Gratitude Helps Us Long for Heaven

Nobody would deny that gratitude is important for Christians. The Bible is clear on this point: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). As a Christian living in modern Australia, I have endless blessings to be thankful for.

It make sense that thanking God for spiritual blessings—our union with Jesus Christ, our justification and sanctification, our unfading inheritance in heaven—helps us to worship him. We naturally look forward to eternity when we think about these things.

But while reading Dying Thoughts by Richard Baxter1, I realised that our gratitude for earthly blessings can have the same effect. Giving thanks to God for possessions, experiences, and daily mercies shouldn’t anchor us to this life, but lift our souls up to heaven.

Baxter details many of the things he’s thankful to God for, beginning with his spiritual blessings then turning to his many earthly gifts. He writes: “What abundant experience have I had of God’s fidelity and love; and after all shall I not trust him?” (102)

He expresses his gratitude for his parents, childhood, education, and health. Even in the hard work of pastoral ministry he is deeply thankful:

“Many good Christians are glad of now and then an hour to meditate on God’s Word and refresh themselves in his holy worship, but God has allowed and called me to make it the constant business of my life. In my library I have profitably and pleasantly dwelt among the shining light with which the learned, wise and holy men of all ages have illuminated the world. How many comfortable hours have I had in the society of living saints, and in the love of faithful friends! How many joyful days in solemn, worshipping assemblies where the Spirit of Christ has been manifestly present, both with ministers and people! How unworthy was such a sinful worm as I who never had any academic helps, nor much from the mouth of any teacher, that books should become so great a blessing to me, and that God should use me above forty years in so comfortable a work as pleading and writing for love, peace and concord, and with so much success!” (103)

This kind of gratitude doesn’t happen without deliberate effort. Too often we are so busy or burdened that we don’t take the time to stop and think about the gifts God has given to us. Baxter reminds himself how necessary this is:

“Draw nearer, O my soul, to the Lord of love, and be not seldom and slight in thy contemplation of his love and loveliness. Dwell in the sunshine, and thou wilt know that it is light and warm and comfortable…Look up, often and earnestly look up, after thy ascended, glorified Head.” (123)

This book showed me three ways that gratitude for earthly blessings does us eternal good:

1. We see God’s character

The gifts we receive tell us something important about the giver. Baxter sees God’s uncountable mercies as evidence that he is a good Father. In the smallest blessings of each day, we see something of our God who is faithful, kind, generous, and all-powerful.

Baxter is not simply grateful for gifts as an end in themselves—they always drive him to adoration of God. This is a common motif throughout the Psalms. In Psalm 33, for example, the writer praises God for his mighty acts, like creating the world (v. 6) and saving his people (v. 19). Yet he always comes back to praising God’s character above all else:

“He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” (v. 5)

“For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.” (v. 21)

2. We anticipate heavenly gifts

Baxter is thankful for the gift of the Bible, and all the time he has spent in it, but he knows it is far better to be with Jesus, the living Word of God:

“If a light and guide through the wilderness be good, surely the glorious end must be better…Yea, heaven is the more desirable, because there I shall better understand the Scriptures than here I can ever hope to do.” (50)

He is grateful for time with good Christian friends, but this makes him anticipate the joy of dwelling in heaven together: “What then will it be to live in perfect love with perfect saints in heaven for ever, and with them perfectly to love the God of love!” (78). The joy of earthly gifts overflows into meditation about their perfect fulfillment in heaven.

As he nears the end of his life, Baxter sees himself as standing at a doorway. He is so close to paradise. No matter how good things had been in this life, there is nothing that could be worth stepping back from that threshold. When we thank God for what he has given us (as we should do often), let us also contemplate the greater gifts that lay ahead.

3. We love other people better

Gratitude equips us to love. Those who know the mercies they have received are more inclined to extend them to others. Baxter writes:

“The lively sense of love and mercy makes lively Christians abound in love to God and in mercy to others; but the enemy of God and man labours to obscure and diminish our views of divine love and mercy.” (72)

Satan wants to blind us to the immeasurable mercy we have in Jesus Christ, and if he succeeds we will not eagerly show love to others. Recalling all the blessings we have from God’s hand is a powerful exercise in spiritual warfare. When we see the undeserved mercy God has shown us, and think about the perfect life to come, we are free to generously love the people around us. We can do them good that endures for eternity.

So reflect deeply on your blessings. Spend time in prayer thanking him for all the good he has done. And then look up and look out. The best things this world has to offer are just a foretaste of the glory that awaits us. As we wait with patience, let us speed on to show the mercies of God to those around us. Gratitude is not just commanded; it is necessary. It lifts our eyes to the heavenly life.

Let Baxter’s words stir you up to gratitude:

“In this world I have had many of God’s mercies and comforts; but their sweetness was their taste of divine love and their tendency to heavenly perfection. What was the end and use of all the good that I ever saw, or that God ever did for my soul or body, but to teach me to love him, and to desire to love him more?” (115)

 

  1. Richard Baxter, Dying Thoughts (1683), Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, reprinted 2016.

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