Learning the Thankfulness Habit
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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”—Philippians 4:6
Gratitude is a decision of the will, and if a decision of the will, the choice resides squarely with us. Deciding to be thankful is no easy task. It takes work.—Chuck Swindoll
I am reading a great book called A Thousand Gifts. It’s the story of a girl, who, when she was very little, watched her sister get run over by a truck in the family driveway. The whole family was broken by the event and never completely healed from the tragedy. The writer spent her whole life believing in God but not trusting His goodness, never really feeling happy or at peace, always searching for something to fill the emptiness she felt.
Then one day a friend dared her to find one thousand beautiful things in her life. She started keeping a journal of all the beautiful things she saw. It was usually little things like “a hummingbird dances outside my window” or “the smile of my little girl,” “the summer breeze,” “a stranger’s smile.” On and on the list went.
She realized that, as she began looking, beauty surrounded her daily. As she counted her way up to 1,000 gifts, she actually learned how to be thankful. Within weeks she realized that a deep happiness and joy had settled into her life.
It’s not a new concept. Even King David knew that nothing brought him into God’s presence like giving thanks. He said, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving!”1
If you feel like you need to strengthen your thankfulness habit, I would encourage you to start small. Start by seeking out the little things that make you smile: the sunset, a sweet apple, time with friends, the smell of clean laundry, the rush of a great video game, a perfect slice of apple pie, or a hug from your mom or dad. In time you will feel gratitude, or at least peace, regarding some of the bigger and more difficult things in your life. And you will have learned contentment.
I am focusing on strengthening my thankfulness habit. I am reflecting more on the beauty and seeking it out. It certainly is all around me. I know it’s all around you too.—Mara Hodler
[Jonathan Edwards] calls the deeper, primary form of thankfulness “gracious gratitude.” It gives thanks not for goods received, but for who God is: for His character—His goodness, love, power, excellencies—regardless of favors received. And it’s real evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life.—Chuck Colson
It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.—Tim Keller
The Bible is filled with commands to give thanks to God.2 Most verses go on to list reasons why we should thank Him, such as “His love endures forever,”3 “He is good,”4 and “His mercy is everlasting.”5 Thanksgiving and praise always go together. We cannot adequately praise and worship God without also being thankful.
Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given us.6 It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratefulness, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship to the giver of all good gifts.
Giving thanks also reminds us of how much we do have. Human beings are prone to covetousness. We tend to focus on what we don’t have. By giving thanks continually we are reminded of how much we do have. When we focus on blessings rather than wants, we are happier. When we start thanking God for the things we usually take for granted, our perspective changes. We realize that we could not even exist without the merciful blessings of God.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We are to be thankful not only for the things we like, but for the circumstances we don’t like. When we purpose to thank God for everything that He allows to come into our lives, we keep bitterness at bay. We cannot be both thankful and bitter at the same time. We do not thank Him for evil, but that He is sustaining us through it.7 We don’t thank Him for harm He did not cause, but we thank Him when He gives us the strength to endure it.8 We thank Him for His promise that “all things will work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”9
We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we do not feel thankful for the circumstance. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can hurt and still be thankful. We can be angry at sin and still be thankful toward God. That is what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise.”10 Giving thanks to God keeps our hearts in right relationship with Him and saves us from a host of harmful emotions and attitudes that will rob us of the peace God wants us to experience.11—From gotquestions.org12
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”—Psalm 100:4
Published on Anchor November 2019. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
Music by John Listen.
1 Psalm 100:4 NKJV.
2 Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
3 Psalm 136:3.
4 Psalm 118:29.
5 Psalm 100:5.
6 James 1:17.
7 James 1:12.
8 2 Corinthians 12:9.
9 Romans 8:28.
10 Hebrews 13:15.
11 Philippians 4:6–7.