There are some surprising stories of gratitude in the Bible.
It’s easy to thank God when life is going well. My heart naturally swells with gratitude on days when my kids are easy to parent and playing well together, at times when a prayer is boldly answered or in seasons when I have money enough for fun extras rather than shelling it out to fix a broken water heater.
But when parenting pushes me past my limits or I’m waiting longer than I hoped for God to answer or money squeezes the fun right out? Gratitude doesn’t flow so easily. But scripture is clear about the power of gratitude.
God calls us to be thankful in all things. (If you’ve found that hard to do, as I have, here’s how we can give thanks even in bad circumstances.)
When I dug deep into a gratitude study in the Bible, I saw gratitude in places I didn’t expect.
Let’s look at 6 surprising stories of gratitude in the Bible.
6 Surprising Stories of Gratitude in Scripture
1. Daniel gave thanks despite the risk.
Daniel was born into a noble life but became enslaved as a teen. Daniel was exiled from his homeland, cut off from family and trained to assimilate into Babylonian culture. Yet Daniel followed God with his whole heart and continually distinguished himself during the rise and fall of two kingdoms. When the Persian king wanted to promote Daniel to second highest in the kingdom, the other officials conspired to take Daniel down. They convinced King Darius to issue an irrevocable edict: pray to the king or suffer the lion’s den.
With his life at risk, Daniel could have knuckled under. He could have accused God of injustice. But Daniel stayed steadfastly faithful. Per usual, Daniel bent to pray and give thanks to God three times a day. Daniel chose gratitude despite the risk.
I’d love to know what Daniel thanked God for—God’s constant provision? God’s faithfulness at every turn? Or God’s goodness no matter what? God was all of this even if he never rescued Daniel. True to the king’s edict, Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den for an entire night, but God shut the lions’ mouths and Daniel emerged not only alive, but without so much as a scratch.
2. Jonah gave thanks in the belly of a fish.
Unlike Daniel, Jonah found himself in dire straits of his own making. God had told Jonah to go warn Nineveh of imminent judgment if they didn’t repent. Instead, Jonah jumped the next ship to Tarsus. When a violent storm threatened to capsize the ship, Jonah knew it was God’s judgment for him and told the sailors to throw him overboard. He was promptly swallowed by a large fish.
Jonah could have sulked or given up, but in the belly of the fish, he repented and thanked God. After Jonah’s prayer with gratitude, God commanded the great fish to spit him up on dry land and Jonah headed to Nineveh to preach.
3. Hannah chose the Giver over the gift.
Hannah’s story is so tender to me. Beloved by her husband, but barren of children, Hannah endured contempt and taunts from her husband’s other wife, who had many children. Hannah couldn’t even eat for her anguish. In deep pain, she went to the tabernacle and cried out to God, promising if He gave her a son, she would give him back for life-long service.
God did give Hannah a son. For the next few years, when her husband went to annual sacrifices, Hannah remained at home with her son, Samuel. “[M]ay the Lord help you keep your promise,” her husband would gently remind. Hannah kept her vow and, once weaned, took Samuel to live with the priest in Jerusalem. Hannah neither regretted nor resented her promise. Instead, she was deeply grateful. Though she loved her Samuel, Hannah chose to worship the Giver, not his gift. (1 Sam 2:1-2, NIV)
“My heart rejoices in the LORD! The LORD has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.”
4. Paul gave thanks in the middle of a storm.
This story in Acts 27 reads like a modern-day action adventure. Paul had been imprisoned and put on a ship for Rome under Roman guard. The ship was soon caught in a violent hurricane. The crew first tried to hold the ship together by passing ropes underneath, then they threw cargo and later ship’s tackle overboard. By the 14th day, when they’d seen neither sun nor stars, “they gave up all hope of being saved.”
But that night, an angel appeared to Paul in a dream, assuring him no one would die. The storm raged on and the ship looked like it would be dashed against rocks. They dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight. No one had eaten for 14 days, and just before sunrise, Paul urged everyone to eat to regain strength. In the midst of the storm, Paul took bread, gave thanks to God before the entire ship, broke the bread and distributed it. The next day, all 276 aboard made it safely to shore.
If Paul gave thanks not after the storm had passed, but right in the midst, we can give thanks in our storm as well.
5. Jesus gave thanks before there was enough.
When Jesus fed the 5,000, he was grieving deeply, having just learned his cousin, John the Baptizer, had been beheaded. He was also weary and had tried to get away to a quiet spot with his apostles for rest. But the crowds followed and with great compassion, Jesus taught for hours. Seeing the people were hungry, Jesus took five loaves and two fish, and “looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” The apostles distributed the food to the crowd, the people ate until satisfied and they gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.
The odds are 100% God will meet our need. We may not see it yet, but God has promised and He will do it. When we ask God to meet our need, we can thank him in advance for his sure provision.
6. Jesus gave thanks before going to the cross.
On the evening of the Last Supper, Jesus said he had “eagerly desired to eat this Passover” with his apostles. Knowing he was about to be betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten and crucified, Jesus gave thanks.
Nancy Leigh Demoss notes Jesus paused three times during the meal to give thanks—during supper before the cup, before breaking bread and after supper before taking another cup. (Choosing Joy, 73) Jesus gave thanks for bread and wine that represented his body broken, his blood spilled out, for us.
“This was not an obligatory blessing offered up before the meal. The whole meal pictured the enormous sacrifice Jesus was about to make. In giving thanks for the cup and the bread, then in giving the symbolic elements to his disciples, Jesus was saying in effect, ‘Yes, Father, I willingly surrender myself to Your calling for My life no matter the cost.’ He gave himself to God and to the world, not with coercion, but with abandon…and with gratitude, grateful for the privilege of obeying his Father and of fulfilling the mission He had been sent to earth to complete.”
May we have our own surprising stories of gratitude.
Like Daniel, may we offer gratitude to God no matter what we face.
Like Jonah, may we offer gratitude to God for hard consequences that bring good repentance.
Like Hannah, may we offer gratitude to God for who He is over what He gives.
Like Paul, may we offer gratitude to God, not after, but in the midst of the storm.
Like Jesus, may we offer gratitude to God before He supplies our need.
Like Christ, may we offer gratitude to God even when following His will means suffering.
Bonus #7: David gave thanks in the face of deep injustice.
In Psalm 69, David cries out for God to save him from his enemies who falsely accused him. He was sinking under the distress and the mocking, disgrace and injustice were taking a huge physical and emotional toll on him. In Psalm 69:4, David describes his situation: “Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; Those who would destroy me are powerful, those who oppose me with lies.” Maybe David wrote this psalm during the eight years he was on the run from Saul, constantly trying to stay one step ahead to save his life. Maybe David wrote this when Israel waged civil war and refused to recognize him as king or maybe he wrote in after fleeing the insurrection of his own son, Absalom.
But in the midst of this unfair suffering, David thanks God:
“I will praise the name of God with song, And exalt Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the Lord better than an ox or bull with horns and hoofs.”
David’s thanksgiving in the midst of distress was better than any sacrifice or offering he could make. What a reminder that our gratitude is a beautiful offering to God.*
Go deeper into the heart of gratitutde with this 30-day Gratitude Bible Reading Plan.
*Thank you for reader and fellow writer, Melissa Pyle, for sharing the bonus surprising story of gratitude. You can find Melissa’s writing here.