How do we cultivate a thankful heart in hard times?

May 14, 2020

When things are difficult, one of the first things that Christians are prone to forget is how we are called to be a thankful people. Thankfulness is an active disposition of praise and gratefulness to God for who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do in our lives and in the world. Admittedly, with our present circumstances and the grim forecasts that we have been hearing and seeing over the last few months, it can be hard to be thankful. Yet, the difficulty of our situation does not exempt us from our need to be thankful. 

In Colossians 3:15-16, we are told, “be thankful” and “sing with gratitude.” In Philippians 4:6, we are told to “present our requests to God with thanksgiving.” In Ephesians 5:19, we are called to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As the people of God, we are called to be thankful, even in hard times. So, how do we cultivate a thankful heart in hard times? What steps can we take toward thankfulness and gratitude?

Learning from Psalm 138

To help us, I want to turn our attention to Psalm 138. David wrote Psalm 138 to stir the people of Israel to give thanks to the LORD in difficult times and circumstances. His intention was to engender hope through the giving of thanks. This morning, my desire is the same. As we study Psalm 138, my prayer is that we will see the relationship between the giving of thanks for previous mercies and how they contribute to strengthening our present hope. 

Psalm 138 teaches us at least three truths about cultivating a thankful heart in hard times. 

First, we cultivate thankful hearts during hard times by remembering the steadfastness of God. In Psalm 138:1, David declares his resolve to “praise the LORD with all of his heart,” which indicates at once that David’s mind and emotions are not divided. He tells his audience, I will not be swayed to praise lesser beings, or “gods,” but I will “sing your praise.” With boldness, David praises the true God in the presence of idols. In fact, you could even translate the language of “praise” as “giving thanks to God.” David is not worried about how others will view his devotion and thankfulness to God. Yet, even while he demonstrates boldness before others, he also reveals humility before God, “bowing before” the presence of the Lord.

As he bows in reverence before the Lord, David “gives thanks to the LORD’s name.” In other words, he is giving thanks for who God is and what he is doing in that time and space. David ties the “name of the LORD” to the Lord’s “unfailing love” and “faithfulness.” The Hebrew words used here are hesed for “unfailing love” and emet for “faithfulness,” which we find paired together throughout the Old Testament. In one of the more well-known occurrences of these words, we see the Lord himself revealing his glory to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, proclaiming, 

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

The idea of “unfailing love and faithfulness” is rooted in the Lord’s covenantal commitment to his people. It is rooted in God’s grace. As one commentator puts it, “David had learned that God does not lie and that all God’s thoughts and actions toward us flow from love and persist in faithfulness. God is good, and he is always good. Therefore, David wanted to thank God for his goodness and praise him for his covenant love and faithfulness before everyone.” 

God, thus, reveals himself to be the God of “abounding unfailing love and faithfulness” to his people—a steadfast, sure, and unshakeable love. The Lord demonstrates his faithfulness, as David notes in verse 3 with the LORD “answering” him in the day that He cried out, giving David courage and strengthening him in his “inmost being.” When we, like David, take the time to remember the steadfastness of God toward us, we too will be provoked to thankfulness.

Secondly, we cultivate thankful hearts during hard times by reflecting on the splendor of God. In verses 4-6, David moves from his personal remembrance of the steadfastness of God to calling upon others to reflect on the splendor of God. Verse 4 makes a bold claim: “All the kings of the earth will give thanks” to David’s Lord. According to David, because the kings of the earth have heard what God has promised to do for his people, they will sing in the “paths of the LORD.” In other words, they will turn away from their false gods, from their idols, and turn their attention on the living, true God. For, “great is the glory of the LORD.”

When David speaks of the greatness of the glory of the Lord (the “splendor of the LORD”), he is referring to the going public of his uniquely powerful, holy character. Or, as one theologian has put, “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections.” When David says, “great is the glory of the LORD,” he is saying, “Behold, look upon, reflect on what God has done, is doing, and will do.” See the greatness of God for yourself! See how marvelous, how majestic are his works toward us.

Our hope for cultivating a thankful heart in hard times rests in Jesus, who makes the steadfastness, splendor, and security of God known to us in the depths of our souls. 

And yet, here is one of the most glorious realities about this great God, according to Psalm 138:6, “Though the LORD is exalted, He watches over the lowly and sees the haughty from a distance.” While he is great, he is also near to us. 

Finally, we cultivate thankful hearts during hard times by resting in the security of God. In verse 7, David speaks insightfully into our own situation. While we do not battle against flesh and blood, we do battle against the Enemy of our soul who seeks to oppress and trouble us. While Satan longs to shipwreck our faith in the LORD, David reminds us that while we “walk in the midst of trouble,” our lives will be preserved because of the faithfulness of God. David rests in the deliverance of God, not his own strength or resources.

It is interesting to see how David is comforted in the nearness of his great God. Three times in this passage, David refers to the “hand of God” that was “sent forth, delivering, and working” on behalf of God’s people. David rests in the hands of the God who has delivered him countless times in the past. He knows that God can be trusted. He knows that the one who watches over his people neither sleeps nor slumbers (Psa. 127:1). 

To “rest in the security of God” means to trust in him. As Psalm 56:3-4 tells us, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.” As you find yourself unsettled, worried, and afraid, David calls us into the rest that he knows as one held in God’s hands. David is certain that God will not abandon his work in his people. And because of that, he can and should be praised and thanked by his people. Even when we feel like the work has been paused for the moment, even when we are struggling to see what God is doing, we can be certain that the Lord’s love endures forever.

The greatest revelation and demonstration that we possess in terms of God’s faithfulness to David, which is point of Psalm 138, is the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Davidic descendant that fulfills the expectations that David voiced in Psalm 138, which for us, means that when we are seeking to cultivate thankful hearts in hard times, we do so by turning our attention to Jesus. For, it is in Jesus Christ that we see the steadfastness of God who completes the work that he began in us (Phil. 1:6); the splendor of God, as Paul speaks of “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6); and the security of God, as Jesus prays for us in John 17. Our hope for cultivating a thankful heart in hard times rests in Jesus, who makes the steadfastness, splendor, and security of God known to us in the depths of our souls. 

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and assistant professor of biblical interpretation at a Luther Rice College and Seminary. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters. For more ministry resources from Casey, visit his … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24