Giving Thanks for the Unseen

Young children’s prayers are often sweet and simple. Many of us spoke such prayers during our own childhoods: “Thank you, God, for Mommy and Daddy; and Grandpa and Grandma; and cousin Billy; and cake; and my goldfish, Olly; and ketchup. Amen.” Beyond making us smile, these elementary prayers are a great way to help a child develop a close walk with the Creator and Giver of all good things.

Cultivating Gratitude
The Bible teaches much about fostering a heart of gratitude to God for all He has given us. Consequently, Christian parents instruct their children to give thanks. Prayers of thanks remind us to glorify the Source of everything we have and reveal how impoverished we would be without the loving provision and generosity of our heavenly Father.

Teaching little children to pray with thankful hearts sets a good standard to carry into adulthood. Sound instruction for prayer prioritizes thanksgiving in our communication with our heavenly Father. The apostle Paul taught, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:16–18).

Many devotional books encourage readers to list things for which they are thankful every day of the year. The devotional I am reading challenges me to live with an attitude of gratitude. It reminds me that, no matter what age we are, we should cultivate a heart full of thanksgiving.

One devotional book I’ve read challenges readers to thank God for three gifts each day for a whole year without repeating anything, totaling more than 1,000 gifts. How interesting that, after practicing this discipline for several months, I found myself praying like a child as I searched for something new for which to be thankful. I discovered the simplest opportunities for gratitude: to feel the soft, floppy ears of our mini dachshund; to taste that refreshing first cup of coffee in the morning; to take a deep breath and enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass and line-dried sheets. What a great Creator we have!

Looking Beyond the Sensory
The objects of our thanks are usually things we can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell—our five senses, divine gifts in themselves. After moving from the searing heat of Las Vegas to the frigid cold of Chicago last year, I often thanked God for my well-insulated apartment—a shelter against the icy winds—and a warm bed on a cold night. But in Las Vegas, I thanked Him for air conditioning.

Though we often thank God for material blessings based on our senses, we less often thank Him for immaterial blessings. Perhaps at Thanksgiving someone might give thanks for the salvation from sin God offers through Jesus’ sacrifice. But how often do we hear anyone express gratitude for propitiation (Christ’s appeasement of God’s holy wrath against sin) or imputation (Christ’s righteousness ascribed to us by faith)?

Though we often thank God for material blessings based on our senses, we less often thank Him for immaterial blessings.

What do we make of these unseen gifts that we can discern only through the teaching work of the Holy Spirit in our lives? How often do we give thanks for things that are not physical but spiritual? Such blessings are God’s most valuable gifts to us, yet many of us never thank Him for them.

Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul declared, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Reading this verse, our thoughts immediately turn to the sensory. We think of the most majestic, glorious sight we have ever seen and project what that might look like in heaven—as many illustrators have done by designing images of pearly gates and glistening streets of gold. We think of the greatest rendition of the most beautiful music we have ever heard and try to imagine all the amazing things God has created for us to hear.

Many Christians see 1 Corinthians 2:9 as a promise of future blessings in heaven. Though the glory of heaven undoubtedly will be amazing beyond our imagination, it isn’t the context in which Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.

In writing “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him,” Paul pointed to the mystery of the gospel and everything that being “in Christ” means. The verse immediately following helps us realize Paul wrote about something we can experience, at least in part, on Earth—something the Spirit will show us: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (v. 10).

Rejoicing in Spiritual Riches
So, what are these nonsensory gifts for which we should thank God profusely? Everything we have in our relationship with Christ—the “deep things of God.” We cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell the mysteries of God. What God has prepared for us is revealed only by a wisdom that transcends our natural senses through the Holy Spirit’s special revelation: “For the Spirit searches all things” (v. 10).

People who don’t believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior don’t know what they’re missing. Believers are born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:3–8), wear His seal (Eph. 1:13–14), and bear His Name (1 Pet. 4:16). We can boldly approach His throne (Heb. 4:16) and sit at His table, clothed in His righteousness (Phil. 3:9). We are named in His irrevocable trust (1 Pet. 1:4). He has secured our final arrangements (Jn. 20:31), and all the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16). We are redeemed, justified, adopted, sanctified, gifted, and glorified. Oh, what a salvation this! Only the Spirit teaches us these truths.

There is more beauty in the gospel message than in the most magnificent sights we can see on this earth, but we can only comprehend its unseen majesty through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Those with an earthly perspective have not seen all the blessings God has prepared for His children. But we who believe in Jesus see through a special lens by which the Holy Spirit reveals to us more and more as our faith grows and our knowledge of God increases. There is more beauty in the gospel message than in the most magnificent sights we can see on this earth, but we can only comprehend its unseen majesty through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine how much richer and deeper our prayer lives would be if we incorporated into them gratitude for the unseen gifts that God has given us, like propitiation and imputed righteousness. Meditating on these truths can thrill and humble the most unimpassioned souls; and thanking God for such gifts gives struggling saints hope, peace, and reassurance.

When we live with gratitude for our amazing, unseen treasures in Christ, we honor and praise God, “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Then, our thankfulness for sensory things—like warmth, shelter, and Olly the goldfish—becomes even purer and more beautiful.

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