Training Our Tongues to Say Thanks

(This devotion is day sixteen of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)

Read Psalm 33

I have a wonderful two-year-old daughter. The early days of her life consisted of feeding her, changing her, and trying anything to make her sleep. Now she’s much more interactive. She says funny things and sweet things, and sassy things too. It feels like every week she learns new skills, sentences, and behaviors. Some words came natural: mine, now, and I want to. Others took more work. Words like please, sorry, and thank you need encouraged and reinforced.

This is (fallen) human nature, diapers or not. Adults fall prey just like kids do. We feel entitled and dish out orders. Whether it’s throwing mashed potatoes on the floor or venting in anger over the phone, we protest and complain. Instilling gratitude takes work. My daughter needs reminded to say thank you, and I do too. No one has to teach us to murmur or criticize; it comes natural. Our stomach’s growl when they’re hungry and our hearts grumble when they’re disappointed. We need to fight the “gimme gimme gimme” desires inside of us and the ways it comes out of us through our words and behaviors.

Words alone aren’t the end goal. My daughter can add a polite “please” and still have a demanding heart. “Get me a glass of milk NOW. Please.” While I appreciate the tacked on “please,” I’d prefer a humble heart that asks rather than commands. The same is true with thanksgiving. We can mind our manners by adding a “thank you” without being grateful. Empty words aren’t the end-zone to run toward.

But the mouth and the heart go together. We don’t choose one or the other. Both are necessary, and they work in tandem. Words alone are insufficient, but we can’t give thanks without them. The goal is a heart of thankfulness to God, but often saying the words puts our heart in motion and moves us toward gratitude.

Psalm 33 provides another prod to communicate thanksgiving. It’s easy to think feeling grateful is enough, but we need to use words. The psalmist tells us praise or thanksgiving—words used in parallel in the first two verses—is appropriate for God’s people. Giving thanks to the Lord is fitting because of who He is and what He’s done.

Why Thanksgiving is Fitting

The rest of Psalm 33 validates this claim by showing why praise makes sense. It’s because God is faithful, just, righteous, and loving (33:4-5). The psalm gives reason thanksgiving is called for by walking us through another mural of God’s history, starting with creation (33:4-9) and moving to God’s providence and His provision as kingdoms rise or fall (33:10-19).

A God mighty enough to speak the blazing sun into being and wise enough to know exactly where to put it should be praised. A God who’s in control as nations and kings come to power and lose their power, and who works out His plan for our good in the midst of it all deserves our thanksgiving. This history lesson leads to hoping in and trusting in God again as their help and shield (33:20-22).

The Psalm communicates the glory of God as an appeal to praising and thanking Him. It’s a call to be moved into worship by what we believe about God. Don’t forget what you’ve experienced because of Him and what you think about Him. If you believe God is Creator and King over all things, and if you believe He is your help and shield, then these beliefs should not be compartmentalized and kept in a dusty file cabinet of your mind. These weighty truths should lead to thanksgiving and trust. Praise is fitting.

Thanksgiving might start as an internal matter as you feel grateful, but it must move from the inside out as you give thanks. In Psalm 33, he mentions singing to God. When he says a “new song,” it might not mean you have to write down a novel set of lyrics but that there’s fresh thanksgiving corresponding to your fresh experiences of God’s grace and glory.

Gratitude is a renewable energy. Like solar lights in my backyard that are energized each day, the more we see God and notice how He’s at work, the more reasons we have to give thanks. Every day there are mercies and blessings fueling a “new song” of thanksgiving. While thanksgiving is a renewable energy source that can be resupplied daily, sometimes we need a battery back-up. As the clouds of trials, discouragement, or busyness block the rays of God’s light from shining into our life, our gratitude can feel depleted. It’s then that we recall what God has done or who He has been. These are reserves we can (and should) draw on for a season, but the goal is to fill up on who God is and what He’s done for us each day. We have lots of reasons to give thanks in the past, but we also have many reasons to give thanks today. We need to stock up on both.

Ways to Give Thanks

The psalmist tells us thanksgiving is fitting considering who God is and how we get to know Him as His people. Seeing God should lead to worshipping Him in thanksgiving. There are many ways we can do this: singing, praying, testimony, storytelling, conversation, and writing it down, to name a few ways.

Imagine you’re part of a group making meals together. One night there might be a special ingredient and the objective is to work it into each aspect of the meal: the appetizer, the entrée, the side dishes, dessert, and even the drinks. Let’s say the ingredient is honey, so you weave it throughout the meal. It might be used in greater or lesser degrees, it might be a main flavor or a subtle note, and it could be a glaze on the outside or mixed within something. Honey permeates the meal.

Thanksgiving should saturate our thoughts and words. It’s present in our prayers, stories, memories or history recorded, songs, sermons, and our large group testimonies and small group conversations.

These various ways of expressing thanksgiving not only allow gratitude existing to surface, but they also help develop it where it’s lacking. Like my daughter learns the value of thanksgiving and grows in gratitude by learning to say thank you, we train both our mouths and our hearts to pursue thanksgiving by saying it. Words not only formulate what we feel, but sometimes by writing or saying them they “grow the feeling.” Choosing to say thanks causes us to consider what we’re thankful for, which increases our gratitude.

Thanksgiving is best when it’s not an afterthought we work in at the end but it’s kneaded into our every part of us and every part of our day. We need to work it into our day, intentionally include it in our conversations, and verbalize it through our words. It’s how we train our head, heart, and mouth—all together—in the practice of thanksgiving.

Start today. Find ways to tell God thank you. Then tell others what you’re thankful for. Don’t settle for a vague feeling of gratitude. Feed it by focusing on specific reasons you’re grateful and giving thanks to God.

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You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IndyCrowe for the short & sweet stuff.

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