Growing in Gratitude
Gratitude should fill the Christian’s life (1 Thess. 5:18; Acts 2:46-47). Giving thanks to God and counting our blessings is also an important daily activity. Sometimes, though, we get so caught up in everything we have to do that we forget to give thanks. And sometimes, it seems that we have nothing for which to be grateful. There are times in life when we feel down, when nothing seems to be going right. Friendships may have gone sour; school feels overwhelming; we don't ever seem to get the part in the school play or win the football game; we always seem to be arguing with our parents or siblings. These are the times when gratitude plays a powerful role in our lives.
We have a choice to make. And this choice has the power to alter our experience:
1. We can complain about the situation, focus on everything we lack, wallow in self-pity, feel victimized, and blame others for our misfortunes; OR
2. We can be grateful for what is going right in our lives, appreciate the good that is ours, and look for the lessons we can learn.
As G. K. Chesterton says, “Thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” We miss out on so much when we fail to live gratefully.
Gratitude is a virtue most worthy of our cultivation. Indeed, in all the Christian life, gratitude is to be planted, watered, dressed, and harvested. Gratitude gets at the very essence of what it means to be created, finite, fallen, redeemed, and sustained by the God of all grace.
Ingratitude was at the heart of the fall, and at the heart of what’s fallen about us to this day. “Although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Again, and again throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, it is gratitude — giving God thanks — that is the fitting response to his gracious acts of deliverance for his people.
It was gratitude to the Father that Jesus expressed at that first Maundy Thursday table as he held out the bread and cup to his disciples (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17–19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). It is profound and enduring gratitude, among other things, that his sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection summon in the born-again heart. And in the daily Christian life, it is the genuine giving of thanks for God’s gifts that keeps us from idolatry and sinful asceticism (1 Corinthians 10:30–31; 1 Timothy 4:3–4).
Biblical gratitude is much more than quickly “counting your blessings” or a task to check off the to-do list. Rightly focused gratitude can transform how we view God and his world, and spill over in how we appreciate others. Gratitude has been called a parent virtue for a reason. When we train ourselves to look for ways to be grateful each day, we see other virtues mature as well. How nice that we can become more patient and joyful as we become more grateful.
Paul instructs Christians plainly, As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7)
The fact that we too have received Christ Jesus the Lord changes everything. Our calling is to walk in him. The best way to do that is to daily read God’s infallible word and then carry it out to the best of our ability down the path set forth specifically for us. Clearly, some believers have much rougher paths than others, but our Lord will equip us to walk boldly. Paul reminds the Colossians of the privilege they have to be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” He states earlier, in Colossians 1:7, that he is aware of how they have learned from Epaphras, a “beloved fellow servant” and presumed minister in the church there. What a joy to be rooted in the faith.
Further, Paul says they were “built up . . . and established.” Their immature faith grew to a mature faith as they were taught and diligently learned. We certainly hope to follow suit. Unlike the church at Colosse, we have the entire canon of Scripture available to us. We can read it in our study Bibles or on our smartphones. We can listen to learned; godly preachers expound on the truths found therein. We can read books carefully written by sound Bible teachers. We can seek to be lifelong learners who are ever seeking to be firmly established in the faith, as Paul writes later in Colossians 1, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians 1:23).
And what happens when we do all of that? We abound with thanksgiving. Paul doesn’t suggest we give thanks as a way to finish up this topic and move on to the next one. No, he says we are to abound — or overflow — with gratitude. How can we not? It should be a natural response to the fact that we belong to Christ Jesus the Lord.
As people of God, let’s not only thank God for what he gives. Let’s also thank him for who he is. These are two distinct acts. We should be intentional about daily thanking him for both his character and his provisions for us. As we make this part of our mind-set, it will become second nature. What some may see as a lost art will be manifest in us.
This attitude of gratitude towards our great God will spill over into our encounters with others — both believers and unbelievers. Remember, we are to abound in gratitude, so it’s not a small part of who we are. Model and teach those whom God has placed under your influence how you work hard to express gratitude for matters big and small. Realise that your simple expression of thanks accompanied by eye contact and a smile may be a bright spot of the day to many who feel overworked and underappreciated.
Our countenance should reflect that as we strive to show the world how our gratitude is grounded in Christ and overflows in all we do. They should look at us and wonder how we can act this way. They may be puzzled by us at first, but should God give us opportunity, may we show by our lives that we are different because we have indeed been delivered, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
And they can be as well by trusting in Christ alone.
Enjoy the privilege of discipling whomever God places in your sphere of influence for this season of life. Be sure they know of your humility as you too are “one beggar trying to tell another beggar where to find bread,” as the missionary D.T. Niles once said. Be sure they know that you seek to live out what you are teaching them. Be sure they see the joy of the Lord in your grateful heart. Be encouraged that God may choose to use your efforts invested in them to multiply as they in turn invest in others to his glory.
Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy - Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Growing in Gratitude: Rediscovering the Joy of a Thankful Heart - Mary K. Mohler
Stop Your Complaining: From Grumbling to Gratitude - Ronnie Martin
Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy Through Everyday Thankfulness - Ellen Santilli Vaughn
Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age - Erik Raymond
The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of a Lost Spiritual Discipline - Dustin Crowe
Spirituality of Gratitude: The Unexpected Blessings of Thankfulness - Joshua Choonmin Kang