The Power of a Thankful Heart

Four Reasons to Cultivate a Lifestyle of Thanksgiving

By James Ryle

“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD” (Psalm 92:1)

Give ThanksHoliday — the word actually means holy day. Our world in general has drifted so far from spiritual mindedness that the term “holy day” is antiquated and therefore seldom used.

“Would you like to observe a Holy Day with me?” we ask our friends. They smile and say, “No, thank you; but, we will gladly celebrate a Holiday any time! And then they say, “Merry Xmas,” so as not to offend anybody. I guess being holy is not chic.

For the record, Webster’s defines holiday as “a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.” In other words, it is set apart because it is touched with the sacred. It is a holy day.

There are 117 Holidays listed on the US Calendar every year. However, there are only four that truly merit the name Holy Day, and as such we should celebrate them every day. They are, in order of occurrence, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Consider how comprehensive this list is.

EASTER celebrates our redemption from the power of sin and death.  It commemorates the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and proclaims that we have been set free from the grip of sin and the fear of death – and that we can now walk in newness of life by the power of His Spirit within us.

INDEPENDENCE DAY celebrates our freedom from oppression, and holds in high esteem those who with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence mutually pledged to each other their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor. We refer to them as the Founding Fathers. We commemorate this on the Fourth of July, and while we delight in the spectacular displays of fireworks, we must never forget the price that was paid – and is still being paid – by those who defend the Constitution the Founding Fathers signed. And lest we forget, Memorial Day was added to the lineup. It’s that important.

THANKSGIVING was established as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. The first Thanksgiving in the US occurred in 1621 when the Pilgrims and Puritans joined together in a feast with the Native Americans, expressing gratitude to God for safe arrival through stormy seas, and bountiful provisions made available through the generosity of the natives.

Today it has morphed into a special day when we give thanks to God for His blessings. Oh, yeah; and watch football.

CHRISTMAS commemorates the birth of a Child, who was a King. He was the Son of God, given to us to show us the way, the truth, and the life – and then to give His life in exchange for our very own. He died that we might live. He now lives in us that we might give to others as we have received.

These are, in my opinion, the four holidays that truly merit the term Holy Day. And here is my point – imagine what our world would be like if we truly celebrated these four holy days each day of the year!

Oh, I realize I’m a dreamer, and that such a thing will never happen. Still, it would indeed be astounding to see it happen. Let me take a moment and show you what I mean.

Permit me to draw your attention to just one of the four holy days – Thanksgiving — and ask you, “What difference would it make in your life if you lived every day with a thankful heart?” I tell you what – try it for just a week and let me know what you think.

The Bible says, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th.5:18). And in another place we are told, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col.3:17). And, here’s one more — “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD” (Psalm 92:1).

It is a good thing indeed.

Four Things happen when we have a Thankful Heart

There is an unmistakable power always at work when we live with a thankful heart. I’m sure more can be added to this list, but I offer you four to consider.

#1 — A Thankful Heart increases our awareness of God’s purpose.

“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

God is good all the time; all the time God is good. We are assured over and over by the full weight of Scripture that God’s hand, though often unseen, is working “all this together according to the counsel of his will”(Eph 1:11).

thankful heartWhen we live with a thankful heart our eyes open so that we may know with calm assurance that God is working for our good — even in the midst of something that is really bad.

The Bible says, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th.5:18). Everything? Yes, everything. This means while we are going through something — good or bad — we give thanks while we are IN it.

We do not curse or complain, for that opens us to the destructive power of bitterness. And that can destroy our souls, and bring great sorrow to many others.

This brings me to my second point.

#2 — A Thankful Heart keeps us from the destructive influence of bitterness.

The Bible says, “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s wonderful grace. Don’t let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you” (Heb.12:15 CEV).

bitterness 01Oh, how many thousands of stories can be told about the destructive power of bitterness in families, businesses, churches, and teams! One bitter person can unleash a poison that destroys thousands of lives.

