Thankfulness is primarily a decision, not a feeling

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 3 – Cultivate the attitude of thankfulness until it is a habit

We often make the mistake of waiting until we feel like giving thanks before we do so. However, it doesn’t work that way. Thanks are due to God whether we feel like it or not. We are to express our thanks as a decision of our will. It doesn’t need to be the natural outpouring of an excited or happy mood. It’s fine if it is, but it doesn’t need to be. The reality is that that is not always how we feel. Sometimes we are not naturally happy or buoyant. But we cannot allow ourselves to be limited or controlled by our feelings. God is worthy of our thanks and praise at all times, regardless of our changing moods.

6As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Colossians 2:6-7 (RSV)him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Colossians 2:6-7 (RSV)

The real reason for thanking God is not that we feel thankful. It is simply that He is worthy of being thanked, whether we feel it or not Our responsibility is to decide to be thankful and then to decide to express it, regardless of what our actual feelings might be. We are to offer thanks as a form of offering or sacrifice. That may well mean doing so when we do not feel like it and when, instead, we actually feel low or sad or anxious:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and pay your vows to the Most High;

Psalm 50:14 (NASB)

12 I am under vows to you, O God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.

Psalm 56:12 (NIV)

He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honours me;
to him who orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God!”

Psalm 50:23 (RSV)

When the Bible refers to offering God a “sacrifice” of thanksgiving, the implication is that our offering of thanks is a decision or a step, rather than a spontaneous outburst. It’s something we choose to do and to give. It’s not just a feeling. It may even be difficult, and require us to overcome our feelings. We may even need to tell ourselves what to do:

17I will give thanks to the LORD
according to His righteousness
and will sing praise to the name
of the LORD Most High.

Psalm 7:17 (NASB)

Twice the Psalmist says “I will” when He refers to giving thanks. He is speaking of His will, not his feelings, and indicating that he is deciding to give thanks. It is a choice, or a resolve, not an emotion. In fact, he is actually speaking to himself and instructing himself to give thanks. The Psalmist quite often tells himself what to do. Here he is telling himself to bless the Lord:

1Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;

Psalm 103:1-2(NASB)

Presumably the Psalmist tells himself to do this because, at that moment, giving thanks is not his natural inclination. It is not what he feels like doing, but it is what he chooses to do, because he knows he should. We need to copy him in that approach.

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