Psalm 107:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
“A thankful heart is a happy heart.”
These words come from my mouth repetitively to our children. Having gratitude really does change our hearts, our minds, our actions and our lives in whole. Christians and non-Christians alike will agree that being thankful is a good way to live.
But as a follower of Jesus, it isn’t about just being a good thing to do, it’s the way of joy as a believer. It’s how we commune with Jesus. It’s how we show the world the hope of the gospel. It’s an outward sign of a transformed heart. Yet…why is being thankful so difficult?
Well, we are self focused by nature. Our sinful hearts focus on “me”. When we live a me-centered life, we naturally learn to expect things to happen to us, for us, for our benefit, so we will be happy. We develop this attitude of believing all things work together to benefit us and when they don’t – well, watch out. We become aggravated, frustrated, disappointed and angry because life didn’t turn out the way WE wanted it to.
- …we didn’t get the job we wanted.
- …our children’s rooms are a disaster.
- …the weather is terrible
- …our food was delayed at the restaurant
- …we aren’t as pretty, strong, fit or smart as someone else.
- …someone else has something we wanted.
- …we get cancer.
Unfortunately, sometimes, it’s a lot easier to be angry and disappointed-even jealous- over something than to be grateful for it.
I find myself tottering on that pendulum of expectation and aggravation. If you haven’t jumped on that swing, then you are fooling yourself. We naturally have unspoken and spoken expectations – things we expect to happen in an unpredictable world. Our futures, our entire lives are unpredictable. We aren’t able to control our lives like we think we can, so our souls strive to gain control we will never have. We sacrifice so much to control our happiness and our immediate lives. We want control. We want comfort and order. And when life, as it typically does, throws us a wrench, an unforeseen event or situation, rather than responding with grace and gratitude, we strike with fear and frustration – believing that somehow , this will bring all things back into the order which we so desperately desire.
And yet… have you ever noticed how this cycle is repetitive? Do you ever find yourself desiring gratitude and surrender, just wanting to be the type of person who receives things in stride, who isn’t reacting and frustrated over all things and situations? I do. I want to be more thankful, to trust when things are out of control and to rest in knowing God is in charge. But my sin nature is alive within me.
As Paul states in Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Why do I keep doing the things I don’t want to do? Why do I react instead of respond? Paul answers that question a few verses later when he confesses that sin wages war against the law of his mind. Our thought life is a prime target of Satan. He knows that our thoughts direct our actions. So he goes to the jugular. He focuses first on our thoughts because he knows that our actions, our very lives will be redirected.
But Jesus tells us over and over again to be thankful.
What is it about gratitude that is so important? Is it maybe that somehow, a thankful heart really does lead to joy? Because if we focus our thoughts on gratitude…our actions, our lives will be redirected? A resounding YES!!! God, our Savior and Hope knows this because He created us! He knows that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds! (Romans 12:2)
Yet, if it’s so important, why is it so difficult to maintain? And how do I truly foster an attitude of gratitude myself and in my children? Is there a key to this? Is it possible to have a changed heart?
I believe Jesus has the answers to these and so many more questions. His Word teaches us truths to live by, truths that will transform us, truths that will live through us.
Colossians 2:6-7 “So then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
Colossians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
1 Thes 5:18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Phil 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Ok, so there are MANY more verses on being thankful. You get the idea. We are to be overflowing with thankfulness, be aware of things to be thankful for, be thankful for every single thing and situation on our lives, and be thankful before our Lord in prayer. He wants to hear that we are grateful.
As a parent, we love to do nice things for our children, yet, don’t we also want our children to be grateful for our kindness, our mercy? So, doesn’t our heavenly father desire the same for us?
Do I feel better when my kids are thankful? Well, ok, yes. Absolutely. I’m human. But God doesn’t need an ego boost. He desires us to be thankful because he knows it will benefit us! He knows what is best for us. He knows that gratitude changes something inside us. It does NOT change the circumstance, but it does produce in us a contentment, a joy, which is ultimately God ‘s desire for us – to be a saved people filled with gratitude and joy and hope. We are to be witnesses to the gospel for the world to see.
Our attitudes of gratitude produce an outward expression of joy that is visible for the world to wonder at the hope of our salvation!
Romans 12:2 says to be renewed by the transforming of our mind. Being thankful in all circumstances changes our thoughts, which in turn changes our actions, which in turn changes our lives and the world around us!
So then, how can I become more thankful? Well, its a habit, a practice, a wrestling. It’s being intentional, being aware of our circumstances and desiring change. It is about surrendering, being content in everything. It will not be perfect, nor will it be easy. It’s not challenging to be thankful when life is good. But how can we be thankful when circumstances aren’t so easy? When life isn’t good? When we don’t get what we want? When we can’t find anything to be thankful for?
- …I’m thankful I didn’t get the job I wanted…maybe there is something better coming along.
- …I’m thankful I have children even if their rooms are a disaster.
- …I’m thankful for this rain that makes everything green and allows us to snuggle indoors.
- …I’m thankful for our waitress, she is trying her best.
- …I’m thankful for who God made me to be, even with my faults.
- …I’m thankful for what I have. I am so blessed.
- …I am thankful for cancer. It has shown me how much I am loved. It has forced me to live a surrendered life. It has strengthened my faith. It has deepened my relationships.
Let me suggest a few practices I am learning as I embark on a journey I didn’t ask for.
- Practice gratitude out loud. (Practice means doing it over and over until you get it right!)
- Keep a journal with you to record what you are thankful for all day long. (There are MANY things to be thankful for that we overlook!)
- When you find yourself frustrated and aggravated, let that be a trigger that you aren’t having a grateful heart at that moment and change it. (Replace your negativity with grateful thoughts!)
- Pray and ask the Lord to give you a grateful heart! (Prayer changes our focus from ourselves to God!)
- And when you fall short….try, try again. Never stop desiring a heart of thankfulness. (This isn’t about being perfect…it’s about letting go of our old lives and living more for Christ!)
Do you ever feel stuck? Like you’ll never change? Don’t believe it! The enemy wants nothing more than for you to feel defeated. But it is in Christ, that we have been set free! We are more than conquerors in Christ! We have everything we need to live a transformed life. To live differently. And it begins with a thankful mind!
I challenge you this day….Be thankful. Be different.