Job said, “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11). That’s what bitterness does: it complains. Bitterness quenches joy and makes one critical and mean-spirited; hell-bent on depriving others of blessings. It dominates the mind, disrupts the conversation, destroys friendships, and spreads discord among others.

When we live with a thankful heart — even in our darkest, most trying moments – God gives us perspective and peace.

Gods PurposeKing David wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.    You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” He concludes by saying, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (see Psalm 119:67, 68 and 75).

Afterwards, he bursts forth into song, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psa 30:11-12)

Every experience in life makes you bitter or better. A thankful heart always takes us along the path of that which is better.

#3 — A Thankful Heart prevents us from falling into pride.

Daily BreadWhile bowing our heads before God shows reverence, there is also something redemptive about doing so. It holds us in a place of humility.

Matthew Henry, the famous Bible scholar was once accosted by thieves and robbed of his purse.  Afterwards, he wrote these words in his diary:

“Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed another.”

This is a worthy example of choosing wisely. He could have been bitter, and complained to the Lord about the unfairness of the situation. He could’ve become angry and carried an offense that would make his suspicious of any travelers he might encounter on his journey, which would have closed his heart to them lest they assault him as others had done.

Instead, he turned to God in humility, and gave thanks. Thus he was saved from the pitfall of pride and anger. As for the robbers, we can be sure that God’s justice tracked them down and they paid dearly for what they had done. “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19)

Thanksgiving and Humility go hand in hand. God is pleased with both.

#4 — A Thankful Heart permeates our circle of influence with faith.

Thanksgiving is the highest expression of faith there is, especially when it is offered during times of distress and difficulty. Thanksgiving looks beyond momentary afflictions, convinced that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18).

A Thankful heart is focused upon God; a bitter and ungrateful heart is absorbed with its problems. Thankfulness lifts our vision and builds our faith. It causes us to become an influential encouragement to others who are struggling with life’s difficulties.

influence circlePaul wrote, “Do everything without complaining or arguing. Then you will be blameless and innocent. You will be God’s children without any faults among people who are crooked and corrupt. You will shine like stars among them in the world as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Php 2:14-16, GW)

As we are thankful – even in the midst of great difficulties – God “leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2 Co 2:14)

Are you the kind of person that brightens up a room by leaving? When others see you coming, do they turn aside to avoid an encounter with you so as not to be criticized, corrected or condemned?

Or, are people drawn to you so as to be near somebody who can help them experience God’s presence? Do you repel people from Christ, or attract people to Him?


In a Peanuts cartoon, Snoopy is getting dog food for his Thanksgiving Day dinner. He stares at the bowl and talks to himself.

“How about that? Everyone is eating turkey today, but just because I’m a dog I get dog food.”

He then trots away and positions himself on top of his doghouse and concludes, “Of course, it could have been worse, I could have been born a turkey.”

There is always something we can be thankful for; find that one thing and start there. Give thanks to God….and watch how quickly your list will grow; and how dramatically your life will change!


a child praysFather, we thank You for Your faithfulness to always work things for our good. Forgive us when we let hurt, anger, and bitterness sour our minds and turn our hearts away from trusting You.

Renew our vision so that we may see beyond the circumstances that trouble us. Let us instead catch a glimpse of the good that You are bringing after we pass through the test.

Give us thankful hearts.

Questions for Discussion Group

Here is a way you can share this truth with others. Print out the PDF version of this Devotional — 07 The Power of a Thankful Heart —  make copies and distribute among a group of friends. Meet together, read the devotional, and then use the following questions to help lead a discussion time.

  1. Have you ever considered THANKSGIVING a holy day? What would it look like for you to do so?
  2. In what ways would your life be different if you lived every day with a thankful heart?
  3. Tell of a time when you thanked God for something difficult – while it was happening?
  4. What Life-Lesson has God taught you during a time of difficulty?
  5. What influence on others would you have if you began to live with a thankful heart?

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