Feel no gratitude? Give thanks anyway.

Actually I finished John Piper’s When I don’t desire God last month but a particular idea from the Bible has lodged itself in my mind. You know how it is that we give thanks out of the gratitude welling in our hearts? What if there’s no gratitude; can we still give thanks? In the chapter to the Christians who struggle long and hard to emerge from the lack of joy, Pastor Piper encourages them to give thanks anyway. He argues that ‘doing the right thing is often the way toward being in the right frame’. He quotes 17th-century preacher Richard Baxter in this counsel:

Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can. You have not the power of your comforts: but have you no power of your tongues? Say not, that you are unfit for thanks and praises unless you have a praising heart and were the children of God: for every man, good and bad, is bound to praise God, and to be thankful for all that he hath received, and to do it as well as he can, rather than leave it undone… … Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart.

Thanksgiving stirs up thankfulness in the heart. Yes, giving thanks is a duty, but is still obedience nonetheless. As Baxter puts it, giving thanks when we feel no desire is like practising what we are not good at so that we can do it better. And it’s with this hope that we give thanks for what God gives, even though we can hardly detect that trace of gratitude.

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