Ongoing gratitude keeps our awareness of the Giver of the blessings in our lives beyond Thanksgiving.
Year ago, this scenario played out in front of me every week.
Rick’s car pulled into the driveway; the engine turned off. Upon hearing his footsteps, our young children rushed to the door. “Daddy’s home! Daddy!” Opening the door, two blond-haired kiddos raced to him, jumping into his arms with giggles.
Daddy was their hero, especially since he often had a surprise for each of them when returning from a trip. They searched his pockets until their small hands found the Matchbox™ car or the Little Pony™. Each discovery brought more squeals and excitement. It didn’t take them long to realize when Daddy came home, they got a treat. Week after week this joyful homecoming scene played out before me.
Rick was away from home one night every week for several years as he completed his seminary degree. After two days of being with me, the kids were eager to see Daddy arrive home, but within a few months the scene changed a little. Instead of joyful hugs when he opened the door, Rick heard the question, “What did you bring me?” Dismayed, he still requested a hug before they could search for the treasures.
Many of us approach God in this manner, looking for a blessing of grace from the hand of the Father before pausing to give thanks for who He is and for all He has done. It must sadden God to know we only want His gifts while ignoring the Giver.
God, His grace, and our gratitude are closely intertwined. The “God of all grace” is one of the names given to God in Scripture. (1 Peter 5:10) The blessings in daily life such as family, sustenance, or even our next breath, are gifts given to us out of grace. The greatest expression of this grace is salvation through Jesus Christ, freely given though we are not deserving of it.
Grace and gratitude are related words. In New Testament Greek, the word for grace is charis. It is interesting that the Greek word for gratitude is also charis. Grace is God reaching to those who do not deserve His mercy. The response from those receiving that mercy is gratitude. We respond to God’s charis (grace) with charis (gratitude) of our own.
It is important to note a key nuance in the how the word is used. The first, charis — grace — is initiated by the Giver, whereas the other meaning of charis — gratitude — is the response of the receiver. Grace flows from God to us; our response of gratitude should flow back to Him (from The Grace Impact).[bctt tweet=”The circle of grace starts with God, flows to us, and then we express gratitude to Him for all He has done.”]
What fills your heart—gratitude or gripes?
Studies have shown that gratitude makes us healthier. In one study on gratitude, conducted by Emmons and McCullough (2003) randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Participants kept a short journal for ten weeks. One group was asked to write down five things they were grateful for, another group to write down five complaints or hassles from the past week, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. After ten weeks, those in the gratitude group felt better about their lives and were a full 25% happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints and exercised more.
Isn’t it interesting that the studies point out the importance of giving thanks? Centuries before these scientific discoveries, the Bible gave guidance in having ongoing gratitude. We gain many benefits of maintaining a thankful heart.
Benefit 1: Gratitude acknowledges reliance of God.
God is the giver of the big and small blessings in each day. Family, food, home, and modern conveniences have been on my list. Increased awareness leads to a prayer of thanks for them; this is another example of the “circle of grace.” Be reminded of the simple blessings around you—the smile of a child, the beauty of the autumn trees, the smell of fresh-baked apple pie, the warmth of family and friends.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2
A thankful heart is also expectant, looking to God for provision. It keeps us aware of the answer when it comes.
Benefit 2: A thankful spirit redirects your mindset.
An attitude of thanks in every situation helps us navigate trials. It re-focuses our attention on thanking God for His strength, not on the problem. It’s harder to see blessings when life is tough or you receive bad news. Being thankful doesn’t make light of those situations or ignore them. Scripture says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
It does not say to give thanks for all things, but rather in the midst of all things. Earlier this year I had another tongue biopsy; I was thankful God was with me in the midst of it. I was thankful for the doctor who thought it needed to be done. In the end it wasn’t cancerous, but was another episode of trusting God with thankfulness in a tough situation.
Benefit 3: Gratitude eliminates complaining.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were less complaining around us? Complaining robs us of motivation to go forward. It steals joy. We get anxious.
Each day we can choose gratitude instead of grumbling. Rather than making a complaint list in your mind, make a “thankful list” and refer to it when tempted to complain.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
An attitude of gratitude brings peace to our hearts. It calms down worry and crowds out fear and doubt. When I worry I get tied up in knots with anxiety, focusing on the problem. But when I shift my focus to give thanks to God—to look for the blessings around me—I gain peace.
Thanksgiving is more than a day. Choose ongoing gratitude in the discipline of Thanks-living.
No matter what season in life you are experiencing, whether it’s a time of great blessing when things are going right or a time of distress when problems overwhelm you, look to the God of all grace with a heart of gratitude.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Ps. 100:4-5)
May you be blessed with the ongoing gratitude of Thanks-living.