the first century meant ostracization from the community and almost certain death. Jesus healed the ten lepers, freeing them from pain and giving them their lives back. Just one leper paused and returned to thank Jesus for what he had done, incorporating thanksgiving into his joy over the miracle.
When something miraculous happens or something we’ve been anticipating is finally realized, we can often immediately hit the ground running with excitement. There’s nothing wrong with such a response — it’s understandable and joy is certainly warranted. In fact, directing that joy in the form of gratitude towards the Lord for what has just been given is a form of celebration that also ascribes to Him the recognition He deserves.
What are some recent, exciting moments that you’re thankful for?
3. Paul and Silas Audibly Give Thanks While In Prison (Acts 16:25)
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.” Acts 16:25-26.
Paul and Silas were thrown into jail in retaliation for their healing of a demon-possessed girl. The two were beaten and unfairly imprisoned. They had every reason to be upset at the injustices done to them. However, their response was instead to verbally rejoice, pray, and sing hymns to God in full hearing of all the other prisoners. Who knows how the other prisoners were influenced by Paul and Silas’ prayers.
In fact a few verses later, Paul and Silas share the gospel with the Phillipian jailer who was surprised at the fact that the two did not take advantage of the earthquake and escape. The jailer and his whole family come to Christ.
This is a powerful example of how thanksgiving can be a witness of Christ to others. When we make it a point to thank God and praise Him for what we have — maybe even despite difficult or unjust circumstances — we never know how that attitude may in turn bring others closer to Christ.
Think of something difficult going on in your life. What are a few small things within those circumstances that you might be thankful for?
4. Paul’s Gratitude To The Recipients Of His Prison Epistle (Philippians 1:4-10)
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Philippians 1:3-5
While imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote several letters to early Christian churches. In Philippians, he gives thanks for those at the church in Philippi and expresses gratitude for how they labored alongside him to share the gospel. Despite being in prison and probably awaiting an unknown fate in Rome, Paul acknowledges and thanks God for the people in his ministry. He also takes the time to explicitly tell those at the church in Philippi that he is thankful for them and their work.
Who in your life are you thankful for and why?
5. Zacchaeus Receives Forgiveness (Luke 19:1-10)
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” Luke 19:8-10
Zacchaeus, a tax collector, heard Jesus’ preaching but was mocked by the surrounding crowd as a sinner who was unfit to eat with Jesus. However, as a result of what he’d heard Jesus teach, Zacchaeus repented and repaid those he had cheated. He went even further to give his possessions away to the poor. The tax collector was motivated to give generously because of what he had received despite how he had been disparaged by those around him.
Practicing gratitude helps us to both better identify the gifts we receive from God and also recognize just how special it is to give to those around us. Practicing thanksgiving and gratitude helps us better practice generosity because we recognize just how much we’ve received and perhaps how much we don’t deserve it.
How can you practice generosity today?
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Image: “Taken in Chupah district, Gialai province Vietnam.” (Photo Credit: Larm Rmah on Unsplash.)