Seasons come and seasons go, but the time to be thankful is always at hand (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we enter a time of year where celebrations, gifts, and merriment abound, no more than ever do we need to be reminded of the value of gratitude. For the Christian, thankfulness should be a perennial response to the goodness and graciousness of God in all our lives. For the church, every gathering should be a time to respond appropriately to the gifts we have been given through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). And for pastors, cultivating a culture of thankfulness is an essential part of our responsibility to feed the sheep entrusted to our care.

Any parent can sympathise that one of the hardest lessons to teach children is how to be thankful. They must first learn when to be thankful, like when receiving a gift. They must then learn how to respond in thankfulness, typically teaching them to say “thank you.” But the hardest work of all is the heart-work that we can only point them to and not produce in them ourselves. The hardest work is encouraging our children to be thankful – to have genuine gratitude.

All this training is necessary because thankfulness is not a response that comes naturally to them (or any of us, for that matter). But thankfulness is certainly a response, isn’t it? Like many states of the mind or heart, to be is to see. In most cases, to be also means to hear. Jesus testified to this truth when He said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We are creatures, fallen or redeemed, who give expression to who we are, what we think, and what we desire by speaking those hidden realities. Thankfulness is expressed through words and actions, which can be taught. But the harder challenge is to train the heart to be thankful in the first place.

Put God’s goodness on display

The pastor’s work of cultivating heart change begins with putting God’s goodness on display before his congregation. The centre of the Gospel, which is the centre of the Bible, begins with the knowledge that “God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16). The act of giving from one is the initiatory act that leads to thankfulness in the one who receives. In the case of the Gospel, God gives us the very best of Himself by literally giving us Himself, in all His goodness, in the perfect person and atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

A church lacking in a thankful spirit likely needs reminding of what to be thankful for.

That reminder, designed by God, is the weekly gathering of the saints for worship. When Christ’s body comes together, they each come with a unique perspective on this matter of thankfulness. Each can point to the Lord from a different angle of gratitude for blessings received and promises fulfilled by the Lord. Sitting under the prayers and preaching of their shepherds, they listen for and witness God’s provision of innumerable gifts freely given to them by faith alone.

When pastors point to God’s goodness on display in Christ, they give their sheep a reason to be thankful. Though we might all have unique causes for thankfulness, all must find their source in the giver of all good things. Too often, the gift receives the praise that should be due solely to the Giver. Pastor, take care to know the difference. By God’s providence, some of your people are living in the sunshine’s blaze of day while others are struggling to endure the dark side of the moon. Have you held before both of them a cause to proclaim, as Job did, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD”? The cause for thankfulness should never be simply the circumstance.


Distraction is a powerful force at odds with the work of cultivating thankfulness. Some are distracted by their circumstance, believing that God’s goodness should preclude any negative situation from developing. For these, the regular reminder of God’s goodness despite their circumstance is essential.

But Christians are notoriously prone to another distraction. Some saints lack thankfulness to God because they’ve redirected their thanks to something or someone else. This is the root of idolatry, of false worship. Recognising the goodness of the gift doesn’t guarantee that our thankfulness will be rightly directed. The heart is desperately wicked and is pleased to give the glory due to God to anyone else, especially itself. This shows up commonly in the attitude of entitlement – of thanking oneself for the good that comes our way.

An entitled person thanks no one because they believe they deserve, or have earned, all the good that comes their way.

The antidote for idolatry

The antidote for entitlement – for idolatry – is a true picture of who we are in light of who God truly is. Pastor, continually remind your congregation that all of God’s blessings, all of God’s favor, and all of God’s gifts are undeserved. Romans 3 is the great equaliser for the boastful pride of entitlement. Be sure always to preach and teach the fallenness of man before you preach the grace of God. Without the former, the latter loses its power to create in us a spirit of thankfulness.

Now, we come full circle. Once the church is given cause for thankfulness, they must be allowed to express it in word and deed. Again, the Bible shows us that the church, in the act of coming together, was designed by God as the avenue for grateful expression. Thankfulness is shown through at least three ways: prayer, singing, and service.

In prayer, we can offer our thanks directly to God through the intercession of the Holy Spirit on our behalf (Romans 8:26). This alone is cause for thankfulness, that the Father gives us the means to thank Him and thereby overcome our fleshy bent towards self-exaltation. Through prayer, we are called and given a voice for thankfulness (1 Timothy 2:1). Therefore, a church devoid of prayer is a church deprived of this essential voice of thankfulness. And even that voice must be clear and understood for the fruit of thankfulness to be seen and known (1 Corinthians 14:6). That is why a thankful church will be a praying church, and in their prayers, the Gospel will shine forth.

Vocalise your thanks in song

Another vehicle of thankfulness given to us by God is His command to sing. Vocalising our thanks in song is a predominant activity in biblical worship. Though many of us wish the New Testament provided clearer directions on types and styles of worship, the Bible lays the better treasure on the surface – a spirit of thankfulness. Everything we sing must born not only of God’s revealed Word but in a spirit of gratitude (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:20). This puts the onus on church leaders to ensure that the songs they are singing align with the biblical prescription. The best tutor for this is the Bible’s songbook, the Psalms (see Psalm 100; 107:21-22), wherein we see what to be thankful for and how best to express it (and all of this before the issue of music is even considered).

Expressing thankfulness in word and deed

Lastly, a church can cultivate thankfulness by expressing it in action and words. How do we ultimately teach our children the joy of thankfulness? By showing them the other side of the equation, that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). When a child can give a gift to someone else and see what thankfulness looks like, they begin on the path to discovering the meaning of thankfulness. Likewise, serving one another by giving the gift of ourselves – our time, energy, skills, and resources – is the practical exhibition of thankfulness working itself out into the real world. The Christian learns thankfulness by emulating the Giver and becoming not only a receiver but a conduit of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Serving others is both a means and demonstration of thankfulness to God (2 Corinthians 9:12), and what a wonder that God would teach us how to receive well by first giving well. Cultivating a culture of thankfulness in your church will always begin by looking to the greatest of all gifts, for which the greatest of all thanks is solely due. As you point to His sacrifice, your congregation will learn the true meaning of loving sacrifice and begin to emulate it by offering themselves to the work of the kingdom (Romans 12:1).

But the most important lesson your church will learn about thankfulness will be by watching you.

Are you demonstrating a thankful heart through your prayers, through your pulpit, and your personal life? Can you rightly say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11)? No amount of strategy and training can replace the power of example. It is for this that you have answered the call to be a shepherd of the flock of God. It is for this calling – for this privilege – that you should be most thankful.

© 2023 Jon Gilmore. Used with permission. Originally published at

Jon Gilmore

Jon Gilmore serves as Pastor of Music Ministry at Cross & Crown Church in Colorado Springs, USA, and has been leading music and worship in church ministry for over twenty years.

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