Almost everyone appreciates a good gift. Family, freedom, leisure, a warm bed, and a refreshing drink all make for a grateful heart, and we’re all naturally able to express at least some measure of gratitude for them. “Thank you” is a phrase we learn young.
The American revivalist Jonathan Edwards helpfully distinguished between what he referred to as “natural gratitude” and “gracious gratitude.” Natural gratitude starts with the things we’re given and the benefits which accompany them. Anybody is capable of natural gratitude. Gracious gratitude, though, is very different, and only God’s children can experience and express it. Gracious gratitude recognizes the character, goodness, love, power, and excellencies of God, regardless of any gifts or enjoyments He has given. It knows we have reason to be grateful to God whether it’s a good day or a bad day, whether we’re employed or unemployed, whether the daily news is upbeat or overwhelming, whether we’re completely healthy or facing a terminal diagnosis. Such gratitude is only discovered by grace, and it is a true mark of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Gracious gratitude enables us to face all things with the awareness that God is profoundly involved in our lives and circumstances, for He has made us special objects of His love.
When Jonathan Edwards died as a result of a smallpox vaccination, Sarah, his wife, wrote to their daughter, “What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.” Notice the honesty in that. There’s no superficial triumphalism. But her husband was not taken out by chance; it was the overruling sovereignty of God that determined the right time to bring Jonathan home to his eternal reward. And so Sarah continued, “But my God lives; and he has my heart … We are all given to God: and there I am, and love to be.”
Amid grief, we will never be able to speak words like these from natural gratitude, which cannot help us in loss. Such reflection can only flow from gracious gratitude. You may be facing difficult or even heartbreaking circumstances at the moment; and if you are not, then that day will come, for this is a fallen world. But in those moments, you can cling to God’s love and choose to trust God’s goodness, expressed most clearly at the cross. Then, even in the darkest hours, you will know the joy of His presence and always have cause to give thanks to Him. There is strength, dignity, and worship in being able to say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
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