“My heart is filled with thankfulness to him who reigns above.” We stand in church and sing those words aloud to God, but how often do we sing them without thinking about what we are saying? Are our hearts really filled with thankfulness?
Ingratitude is a sin to which most of us so easily fall prey. It is common to humanity. In Romans 1:21–23, Paul ties ingratitude to futile thinking, darkened hearts, and, ultimately, rank idolatry. Yet we so easily give into it. Even on the best of days, we can find a dozen things to complain about. In our fallenness, we far too frequently focus on everything that is wrong rather than what is good. And so, while we sing about hearts filled with thankfulness, it may often be truer to replace “thankfulness” with “bitterness.”
Writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul urged, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is not an attitude that comes naturally; we must work hard at thankfulness. It is an attitude and spirit that we must deliberately cultivate, which means that we need a strategy. Borrowing somewhat from Stacey Reaoch, I want to touch here on five strategies to develop a heart of thankfulness and then spend the next few days highlighting some things that we can all be thankful for.
First, fight for thankfulness by filling your mind with truth. Our hearts are prone to wander into complaining and grumbling. One strategy for combatting this is to intentionally memorise and meditate on texts that speak to the need for gratitude. Commit to memory verses like Psalms 105:1 and 107:8. Prayerfully meditate on texts like Colossians 3:15–17 and ask God to change you by his truth. A deep dive into the biblical teaching on gratitude will help to transform your mind.
Second, fight for gratitude by deliberately bringing to mind God’s past graces to you. How has he been faithful to you in the past? As you take time to recall the many things he has done for you, you will quickly remember how much cause you have for gratitude. The Israelites in the wilderness fell prey time and again to grumbling because they failed to remember what God had done for them. Keep a notebook somewhere of God’s mercies to you (some even refer to the spiritual discipline of journaling) and make the effort to rehearse his kindness to others.
Third, fight for thankfulness by putting a guard over your heart. It takes no great effort to find reasons to complain. It is all too easy to open your mouth or hack away at your keyboard with a stream of complaints. Pray for the ability to resist this temptation and fight it by instead finding reasons to give thanks. Paul told us to give thanks in every circumstance because there is always something to be thankful for. Find the thread of gratitude and verbalise it.
Fourth, fight for thankfulness by finding ways to verbalise your gratitude. As suggested, keep a journal. Make as much effort to affirm and express gratitude as to complain. Social media is a powerful tool to raise action by complaining. Complaining about a company’s service on Facebook and Twitter can move people to action in a way that talking privately to a customer consultant never can. But the same channels can be a wonderful way of verbalising gratitude. Are you as eager to speak affirming words as you are to complain?
Fifth, make a practice of looking for evidences of grace. Several years ago, the elders added “evidences of grace” as a specific agenda item to every elders’ meeting. It is far too easy to spend elders’ meetings focusing on the challenges and burdens of church life. While shepherds must do that, we must never forget all we have to be thankful for. It is the same in the Christian life. If we don’t intentionally look for evidences of grace we will often miss them. We must, therefore, make this our intentional practice.
Paul clearly instructs us to be grateful in every circumstance. While this is hard, it is a command and we must therefore do all we can to pursue a life of gratitude. Stay tuned for the next few days as we focus on specific evidences of grace for which we can all give thanks.