Maybe it’s cliche to talk about being thankful at this time of year, but while having a day set aside every year to be thankful and express that thankfulness is a good thing, gratitude should be part of our conversations and prayers year round. Gratitude should be expressed every day, multiple times a day. Far too often we are concerned with what we don’t have, and lose sight of all we do have.
C.S. Lewis said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We are too easily satisfied, too easily filled, too easily consoled. On the opposite side of the coin, we are too easily ruffled, too easily disappointed, too easily crossed. I don’t mean to downplay the trials and suffering we all go through, and that some are currently experiencing. But one of the things that sets us apart from the world is that we can praise and thank God in the midst of those trials and sufferings, not just when they are over.
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:17-21
Gratitude is not just a feeling; it is a discipline. As with any discipline, the more one does it, the better they become at it. We need to give thanks always, not only when we feel thankful, but also when we don’t. One neat thing about practicing thankfulness is that it fosters more thankfulness. It opens our eyes to more areas of blessing, at once both expanding our gaze outward to see the big picture and focusing our gaze inward on the details of all we have to be thankful for.
There are many benefits to practicing gratitude. It can reduce stress and anxiety by releasing hormones in our brains that regulate our responses to stressful and anxiety inducing situations and thoughts. It can help facilitate better and deeper sleep. A grateful person is more hopeful and grounded. None of us can add a single hour to our life span by worrying, but practicing gratitude improves our physical and mental health. God tells us to be thankful in everything, not because it is impossible or because He is trying to manipulate us into blindly accepting anything He throws at us. He tells us to be thankful because it’s good for us and it helps us be more engaged in our lives and His kingdom. He is a good Father who gives good gifts to His children, and one of those gifts is gratitude.
The book of Deuteronomy is Moses recapping all that God has done for the Israelites: delivering them from slavery and Egypt, crossing the wilderness, feeding them daily, keeping their clothes intact, protecting them from enemies, etc. He also is recapping all the ways Israel has rebelled against and disobeyed God. They are about to enter the Promised Land and Moses desperately wants them to remember who they are and who God is, because he knows the consequences that will come if they don’t. They will forget everything God did for them, go after other gods and seek self-reliance, and experience God’s wrath as a result. We humans are forgetful creatures, and we forget quickly. So Moses tells them to remember all that God has done for them.
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:18-21
How do we practice sincere gratitude and thankfulness?
Remember who God is and who you are in relation to Him.
Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you.
Remember that He is the One who has sustained and led and fed and clothed you thus far and He will continue to do so.
Remember where strength truly comes from.
Remember that you are chosen and loved,
not because you are the most talented or most strong or most clean—
you are the least of these.
No, you are chosen and loved because He chooses and loves you.
All this is an unmerited, un-repayable, unbelievable gift.
Second, express it visually and vocally.
Write what you are grateful for in your journal.
Make it part of your conversations with friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers.
Include it in your hourly, daily, and weekly prayers.
Have a gratitude jar or board in your house where people can write down things they are thankful for. Pick a day each week to read them aloud with the family.
Third, start today and make it a habit.
Gratitude is easy to start, which also means it is easy to stop if we don’t practice it daily.
If you like to schedule your days, write it into your schedule.
If you aren’t on the scheduling train, set a daily recurring reminder on your phone or put up sticky notes around your house.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:15-17
Show gratitude for the big things and the little things. One can be thankful for sunlight flooding through the windows; for the wind blowing through their hair; for all green lights on their way to work. Show gratitude for the easy things and the hard things. Thank God that it doesn’t go the way we planned because His plan is better; that we aren’t in control because we see the hurt and evil humans inflict on each other; that though we are weak and foolish He is always strong and wise. There is much to be thankful for, if we will only take the time to notice.
(for more passages on gratitude see Col. 1:11-14, 2:6-7, 4:2; 1 Thes. 5:16-18; Phil. 4:5b-7)