The Rule of Thanking

Last week was Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving, we hear the phrase, “We have much to be grateful for.” Since it was Thanksgiving week, we were encouraged to count our blessings, to give thanks, to recognize the many ways that God has shown us his grace and mercy. This time of year, so many people talk about being thankful and blessed. That’s good, but let’s not forget to whom we are grateful. Remember James 1:17, “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.” If you need a refresher on gratitude, CJ Mahaney preached an outstanding Thanksgiving sermon this past Sunday, November 26 on that very verse at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, entitled “The Giver of All Good Gifts.” So, we have much to be grateful to God for. It’s a good phrase, but I want to think a little bit about it with you. 

I recently came across a Latin phrase that the early church fathers used: lex orandi lex credendi. That translates to something like, “the rule of praying is the rule of believing.” In other words, you can tell what you believe from what you pray. Or, I suppose, you can tell what you believe from whether you pray. I think that is a useful measure for thinking about our prayers. And, so close on the heels of Thanksgiving, we can modify that phrase slightly to gauge our gratitude: lex gratiae lex credendi.

That would be “the rule of thanking is the rule of believing.” In this case, you can tell what you believe from how—and how often, and to whom—you are grateful. I think that men especially need this message. We cannot allow gratitude to be confined to a single day or even week of the year. We cannot afford to nod at gratitude while we nosh down some turkey and nap through some football. We need to give this some careful thought, because lex gratiae lex credendi. What you believe shows in your gratitude.

I should say at this point that gratitude doesn’t come naturally or easily to most men. It is not hard to see why. Some men might perceive gratitude as a kind of weakness. Follow the logic, right? We express gratitude to someone who does something for us or gives something to us. If I need someone to do something for me or give something to me, then that means that I have some kind of lack, deficiency, or need. Aka, weakness. So the tendency in some men—and this wouldn’t be a stereotype if there was not some truth in it—the tendency in some men is not to show gratitude because it implies weakness. There it is: lex gratiae lex credendi.

So it’s not much of a jump to say that ingratitude reveals pride and arrogance. But the problem also arises that if we don’t practice the good spiritual fruit of gratitude then bad fruit will take its place. There will be sinful attitudes and behaviors like anger and irritability, complaining and self-pity. These are not attractive qualities. 

But there is another side to this as well and I think it is an ever bigger temptation for the younger generation. Older generations like the men of my father’s or grandfather’s generation might not have expressed gratitude because they didn’t want to show weakness. But I think there is a temptation in the younger generations to wear weakness as a badge of honor. Sometimes we hear people say that now we have a nation of victims who complain about everything. Again, it wouldn’t be a stereotype if there wasn’t some truth in it. It does seem to be true that young men can be susceptible to the temptation to complain.

I think that for the younger generation, what underlies this temptation to complain can be a victim mentality. Many young men feel like they’ve been wronged in some way and so they indulge resentment and bitterness, they give in to complaining and self-pity. These are habits of the heart that will strangle gratitude. 

So, two kinds of temptation: some men don’t show gratitude because that would reveal weakness, others don’t show gratitude because they think of themselves as victims with nothing to be grateful for. Young men especially need to see this. Be honest with yourself here. The rub is that we might detest complaining and self-pity in others but it is sometimes hard to spot in ourselves. James says that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Complaining and self-pity are very unmanly qualities. But it doesn’t have to be like that. One of the most important ways to grow in godly manhood is to cultivate gratitude. Godly men are grateful men. 

The antidote for both kinds of men is to remember that we are dependent on the Lord’s grace for all that we do. The man who isn’t grateful because he doesn’t want to show weakness needs to remember that we depend on God for all things. In him “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And the man who isn’t grateful because he thinks of himself a victim also needs to remember that we are dependent on God’s grace for all things: we have been shown grace by God; he has shown “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

Gratitude is an expression of real strength and courage. It is a way to prove the transforming power of Jesus Christ is at work in you as you obey 1 Corinthians 16:13–14: act like men, be strong. 

So for Christian men, Thanksgiving is not confined to a day. It is a way of life. And it is one of the key markers of godly and mature manhood.

How can I say that gratitude needs to be a distinctly masculine trait? Shouldn’t women be grateful, too? Of course they should. But I’ve already mentioned the connections between gratitude and perceptions of weakness. Far more than women, men do not like to be perceived as weak. Because ingratitude, and the pride and forgetfulness that accompany it, is a common temptation among men, gratitude deserves special attention as a virtue worthy of cultivation by men. And I think I can make this case because of how Scripture describes the temptation.

