The importance of gratitude is a generally accepted global truth. Christians, Hindus, Jews, Universalists, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, and even atheists seek to identify reasons to be grateful. In every language, one of the first things parents teach children to say is “Thank you.”
Gratitude is nice. We all know that. Still, as much as we value gratitude, we struggle to practice it in daily life. We are tempted to focus more on the achievements, relationships, goals, status, and possessions we want that we do not have. We are largely concerned with what we think we deserve. Because of this, the gratitude most people know and practice is a distorted, lesser version, marked primarily by sentimentalism or routine. But sentimentalism and routine are not at all what God’s Word encourages or commands.
True gratitude isn’t merely an event. Neither is it merely an expression of affection or nostalgia. For people who were dead in sin and are now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1-5), gratitude is a continual condition of the heart that shows up practically in everyday life.
So what does that kind of gratitude look like?
It looks like someone who has determined to shift her focus from the earthly things she wants to the eternal things she has in Christ. It looks like someone who continually turns her attention each day to God’s work of salvation in Christ. It looks like someone who, focused on the grace she has received in Christ, readily extends grace to others.
It’s circular. As we acknowledge our gratitude to God, we express gratitude in practical ways. And as we express gratitude in practical ways, our hearts grow in gratitude to God.
Here are some things you can do to jump into that pattern of circular growth:
- Make conversation with God an ongoing part of your day with sentence prayers of gratitude.
- Write a letter of encouragement to a friend who is going through a difficult circumstance.
- Reframe your gratitude. Instead of saying, “Thank you,” say, “I thank God for you.”
- Take someone you just recently met out to lunch or coffee (even if you’re the “new” person in town!).
- Make a playlist and title it “Gratitude.” Include songs that express gratitude or lead you to consider reasons you’re grateful.
- Send a card expressing thanks to someone who has been generous to you in some way.
- The next time you’re at a restaurant, give a generous tip and write an encouraging note to your server.
- Tell someone what God has been teaching you—and ask him/her to do the same.
- With family and friends, don’t keep track of whose turn it is to call or text. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, go ahead and reach out.
As you practice gratitude, others will notice and want to practice gratitude, too!
Here are some ways you can help your children or grandchildren begin to develop a continual gratitude of the heart that shows up practically in everyday life.
Work together to:
- Memorize scripture. Consider starting with 1 Thessalonians 5:18!
- Write a note of gratitude for your mail carrier and/or leave a gift for them in the box.
- Start a gratitude journal, with no rules! Pages can include Bible verses, prayers, drawings, lists—whatever your children or grandchildren feel compelled to do.
- Leave a note of thanks or a small gift on top of the trash can for your trash collectors.
- Give a gift of gratitude to church staff members.
- Create some grateful graffiti! Write “GRATEFUL” in large print across a blank page. Then fill in the spaces around it with reasons you have to be grateful. Keep adding to the graffiti page until all the spaces are filled.
As you do those things, invite God to grow a better understanding of gratitude in your hearts. True gratitude does not simply acknowledge what earthly blessings we have; it acknowledges God’s ultimate, eternal work which remains true in every circumstance. Even in those things we want but do not have, God is our Redeemer. And redemption is transformational—it compels a lifestyle of gratitude!
Continue practicing gratitude with Grateful, a new Bible study from Lifeway Women. Each week you’ll look at a profile of someone in the Bible with a grateful heart, find teaching from Scripture on gratefulness, focus on a psalm of thanksgiving, and be encouraged to practice gratitude. When you’re able to see the biblical basis of living with a grateful heart, you will be more motivated to thank God in all things. Learn more here.
Cynthia Hopkins is a longtime writer of Bible studies, devotions, and articles across all age groups from students through senior adults. She serves in that capacity on Lifeway’s custom content and short term studies team, remotely from The Woodlands, Texas. She is a speaker and the founder of a non-profit ministry that serves women in retreat settings and through mission partnerships. Cynthia has two super fun young adult children, one equally fun daughter-in-law, and a grandson who daily shows them all what fun is really all about!