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Closing the Loop: How the Discipline of Giving Thanks Increases Our Joy

By Michael Roop

Jesus was confused; the math wasn’t adding up.

A man was on the ground before Him giving thanks. Just minutes prior, this man’s body bore the unmistakable signs of leprosy, a disease as isolating as it is deadly. In a moment of pure grace, his fate was reversed. The outcome for which he never dared to hope had now become real. He was healed, clean, free. And all he did was ask Jesus.

But here’s the rub: this Samaritan man was one of ten men who enjoyed the same euphoric moment of realization. Nine others had made a similar request, and nine others had similarly looked down to find themselves completely healed. This is what led to Jesus’ (apparent) confusion: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

We can speculate for quite some time why Jesus felt the need to include a comment about this man’s ethnicity, but perhaps his non-Jewish heritage underscored the rare nature of his actions. Perhaps it was the punctuation point to the sentence written by the math: only one of the ten returned to give praise to God. Or, put another way, only one of the ten came back to close the loop.

That phrase has become very useful to Creekside staff meetings. It describes the moment a project or task is brought to its appointed end. If someone’s name comes up as needing extra care this week, we “close the loop” the following week when the assigned staff member reports back on the care given and updates us on any ongoing needs. When I tell someone I’ll pray for them, I close the loop by letting them know when I actually do. When we give our boys a chore, they close the loop by letting us know when it’s done.

Giving thanks has long been the self-evident conclusion of receiving a gift. At Christmases and birthday parties growing up, I wasn’t allowed to begin opening the next present until I had looked the giver of the current present in the eye and thanked them. Job placement experts will recommend sending a thank you card or email after an interview. Why? Because when we ask for and receive a gift, or when we receive an unrequested and unexpected gift, the joy isn’t complete until thanks is given.

The connection between gratitude and happiness has been the topic of study in the world of psychology for some time. For instance, two years ago Harvard Health published the results of a study that found “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” Of course, it should come as no surprise to us that God’s commands are in line with our nature and for our good. But what’s the connection between the two?

C.S. Lewis connected the dots for us in his book Reflection on the Psalms: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed (my emphasis). It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”

Perhaps this is part of social media’s draw on our imagination. For all its faults, it provides a massive opportunity to consummate our joy by posting a picture of an amazing meal or an incredible experience and then watch people join us in our joy as they hit the “like” button. Expressing our delight to the masses provides an opportunity to complete it.


Seventeen times, mostly in the Psalms, the authors of Scripture command God’s people to give thanks to God. It’s an odd thing to command, isn’t it? As I look back on the times I was instructed to give thanks as a child, I can’t help but wonder whether the forced nature of the three-sentence card or scripted phone call diminished the power of the thanks. It was inauthentic, formulaic, shallow.

But what I now understand, as an adult and father who is similarly helping my boys develop this pattern, is that my parents were training me to experience joy. They were patiently clearing a path for me to walk decades into adulthood and centuries into the new creation.

Consider with me the famous command of Paul in Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:6-7).

Do you see the key ingredient? Peace (and joy) comes with Thanksgiving. Why? Because the discipline of giving thanks causes us to call to mind concrete evidence of God’s worthiness to be trusted. When the uncontrollable unknown lies before me, peace is found in remembering that God has already proven Himself to me time and again. And that, come what may, I can never lose the one thing I cannot live without: Him (Heb. 13:5).

So does the coerced nature of our thanksgiving diminish its value? Far from it. Lewis concludes the quote above: “The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

The command to give thanks is an invitation to greater joy, to savor the One in whose presence is the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), the One who will never fail to satisfy your soul, even into eternity. This is the sad state of the nine healed lepers. Sure, they are healed, but their joy is not what it could have been. For nine men, that moment was about healing. For one, that moment was about Jesus. Only his joy was made complete.

When, throughout the course of your day, is the time for you to create a habit of gratitude? Perhaps you might trade in your nightly doom scroll for ten minutes of calling to mind the blessings of the day or the prayers answered. Perhaps your commute home from work or class is the time to acknowledge that God gave you all the strength you needed to face your day. Maybe milestones of birthdays, graduations, holidays or promotions are the time to, like the Samaritan leper, return to Jesus and give thanks to Him.

James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Have you received a good gift today? Do you have something, or did you get to experience something that was good? Did you wake up indoors, find food in your refrigerator and clothes in your closet; did you have the opportunity to walk in a good work prepared by God for you (Eph. 2:10)?

Then close the loop. Thank the Giver for that gift, and find the compounding interest of this discipline will result in a richer, deeper affection and trust in His goodness and faithfulness to us. Let us be a people whose habit is to obey the words of Asaph sung on the day Thanksgiving:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! (1 Chron. 16:34).