The blessing of thankfulness
Discovering a more thankful heart increases our faith and helps us to recognise God's goodness to us, says Lucy Mills
What are you thankful for? I’ve heard the question often – in Sunday services to encourage testimony or praise, on blogs listing what’s happened that week, or as a booster to remind us to think about the good stuff in our lives, particularly when life doesn’t feel that good.
But being thankful is not our greatest talent. Often we’re simply too distracted to think about what we’re thankful for – I certainly am.
How can we develop an attitude of thankfulness that doesn’t need continual nudging in order to feel grateful? And how can we untether thankfulness from unreliable circumstance and root it in something far more solid – propagating seeds of gratitude so that they grow strong enough to withstand the unpredictable elements of our lives?
Why thankfulness is important
“Be thankful.” Paul often writes these words to a growing and sometimes struggling church. To the Colossians he writes of “singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). Thankfulness is intrinsic to Christian living, an acknowledgement of – and a response to – God’s grace working to transform us. Thankfulness inspires worship.
Yet our thankfulness seems sporadic, limited to occasions when the reality of the Gospel hits home, the beauty of creation moves us, or when God intervenes in our situation. These are certainly moments for thankfulness! But what about the rest of the time?
Thankfulness is the true motivation for us to seek God’s purposes, loving and trusting him in everything. This is reflected in our behaviour and the way we treat each other. True thankfulness leaves no room for the endless struggle for acceptance. Thankfulness exists because we are already accepted. It is the truest, most real response to grace. It is not forced or begrudging; it is open-eyed to what has been done for us.
But often, we forget to be thankful.
The perils of forgetting
When we forget, we close our eyes to wider perspectives and get angered by the trivial irritations of life. We look down at our feet rather than looking to our Saviour. Forgetfulness has the astonishing ability to cast aside the miraculous, the testimony of the past, the faithfulness of God and carry on as if these had never occurred. It never sees the need for gratitude.
Forgetfulness forgets grace when the road ahead looks rocky. It forgets grace when relationships are struggling and says there are no ways of mending them. It forgets grace when it passes over the wounded, for fear of dirtying hands. It forgets grace every morning if we let it.
We forget the reality of what God has done. We doubt that he will care for us in the future. We forget that God has saved us and given us new clothes of dazzling white, and crowned us as co-heirs with Christ. In our forgetfulness we starve ourselves of the joy of his salvation, and wonder why we are hungry in our hearts.
Thankfulness, however, remembers.
The joy of a remembering heart
I know people who seem to radiate thankfulness. Elated, they say, “God is faithful!” And I feel a stab of shame, disappointment even. Why am I not like that? This tendency to compare myself is unhelpful. I need to turn to my God and whisper, “Yes, you are faithful. Remind me.”
A thankful heart is a remembering heart, not based merely on circumstance but on God’s character. When the psalmists found themselves in impossibly dark places, they told themselves to remember all that God had done. By remembering God and his reliability, we help ourselves develop that attitude of thankfulness.
Remembering something helps us recognise it. Remembering God helps us recognise his love and care for us, which are not dependent on our circumstances. We can know his love, and be thankful for it, wherever we are. This is true even (and perhaps especially) in darker times. We are thankful because we have learned to recognise him even when things get messy and murky. Even if everything else crumbles, he remains – loving us when all other loves have failed.
I’m thankful that my circumstances do not change my God. I’m thankful because of all he has done for me – at the micro level of my life and in the wider, awesome story of salvation. Sometimes, I just need a bit of reminding. Too often, I get side-tracked, forgetting where I’m meant to be going. I need to nurture a thankful heart in the face of a forgetful and sometimes depressing world.
God is good – all the time! As I write it, I feel a surge of delight at the words and I am reminded of his faithfulness.
Having a thankful heart can be a great antidote to the ‘big bad wolves’ of our lives. By giving more of ourselves over to gratitude there’s less room, not only for forgetfulness, but for worry, fear and stress. Thankfulness gives a wider perspective, reminding us of things that strengthen us and of God’s provision for us. When practising the art of thankfulness, it is harder to worry about the future because we are so focused on God’s faithfulness. God has been with us, and God remains with us always. By feeding thankfulness, we starve worry and fear.
Be thankful in good times and bad
Our tendency to forget God’s grace happens as much in the good times as in the bad – sometimes more so. Moses reminds the Israelites not to forget, when they enter the promised land, that it is God who has provided for them, who has led them out of the land of slavery to this place (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Don’t forget the giver, as you enjoy the gift!
There are times in my life when I’ve forgotten. There are times I’ve not nurtured a thankful heart, and have not recognised God’s grace and love in my life. There are times when God has been so gracious, and I’ve barely nodded in his direction. I put things down to coincidence, or my own ability, or allow myself to become cynical.
Sometimes, I wonder how my heart can be so cold and ungrateful. I feel like praying, “Warm me up! Melt all the icy bits and help me to feel again!” It’s a relief to realise that the condition of my heart does not alter the character of my God. He is always gracious.
Forgive me, Lord, for all my forgetfulness. Forgive me for not noticing your grace in my life, and being too busy to say “thank you”. Help me to recognise your love and care for me, so that I may stop worrying about tomorrow. With the help of your Spirit I pray – “Lord, give me a thankful heart, sensitive to your work in my life and in the lives of those around me.”
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Tips for nurturing a thankful heart
• Practise the art of noticing things. Often we’re in such a rush we neglect to see the simple, beautiful elements of life.
• Make a habit of saying “thank you”! Go out of your way to express gratitude for all others do, especially those behind the scenes.
• Keep a scrapbook or memory box to remind you of God’s faithfulness in your life. These mementos can be images, Bible verses, words reminding you of answered prayer, objects symbolising special moments – whatever inspires you to thankfulness.
• Regularly do something you find satisfying. It helps clear your head and gives you perspective.
• Pray. Who better to remind us of God’s faithfulness than God himself? The best person to help us to be more thankful is the person of the Spirit – our comforter, interceding counsellor, the one who knows us to our very depths.