The Habit of Thanksgiving

N.T. Wright in his mammoth work on Paul notes the practice of thanksgiving in Christian living. He writes:

Thanksgiving isn’t just a way of being a bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful. It is a habit of the heart which indicates the nature and particular shape of the worldview. It is closely associated with joy, which for Paul is one of the primary signs of the spirit’s

What kind of a worldview elicits this thanksgiving? It is the view that God is the creator of the universe. Because there is a creator, there is someone to thank.

Wright cites a wonderful quote from the rabbis on giving thanks to God.

On comets, and on earthquakes, and on lightning and on thunder, and on storms say, “Blessed [be He] whose strength and might fill the world.” On mountains, and on hills, and on seas, and on rivers, and on deserts say, “Blessed [is He] who makes the works of the beginning.” R’ Yehuda says, “One who sees the great sea says, ‘Blessed [is He] who made the great sea,’ only if he sees it occasionally.” On rain and on good news say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good.” And on bad news say, “Blessed [are You] the true judge.”2

When we turn to the Bible, some form of the word thank, thanks, or thanksgiving occurs 170 times. Thanksgiving peaks in the Psalms for the Old Testament, and it peaks in the New Testament in the letters of Paul (the high point in Paul is in 1 Corinthians). Looking at these many occasions of thanks instructs us on how to be thankful.

The wisdom of learning to be thankful is important. The nineteenth century hymn lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr. pictures learning to be thankful even in times of discouragement. Because God is our creator there is always something that the Lord has done for which we can be grateful.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

“A bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful” is good way to be when it is deeply rooted in the view that God is my creator. It is not just a doctrine to add to the check list, but a practice to live. It is a habit of the heart, the habit of thanksgiving.


1Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 412.
2Mishnah Berakhot 9:2

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