“Be good!” That’s probably the most common thing I yell at my kids as they’re running out the door to go hang with friends, go to baseball practice, ride their bike through the neighborhood, or anything else they may be up to. It’s more reflex than anything. But what do I mean when I say “be good”?
More importantly, what does the psalmist mean when he writes, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD”? Three ways it is good immediately come to mind.
First, it is good in that it is morally praiseworthy. In this, it is the opposite of evil. It is evil not to be grateful. One of God’s chief complaints against infant Israel was that they grumbled and complained against him instead of being thankful. Gratitude, on the other hand, is a command of God and is morally praiseworthy. It is good in this sense.
Second, it is good in that it’s fitting with our end, our telos. I have a hammer that I got from my dad (I think I may have ‘borrowed’ it decades ago and never returned it). It’s a good hammer – heavy, sturdy. It does what a hammer is designed to do, and it does it well. Saying it is good for us to give thanks means, in part, that it’s part of what we designed to do. We were created for God’s glory, and giving thanks brings God glory.
Third, it is good for you; in other words, it’s healthy. When I see my kids eating cookies for breakfast, I might say “eat something good” (or I might join them). Similarly, being grateful and expressing gratitude is good for us – it enlivens, brightens, and restores. Like eating Ding Dongs for breakfast, Snickers for lunch and Pop-Tarts for dinner would leave you feeling pretty miserable (ask me, I know) and deprive you of crucial nutrients, so grumbling and complaining and focusing on the negative leaves us feeling miserable. This isn’t just theology or intuition; research is showing the positive health benefits that are physical, mental, and relational (see research by ECC/IU’s Joel Wong in this article, and this short, encouraging video).
Let me suggest a couple of things we can put into practice today. First, be vigilant in your prayers to include thanksgiving. Do it every time. Express your gratitude for the good things in your life you enjoy, and the hope and consolation we have in the next life because of the gift of Christ. Second, trace every good thing back to its source. Enjoy a pleasant walk? Don’t just say, “that was good.” Trace it back to its source, which is God – the one who gave you health enough to walk, painted the sky, sent the pleasant breeze. Enjoy a cup of coffee? Don’t just say, “good cup of joe.” Trace it back to its source and say, “thank you, God. Thank you for the simple pleasures. Thank you for sending rain on the farms that grow the beans. Thank you for giving skill to the roaster. Thank you…” Third, tell someone else what you are thankful for, and ask them what they are grateful for. Let the gratitude snowball. We know complaints and negative talk can snowball into gripe sessions. Turn the tables and be grateful in communion with others.