by Joyce Wallace
Nineteenth century poet Celia Thaxter wrote, “There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” Those who are grateful brighten a world in need of hope. The grateful create a climate of grace and generosity that warms the chill of bitter souls. But narcissism, arrogance, and envy can lure believers into a culture of entitlement, an atmosphere where unmet expectations spawn confusion and hostility. How does one avoid this trap? Healthy Christians understand biblical gratefulness and discipline themselves to practice the habits of thanksgiving.
Detach the strings
Biblical gratefulness rejects shallow notions of gratitude. The Bible teaches us to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Too often, being grateful in all circumstances is confused with being grateful for all circumstances. The difference, though subtle, can profoundly impact our ability to deal with life’s difficulties.
Being thankful for the momentary circumstance requires me to apply some positive spin to the situation. Biblical gratefulness says, “Thank You for holding my hand through this pain.” God wants us to give thanks in the midst of our suffering, not for some invented reward to which we feel entitled, but for who He is now. Grief and suffering sharpen our focus on the Lord and deepen our relationship with Him. The grateful have learned to stop holding out their hands expecting compensation for their trials.
Rather, they wrap their arms around the One who wants to hold them, love them, and comfort them today. Though the world rages around them, the grateful enjoy the warmth of His fellowship, with no expectation other than the enduring compassion of our Lord.
When Biblical gratefulness infuses our daily routine, we gain strength for life’s inevitable blows. The grateful are intentional about replacing unrighteous reactions with thanksgiving. They are able to swiftly diagnose and treat a touch of bitterness, greed, or envy because such bouts are inconsistent with their normal, healthy responses. As we grow in our understanding of Christ, prayers of thanksgiving should brim from our lips, even in the midst of crisis. To be counted among the grateful, try developing these simple habits.
Say thank you. Many forget this basic manner in the frenzy of life. Do you teach your children to write thank-you notes? Do you thank the server who filled your water glass? These expressions of gratitude root our self-centeredness and remind us to show kindness to others.
Pass gratitude on. Rare is the success that results from a single person’s efforts. Imagine you’re the coordinator for the hospital fundraiser. After a successful event, you’re presented with a thank-you gift. Would you accept the gift, without acknowledging the committee who also sacrificed for the event? Recognizing another’s contribution to your success helps guard against pride.
Celebrate God’s bounty (whether it’s yours or not). My daughter, Kailey, comes home from her friend’s house, “You wouldn’t believe Amanda’s house! They live on a lake and we got to ride on her family boat!” Your gut response is to convince Kailey that Amanda’s house isn’t so great. Squash envy by celebrating with your daughter, “You have a friend with a fantastic home who’s willing to share with you! Isn’t God kind?”
Be generous. When we practice generosity, we increase our ability to empathize with those who sacrifice for us. I’ve known new mothers who, when stretched to their personal limits, dropped everything to call their moms and say thank you. At that moment, these new moms understood the sacrifices made by their own mothers. Gratitude was the natural response. Generosity is the antidote for greed and the feeling of entitlement.
Be honest about your sorrows and thank God for who He is. As a result of disobeying God, Jonah found himself in the belly of a big fish. He talks about being engulfed by water and having seaweed wrapped around his head. Is he thanking God when, as Jonah puts it, “my life was ebbing away?” Yes, but not for the seaweed around his head. Rather, Jonah said, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). In the midst of suffering, Jonah thanked God for being One who seeks and saves the lost. Honesty with God transforms shallow, self-serving prayers into intimate, life-changing conversations with the Father.
Read the Psalms. God’s Word leads us to the One who should be the object of our gratefulness. The Psalms remind us of God’s character and the many reasons we have to rejoice and give thanks. A deeper understanding of God protects us from expecting that which God never promised, but gives us hope for a future greater than we can imagine.
Maybe you want to add to my list? I’d encourage you to take some time this week and think of all the things you have to be thankful for – and then tell God and the people in your life what you’re most thankful for!