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Thanksgiving, Thanksfeeling, and the Glory of God

by John Piper, as printed on Desiring God website

Thanksgiving: Ground Zero

The deepest roots of Christian thanksgiving go back to the Old World, way back before the Pilgrims, to a story as old as creation, with a two-millennia-old climax. It’s a story that keeps going right on into the present and gives meaning to our little lives, even when we’re a half a globe removed from history’s ground zero at a place called Golgotha.

John Piper, founder and teacher of Desiring God, shares the following devotion:

Now and then, it needs to be said that not all thanksgiving is thanksfeeling. We can make ourselves (or our children) say, “Thank you,” whether we feel it or not. But it’s not a good habit, especially in relation to God.

Jesus warns against “vain” worship. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matthew 15:8–9). Thanksgiving without thanksfeeling is empty. It does not count with God.

Thanksgiving is An Act of the Heart

Genuine thankfulness is an act of the heart’s affections, not an act of the lips’ muscles. It is not willed, but awakened. It is not a decision of the will, but a reflex of the heart. Thankfulness happens to us. We become aware of good will toward us, and either we feel gratitude or we are ungrateful.

It is not an inference; it is an experience. If the response of our lips is a mere logical deduction, it’s not heart-thankfulness. (Premise 1: Someone is willing my good. Premise 2: One should say thanks in such situations. Conclusion: I will cause my lips to say thanks.)

Now let’s relate this to the glory of God the way the Bible does.

Thanksgiving To the Glory of God

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalm 50:23). This offering of thanksgiving which glorifies God is not merely external. It is gratitude truly felt in the heart. That is the only kind of sacrifice that pleases him.

“You will not delight in sacrifice . . . you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16–17). This is the kind of heart that can truly feel gratitude for grace.

So the sacrifice of thanksgiving that glorifies God is the offering of contrite and broken-hearted thankfulness for undeserved mercies. This makes God look glorious — it glorifies him.

Similarly Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:15, “As grace extends to more and more people it increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” The sequence goes like this: God’s grace is experienced as wonderful and undeserved; heartfelt thanksfeeling rises in the heart; this true thanksfeeling overflows with thanksgiving; thus God is shown to be glorious — he is glorified.

Implications for Thanksgiving and Thanksfeeling:

  • God is glorified more fully when we feel thankfulness, not when we only say, “Thank you.”
  • Authentic heart-feelings are not in our control. We can’t make ourselves feel thankfulness. If our hearts are not moved by God’s goodness, we are ungrateful. Thanksfeelings are a work of grace.
  • Therefore, as fallen sinners whose hearts are often dull, we should regularly pray for God to overcome our sinful hardness, and cause us to see his goodness and feel thankful. (Psalm 51:10–12)

So the manifestation of the glory of God depends on 1) the appearance of God’s good will toward us in some undeserved benefit; 2) our eyes seeing it as from God; 3) the awakening of a sense of our being undeserving; 4) the awakening of the sweet thankfulness for being loved like this; 5) the expression of our thanksfeeling in thanksgiving.

May the God of great grace work these miracles in you this Thanksgiving.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.

This devotion was shared on https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/thanksgiving-thanksfeeling-and-the-glory-of-god


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