Let me start with Deuteronomy 8. Deuteronomy comes at the end of the wilderness wandering, as the Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land. Moses prepares them for what they will encounter there and warns them about what the temptations they will face in the Promised Land. Much of what is in front of them sounds really good. The first half of chapter 8 describes how God sustained Israel in their wanderings and what they have to look forward to in the Promised Land. 

Much of what awaits them there is very good. Verses 7–9 describe it: it’s a good land, plenty of water, valleys and hills, full of wheat and barley, vines, fig trees and pomegranates, olive trees and honey. Verses 9 says that in this land, they will lack nothing, including bread, iron, and copper. 

But all this prosperity presents a real danger. Verses 17 and 18 say, 

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:17–18).

A similar idea is in 1 Corinthians 4:7,

“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

So then, the wrong way to go about this is to boast of what we have, whether that be material possession, skills, status, anything. 

But the proper perspective, that honors the Lord, is to recognize that all we have, we have received. And the proper response to that recognition is gratitude. So, with just a couple of Bible verses, we are combating the temptation. The gospel has already said that we are needy people. If we embrace that rather than resist it, we are in a position to grow in gratitude. 

And that’s important because gratitude is a common command in the New Testament. Here are just two examples: 

“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.” (Colossians 3:17).

So giving thanks is meant to accompany “whatever you do, in word or deed.” That’s pretty comprehensive.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Again, these verses calls us to give thanks in all circumstances. This is meant to be a way of life.

Men, growing together in gratitude can have a profound effect on us because, lex gratiae lex credendi. If the rule of thanking is the rule of believing, and it is true that what we believe is shown in how, how often, and to whom we give thanks, there is another side of this Latin phrase, and it is this: the rule of thanking will shape the rule of believing. 

In other words, making effort to practice gratitude will shape what we believe about ourselves and others. Gratitude will protect us from pride and arrogance and it will remind us that we are weak, finite creatures who need a Savior and need to live in fruitful Christian community.

I like this quotation from CJ Mahaney’s book on humility,

“Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow” (Michael Ramsey, quoted by CJ Mahaney, Humility, 70).

John Stott elaborates on that,

“[Paul] knows—not least from his own experience—that there is no greater incentive to holy living than a contemplation of the mercies of God. It is not by accident that in Greek one and the same noun (charis) does duty for both ’grace’ and ‘gratitude’” (John Stott, Romans, 321).

I have two suggestions for practicalities: 

First, how can you thank God every day? For a long time I’ve kept a journal and one of the things I’ll do each day is wrote out the things I’m going to pray for. It’s a very useful way to pray concrete prayers and not be content with just feeling like I’m praying. A while back, I realized I was not sufficiently aware of God’s many blessings in my life, and thus, I was not sufficiently grateful to God for his grace. I was in a rut of complaining and self-pity. So each day, in addition to writing out my prayers, I resolved to write down at least three things to thank God for today. That really helped me grow in gratitude towards God. 

The second suggestion I have for you is: to whom in your life can you show gratitude today? Not just a perfunctory “thanks,” but can you make it a moment: be specific and clear to say: “I want to thank you for ______, because that has blessed and served me like this: _____.” Can you thank one or both of your parents today? Your pastor? Someone who served at church on Sunday? Is there a coworker to whom you can show gratitude? If you are married, I am certain your wife is serving you in countless ways and your challenge might be choosing between the many ways you could express gratitude to her. 

So, lex gratiae lex credendi. Let’s show what we believe through how, how often, and to whom we give thanks and let’s make every day of the year Thanksgiving.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Consider lex gratiae lex credendi in your life. What does your gratitude reveal about what you believe?
  • Assess your gratitude to God. How often do you thank God specifically for his grace, mercy, and blessings in your life?
  • What are the first three things that come to mind when you think about God’s posture and actions towards you? Take a moment and thank him now.
  • Assess your gratitude to others. Do you think others would consider you a grateful person? (You might consider asking them for their honest assessment!) 
  • What can you do this week to thank others.? Be specific: to whom and for what? When will you say thanks and what will you say?
  • What practice(s) can you put in place to become a more consistently grateful person?

 

This content is sponsored by Trinity College of Louisville. Trinity College equips students with character, conviction, and courage to live gospel-centered lives and build gospel-centered families and churches. Learn more at www.trinitycollegelou.com. Follow us on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. And it is not too late to join us for our next First Friday Preview day; register on our website. Until next time: “Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. And let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).