We call them Christmas-and-Easter Christians—the people who attend church only on the “religious” holidays and then assume that they’ve done their duty and go about their business until the next obligatory attendance day arrives. If you’re reading this, you probably recognize that this method of church attendance is a far cry from the biblical mandate to meet together regularly and invest in a local body of believers. Sadly, while we may not treat going to church in this way, it is a pretty good metaphor for how we often treat thankfulness. Thanksgiving, now just days away, draws our attention to the blessings God has lavished on us, but it cannot do justice to what ought to characterize a disciple of Christ. Of course, we should give extra attention to a grateful heart this Thursday, but what about when you’re standing in a long checkout line on Friday? Or on a frozen Tuesday in January when you haven’t seen the sun for a week? Or a blistering Monday in August when you haven’t had a break from the heat for a month?
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul assumes that thankfulness will be a part of the Christian’s daily life. He sprinkles the idea throughout his letter, mentioning it eight times in four chapters. Looking a little more closely at a few of these references can help us discover whether we’re truly thankful people or maybe just “Christmas-and-Easter” thankful.
- How Do I Pray? (Col. 1:3; 4:2)
As he opens his letter, Paul commends the Colossians for their faith and love, saying that he gives thanks for them and prays for them. Later, he’ll marry those two concepts together again. In chapter 4, he commands his readers to “devote [themselves] to prayer” and to “be watchful and thankful” (NIV). Since every good gift we have received has come from the Father (James 1:17), we cannot be properly thankful if we ignore the Giver.
This means, among other things, that we express our thankfulness explicitly. May we never pray like Veruca Salt speaks to her dad in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, demanding golden tickets, geese that lay golden eggs, and any other whim that strikes her fancy, without ever stopping say thank you. Having a designated time of thanksgiving as we pray is helpful and tunes our hearts as we make requests. However, I also believe that we ought not compartmentalize our thankfulness, like it’s a box to be checked and then abandoned. As Paul writes to different churches, it often seems that he can’t think of them or pray for them without also offering thanks for them. If I want a genuinely thankful heart, my gratitude will show up throughout my prayer, like the canvas the requests are painted upon, rather than a salad served before the steak.
Take a moment and consider how you pray. How much air time does gratitude get?
- Do I remember? (Col. 1:12)
The second test to determine whether I’m a thankful person is to consider whether I remember. Paul helps us with this throughout Colossians as well. Do I remember that it was the Father who “qualified [me] to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12) ? Or do I live as if I was entitled to that inheritance? Do I remember that I used to be “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (1:21)? Or do I assume that my reconciliation with God was basically 50/50? I was able to meet in the middle because I wasn’t really that far gone. Finally, do I remember that I was dead in my sins and that I had a certificate of debt testifying to my utter inability to repay what I owe (2:13-14)? Or do I assume that God just had to chip in a little extra to make up the part of the debt that I couldn’t quite cover, failing to realize that covering my debt required the incarnation and crucifixion of the second Person of the Trinity?
When I stop remembering the slum of sin from which the Savior rescued me, I stop giving thanks. While I cannot live on past grace, never looking to the future or enjoying the present, I also cannot forget the blessings of the past, none of which is greater than salvation. I will never be a thankful person if I forget the Gospel.
- Do I Sing? (3:16)
Admittedly, this seems like a weird one. But don’t blame me—it’s right there in the text: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teach and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). God’s people sing. And they sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Giver of good gifts. God has providentially chosen that music and thankfulness be inextricably linked.
Not being a particularly musical person myself, I understand well the fear of singing and sounding less than pleasing to the person in front of or beside you. Yet I also understand the joy of hearing someone sing with tuneless joy and fervor, apparently without any thought of who might be listening besides God Himself. This verse tells us that our thankful singing is instructive and helpful to the body, and is a natural response of a thankful heart that has soaked in the Word, gazing at the glory of the Father of lights from whom all gifts flow.
Take a moment to consider—Whether you could turn four chairs on The Voice or would make Blake Shelton run for the hills, do you sing with thankfulness in your heart to God?
- Can I Keep Gratitude Inside? (2:7)
This final question comes from chapter two. Paul tells his readers that one trait of walking in Christ is overflowing with gratitude. Not surprisingly, the word overflowing means “to exceed a fixed number of measure.” It’s what happens when you pour too much coffee into your mug or have too much taco for your tortilla. Paul says that believers’ gratitude should be like that—bursting at the seams and spilling over every time it gets bumped.
This person notices little blessings and deliberately sets out to thank the person responsible. They thank the janitor for cleaning the toilets at church and the nursery workers for changing dirty diapers and holding crying babies to allow everyone else to focus on the worship service; they thank the guy who shows up early on cold winter mornings to shovel snow and spread salt before everyone else arrives at work. They thank the veteran in front of them at KFC for his service and the police officer for her willingness to do an often thankless and dangerous job. They thank their husband for picking up his socks or their wife for washing them. Regardless of the blessing, the person who “overflows” with gratitude won’t be able to hold it inside.
So, before you go carve the turkey or snitch another olive, consider—How easy is it for you to keep your gratitude inside?
Pray with thankfulness. Remember the Gospel. Sing. Don’t keep the gratitude inside. Four simple—though not necessarily easy—marks of the thankful person. How’d you do?