The word “gratitude” first showed up in the mid-fifteenth century. Adapted from the Latin word gratitudinem, which means “thankfulness,” gratitude came to express deep, reciprocal appreciation for kindness received.
When Christians talk about how to become more like Jesus, a lot of disciplines come up, things like prayer, Bible reading, and community. What doesn’t come up enough—and might have a bigger impact than we imagine—is developing an attitude of gratitude.
Here are some Bible passages that help to illuminate the need to recognize the blessings in our lives, and cultivate thankful spirits.
1. Psalm 23, so much to be grateful for
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
It’s no surprise that this is one of the most recognized passages in all the scriptures. It’s beautiful, poetic, and comforting. It’s also a powerful reflection on God’s goodness.
Psalm 23 identifies many wonderful elements of God’s care that we might normally take for granted—or fail to recognize. David recognizes elements like God’s provision (I shall not want), spiritual renewal (he restores my soul), his discipline (your rod and staff, they comfort me), and his protection (you prepare me a table in the presence of my enemies).
We’re often tempted to take credit for precious moments of comfort, care, tranquility, and victory in our lives, but it’s important to recognize the loving hand of God’s providence in our lives.
2. Psalm 50:23, a sacrifice of gratitude
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”
Thanksgiving is one of the most important elements of worship. Not only are we recognizing God for his amazing attributes like sovereignty and patience, we are learning to recognize their presence in our lives. This not only glorifies God, it trains us to be more aware of God’s care in our lives.
3. Psalm 100:1–5, thanksgiving: the gateway to God’s courts
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Full of passion and exuberance, this is a beautiful picture of worship. The image of entering his gates with thanksgiving is powerful. What if we thought of gratitude as the literal doorway into worship?
4. Psalm 107:1, giving thanks
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Reiterating the words from Psalm 100, and driving them home even more, David reminds us to give thanks because God has been so good to us.
5. Psalm 118:28–29, personal gratitude for corporate salvation
“You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Any particular Israelite’s relationship to God was seen in light of God’s relationship to them as a nation. Each individual Israelite was part of God’s chosen people, a holy nation, and they saw themselves as recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
After acknowledging all the benefits of placing trust in God over men and rulers (vv. 8–9), reminding themselves of the Lord’s deliverance (vv. 10–14), and salvation (vv. 17–21), the Israelites focus on their personal gratitude for God’s corporate care.
Western Christianity often focuses on individual salvation and relationship with God. What would change if we expressed our thankfulness for God’s work in the church, and not just in our lives? It would likely have a dramatic impact.
6. Psalm 136: 1–3, responding to God’s steadfast love with thanksgiving
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever”
We need to pause and ask why God’s steadfast love is referenced so often in the Psalms. Is it because it was important to David? Obviously.
But even more importantly, the Lord wanted to ensure that this element of his character would really make its way into our hearts. Take a moment to consider the concept of eternity…it’s almost impossible for us to really fathom—and yet “forever” is the only way to really communicate the height, breadth, and depth of God’s love.
7. Lamentations 3:22–24, God’s never-ending mercies
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”
Here we have the author of Lamentations (likely Jeremiah) reiterating the Psalms’ theme of God’s steadfast love. And then he adds a beautiful meditation on God’s mercy.
Not only is God’s mercy never ending, it’s renewable. We’re not living off yesterday’s provision. And knowing that God is extending fresh grace fills me with gratitude—and a reinvigorated conviction to walk in his ways.
8. Luke 17:11–18, expressing thankfulness
“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”
With the simple words “he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance . . .” Luke reveals the heartbreaking alienation of first-century lepers. Their conditioned ensured estrangement from their loved ones and the rest of society.
I’m sure that the nine who didn’t return to Jesus after they were healed were overwhelmed with the opportunity to spend time with friends and family that they had been separated from for so long. It’s hard to blame them for forgetting to communicate their gratefulness.
Gratefulness is a wonderful feeling, but its real power is released through expression. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits (Psalm 103:2).”
9. 2 Corinthians 2:14–16, thanks be to God; we share in His victory!
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
In Colossians, Paul tells us that “having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col. 2:15).” Through Christ, we are invited to partake in a triumphal procession for a victory he won. That’s a wonderful reason to be thankful. But there’s more…
We get the awesome privilege of being the expression of Christ to a world that desperately needs him. What an amazing gift and responsibility. Thanks be to God, indeed.
