Cultivating Gratitude and Reaping Its Blessings
A friend recently texted me a list of prayer requests that he’d written down last year, and as I scanned the list, I saw many of my own requests had been written down: worries that had stolen sleep and peace, fears I’d been facing, and challenges that, at the time, I couldn’t fathom overcoming. I felt my eyes well up with tears as I realized that I no longer worried about any of the items on the list, and that, in fact, each one had been answered. The Lord had provided abundantly, and only a year later I’d all but forgotten his providence.
I felt immediately convicted that I’d never taken the time to give thanks. Why hadn’t I? Why couldn’t I be bothered to thank the Lord who brought me through so many hardships? Perhaps its all-too human to turn to God in prayer when the going gets tough but to pat ourselves on the back and forget prayer altogether when things are going well.
So, I’m resolving to be more intentionally thankful, to spend purposeful prayer time not just asking, but thanking. And the cool thing I’ve discovered is that not only are we commanded to give thanks, but doing so also blesses us in return! Here’s how:
1. …strengthens our hope and trust in the Lord.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1)
Part of giving thanks is remembering all the Lord’s “wonderful deeds” in our lives. This reflection focuses our thoughts on God’s faithfulness to us and his provision for us. When we remember his goodness to us, we remember that he is good and delights in giving us good things. We know then that we can trust in the Lord and that just as he has blessed us and provided for us richly in the past, he can do so now and in the future.
2. …brings us joy.
“Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (Psalm 95:2)
Thankfulness is inextricably tied to joy. Not only by Biblical standards, but even by modern psychology standards as well. According to “Psychology Today,” “psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions as resentment and envy, minimizing the possibility of ruminating, which is a hallmark of depression.” That’s right – a pleasant side effect of obeying God’s command to give thanks is joy!
3. …leads to contentment in our circumstance.
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful.” (Hebrews 12:28) “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (Psalm 4:7)
Focusing on what we have to be thankful for can keep us from sulking about what we don’t have. And when we focus our thankfulness not on our things or our circumstances at all, but on God’s goodness and grace (which is never changing) contentment becomes easy. We start to live from a state of constant thankfulness rather than grumbling and complaining, and we end up even more content than those who have more than us. Ultimately, our level of contentment depends less on what we do or don’t have, and more on how grateful we are regardless of our worldly possessions, a lesson I learned from my mother.
4. …eases our anxieties.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
In his book “Anxious for Nothing,” Max Lucado states, “if it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It's no wonder, then, that God's anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.” And it’s true: gratitude relieves our anxiety and leads to peace. The Lord tells us in his Word that in order to experience the peace of God we are to pray not just with supplication (asking the Lord for things), but also with thanksgiving. By ignoring our calling to thankfulness, we are doing ourselves a great disservice and ultimately missing out on so much of the peace that a simple word of gratitude would afford.
5. …bolsters our sense of purpose.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) "I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever." (Psalm 86:12)
Giving thanks is more than just a mood-booster (though it can certainly boost our mood as we learned in #2). It is ultimately an act of worship which glorifies God and, thus, is part of our divine purpose as image-bearers of Christ. We are made to worship our Creator, and that includes thanking him for the wonderful things he’s done in our lives, for salvation, for his character, and for the extraneous blessings he is so often pleased to lavish upon us. Cultivating thankful hearts actualizes our very purpose and identity as human beings. When we give thanks, we partake in our holy calling as children of God. It’s quite literally what we are made to do, and it connects us to our true purpose!
This Thanksgiving season, I encourage you to join me as I embark on a journey to cultivate more thankfulness in my life and take note of the blessings that follow! Let’s write them down and see for ourselves how gratitude changes our lives for the better!
About the Author
Jo Wilbur is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at TCS and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Paeonian Springs and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.