Give Thanks Against Temptation

The Spiritual Power of Gratitude

No one had ever seen a more unusual band of soldiers. Or heard. As the men slowly advanced toward the front lines, no armor glinted in the sunlight; no war cry pierced the air. Instead, colorful robes adorned these soldiers’ shoulders, and they were armed with nothing but a song. And at the heart of the song were two words that seemed severely premature: “Give thanks.”

Give thanks to the Lord,
     for his steadfast love endures forever. (2 Chronicles 20:21)

So sang the vanguard of King Jehoshaphat’s army; so marched his first men into war.

Their enemies, surely disoriented, perhaps took some courage, thinking Judah’s warriors had lost their minds. But as the next minutes would show, the soldiers’ song of thanks proved more powerful than any sword. For “when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed” (2 Chronicles 20:22).

Judah’s enemies were routed by song, vanquished by praise. And the first sounds to fill the expectant air of war were those two surprising words: “Give thanks.” Many a war today is won with the same words, even if our foes have changed. Many a sin lies slain, many a lie gets daggered, and many a devil flees at the sound of this weapon called “thank you.”

Weapon Called ‘Thank You’

Often, in Scripture, thanksgiving arises after deliverance — after God has answered the prayer, brought the rescue, trampled the enemy. But among the many examples of post-deliverance thanksgiving, we find several striking examples of the saints thanking God before the battle begins — as a weapon of war.

Alongside Jehoshaphat’s army, we might recall what Daniel did when faced with King Darius’s insane decree: “Whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). Daniel would not, could not, endure a month of prayerless days, much less make petition to a creature of dust. So, “he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed, . . . as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10).

Were I Daniel, my prayers would no doubt plead and beg and earnestly ask for deliverance. Daniel, however, did more: he “gave thanks before his God” (Daniel 6:10). Let kings rage and lions roar; Daniel will still be heard saying “thank you” to his God. And with this weapon, he silenced fear, proclaimed God’s faithfulness, and so trusted in his God all through the awful night.

“Under God, thanksgiving can become not only the raised cup after battle, but the drawn sword beforehand.”

Chief among gratitude’s soldiers, however, stands our own Lord Jesus, who knew how to thank his Father before the four thousand were fed (Mark 8:6), before Lazarus shook off his graveclothes (John 11:41), and even before his own betrayal. “He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them” (Matthew 26:27). Maundy Thursday heard the agonized prayers of Gethsemane; it heard also the stunning sounds of gratitude. And in part through that “thank you,” Jesus saw more clearly the joy set before him, “that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29), and he found strength to trust until the empty tomb.

Under God, thanksgiving can become for us an army marching forward, declaring God’s steadfast love against the hordes of unbelief. It can become not only the raised cup after battle, but the drawn sword beforehand.

Counting Blessings, Killing Sins

Consider now your own life. You are no soldier marching toward battle, no Daniel facing the lions’ den, no Savior engulfed in darkness. But in Christ, you have many strong and subtle foes. And Godward gratitude is one of your sharpest swords.

Take worry. How do you repel a rising anxiety and welcome the peace that passes all understanding? How does your embattled mind become garrisoned by the forces of grace? Not only by “[letting] your requests be made known to God,” but also by doing so “with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6–7). “Father, though worry weighs on me so heavily, thank you. You have proved your faithfulness so many times; you will prove your faithfulness again.”

Or take sexual temptation. How do you create an atmosphere in your heart that chokes the lungs of lust? Not only by removing “filthiness,” “foolish talk,” and “crude joking” from mouth and mind, and not only by remembering that “everyone who is sexually immoral . . . has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God,” but also by filling your soul with the fragrance of gratitude. Instead of sexual sin, Paul says, “let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4–5). For lust cannot live in an utterly thankful heart, a heart that gratefully knows God as its treasure.

Or take bitterness. How do you “let the peace of Christ rule in your heart” when someone in your community drives you crazy (Colossians 3:15)? How do you go on forgiving and forbearing instead of allowing anger to kill your love — or bitterness to cool it (Colossians 3:13–14)? In part, by obeying the command to “be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). When we sincerely thank God for his mercy in Christ, when we gratefully trace the kindness that covers our sins, another day of love feels a little more doable.

We’re not talking here about a bland and banal, cross-stitched and clichéd “count your blessings.” We’re talking about war. Thanksgiving is an act of war. We count our blessings to kill our sins.

Begin and Abound

A habit of thanksgiving, however, rarely comes easily — especially in the grip of temptation. Far easier to allow worry over the walls, to cede ground to lust, to open the gates before bitterness, than to boldly raise gratitude’s flag. And understandably so. When Paul travels to our sin’s twisted center, he finds there an ancient thanklessness: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). Sin never says “thank you” — not sincerely, not from the heart.

So, how might naturally thankless people wield the weapon of thanksgiving? We might consider a two-part plan: begin and abound.


A habit of thanksgiving grows, in part, from beginning our prayers with gratitude and praise. On some regular basis, then, we might resolve to say “thank you” before we say “help me.” Before we voice whatever burdens feel most pressing, we might pause, remember, and spend some time naming God’s past faithfulness, his present help.

Such a practice holds dangers, of course, because thanksgiving holds no value apart from what John Piper calls thanksfeeling. Habitually “thanking” God from a thankless heart warrants the rebuke of Jesus: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). In fact, perhaps the worst prayer in the Gospels begins with “thank you” (Luke 18:11–12).

At the same time, Scripture gives us warrant to begin with thanksgiving; it also gives us hope that such a practice may nourish into our hearts not only the words, but the feeling too. The Levites of old “were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening” (1 Chronicles 23:30). Whatever the circumstance, each day found the Levites adorning the dawn with thanksgiving and bedewing the dark with gratitude.

“Thanksgiving is an act of war. We count our blessings to kill our sins.”

In the New Testament, Paul commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) — indeed, to thank God “always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20). Such commands suggest more than mere spontaneity. By grace, resolving to thank God “always” can push us to remember our many reasons for thankfulness. And remembrance, like a net thrown into the heart’s waters, often catches fresh feelings.

As you begin with thanksgiving, then, remember particular answers to past prayers. Remember the gifts God has scattered so generously about you. Remember how much you have that you don’t deserve — and how little you have that you do. Remember the main reason for gratitude named in the Old Testament: “For he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34, 41). And then trace that goodness and love in the figure of your dying Savior, resurrected Lord, ascended King, and coming Groom.

As we do so, the Lord may well set a table before us in the presence of our enemies — our own worry, our lust, our bitterness — and our cup will overflow with thanks.


If we regularly begin with thanksgiving, we may find ourselves slowly doing more: abounding in thanksgiving. Paul names such abounding as one of the central pillars of the everyday Christian life:

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7)

Abounding in thanksgiving is not a discrete practice; it’s not a step of prayer on the way to petition. Abounding in thanksgiving is a lifestyle. When we abound, we find gratitude rising from our hearts as our bodies rise from bed. We say “thank you” unplanned, unpremeditated, as our eyes catch red falling leaves or the morning’s frosted dew. We bow our heads before meals not merely by brute force of habit but by a living impulse of the heart.

And when the forces of temptation advance, we wield thanksgiving like a weapon well used and close at hand. With Jehoshaphat’s singers, we march toward the battle with song. “Thank you!” we sing, and the sword descends. “I trust you!” we shout, and sin lies slain.