10. 2 Corinthians 9:10–15, the link between generosity and gratitude
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
God desires to enrich us so that we can, not only meet our needs, but so we may overflow in generosity. When we give freely in Jesus’ name, the thankfulness of its recipients is given to God—and not to us.
This passage is powerful because it calls us to see ourselves as blessing’s conduits. We receive, in part, to give. In that giving, God is glorified.
11. Philippians 4:12–13, gratitude in plenty, and in want
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Most of the New Testament discussions of thankfulness come directly from Paul. He was a man defined by his grateful heart. Does that mean that everything went well for him? In his service to Christ he was flogged, beaten, robbed, shipwrecked, hungry, and naked. He had to struggle with foes of the Gospel, as well as his own dear friends.
Thankfulness is more than a reaction to receiving what we desire. It’s a tonic against disillusionment and bitterness. In the midst of Paul’s trials, he knew where the strength to keep going came from. And that resolution was forged in the fires of gratitude.
12. Colossians 3:15–17, corporate thankfulness
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Developing thankfulness isn’t simply an endeavor for individuals. We are called to be cooperatively thankful.This passage includes instructions to the church at Colossae, and by volume, you can see how important gratitude is. In these three verses, being thankful is mentioned three times.
One sign of a spiritually vital community is naturally occurring expressions of thanksgiving.
13. Ephesians 1:15–16, being thankful for what doesn’t benefit you
“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”
Paul conveys deep thankfulness for the church in Ephesus. Their faith in Christ being expressed in love for the church inspires him—even if it doesn’t directly impact him.
Want to get a good idea of what you’re truly passionate about? Take a look at what you’re thankful for. What areas are you grateful for that you don’t directly benefit you?
14. Ephesians 5:15–21, making the most of your time
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
You can almost hear Paul screaming, “You only get so much time! Don’t waste it!” He juxtaposes the foolishness of self-indulgence with the productivity of living a life of Spirit-filled worship that expresses itself in thankfulness—for everything..
15. 1 Thessalonians 5:15–18, thankfulness, God’s will for you
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
If you were to ask Paul what God expected of us he would say:
- Don’t repay evil for evil
- Seek to do good to everyone
- Always rejoice
- Pray without ceasing
- Give thanks in all circumstances
That’s a pretty good to-do list if we want to fulfill the law of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as yourself.
16. 1 Timothy 2:1–4, thankful for leadership
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
It’s important to pray for our leaders and recognize God’s providence at work in their positions of authority. But while you often hear about the need to pray for leaders, you seldom hear about our need to express thanksgiving for them.
17. Hebrews 12:26–29, grateful for an unshakable kingdom
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
A time is coming when every structure without a firm foundation will be shaken to its core. The only thing left standing will have come directly from God’s hand. The fact that we’ve inherited a kingdom that can never be shaken is wonderful thing to be thankful for.
18. Hebrews 13:14–16, sacrifice of praise
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
We are sojourners in search of a kingdom, but we are on our way to an eternal city whose architect is God himself. This realization should overflow is praise to God. And really, what is praise but verbally expressed thanksgiving!?
19. James 1: 2–4, thanking God for trials
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Echoing Paul’s spirit, James encourages us to look at the trials in our lives as opportunities for maturity and growth, and not as obstacles and hindrances.
Think about one difficult situation in your life right now, and turn it into a prayer of thanksgiving.
20. James 1:14–17, gratitude for God’s good and perfect gifts
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
It’s our own desires that lure us into temptations to sin. In contrast, what’s good and perfect comes directly from God. This includes the things we recognize as gifts and the items we mistake for curses. Either way, you’ll never go wrong by choosing thankfulness.
The gratitude challenge
Whether you feel content where your life is right now or you wish things were different, you can make the decision to be thankful.
If you have a hard time believing that thankfulness can make a big difference, challenge yourself to a week of cultivating gratefulness. Before you get out of bed in the morning, thank God for three things in your life. As you go through your day, recognize and vocalize gratitude for the traits and kindnesses of others. At nightfall, offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for three challenges you’re experiencing.
Give it a week and see how you feel. If you’re starting to see a difference, give it a month. It only takes about 21 days to make a habit!
Looking for some conversation starters about gratitude and thankfulness? We’ve got you covered!