Oh how easily we lose sight of the many ways God has blessed us and how He continues to do so as we go through our days. So often, His many blessings are hidden in the tiniest details we miss as we forget to look to Christ, focusing instead on those things that we wish, desperately or not, would change, go away, or work out differently. We find ourselves easing into a rhythm of complaints, forgetting that God has abundantly blessed us with much, even when it may feel as though the cards we've been dealt are all wrong. And how evermore likely we are to find ourselves in this place as we spend minutes and hours scrolling the social media feeds resting at our fingertips, stubbornly reminding us that we must still be missing something–the dream house, the husband, the travel, the family, the body, the friends; inevitably, the list goes on.
Where do we begin to be thankful and cultivate a heart of gratitude when we find ourselves in the thick of this grueling rut of comparison or discontentment with the life we've been given? We should take a moment to examine our hearts and consider where are we looking for the fulfillment of our hope and joy. Surely, the only true source is in Christ Himself. What an exhausting impossibility to put off being grateful until we feel as though we have all we want and think that we need, for we will never be complete outside of Christ on this side of eternity. So, we stop searching; we focus our gaze on Christ. And as we do so, there are intentional steps we can take to help realign our desires with His own and find gratitude wherever we are.
Cultivate gratitude by keeping a journal.
Pick out a blank journal that you love, and fill its pages with all that you have to be thankful for each day. You could make bulleted lists or even write out prayers of thanksgiving to God for the blessings you recognize He has given you. Sometimes those things that you list may seem so insignificant–the sunset on your drive home from a stressful day at work, a flower blooming in your yard to welcome a new season, a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning, a kind smile from a stranger when you feel unseen. Other times, these seemingly smaller things may be interspersed with louder happenings like meeting a new friend, receiving a healthy doctor's report, closing on a new home. Regardless of how big or small any of these provisions may sound, write them down anyway.
Later, take time to look back on your entries as reminders when you again feel yourself tending toward negativity. When you look at what you do have to be grateful for, you will coincidentally see how abundantly God indeed provides for your needs.
Cultivate gratitude by focusing on the good.
When we focus on the things we don't like or the parts of things we wish we could change, we feed our negative spirit and are left feeling sorry for ourselves, intent that our lives should be better. In this, we are often unable to be a strong encouragement to others. Some may even decide to distance themselves from us because all that we say is full of complaints. When we can pull our eyes away from what we think would make us happy–that outfit in the store window, the hair she has, the car they own, the sunny weather there, his adventure-filled days, all the time that she has–and place our gaze on the good, we cultivate joy, growing and strengthening our heart of gratitude. We train our minds and hearts to be thankful for what we do have, for He has provided every good thing. We can worship Him, even in the mundane. As Ephesians 5:19-20 tells us, "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (NIV).
Cultivate a heart of gratitude by saying "Thank you" out loud.
As silly as it may sound, create a habit of saying "thank you" out loud, both to God in prayer and to those around you to whom thanks is due. Saying these words out loud gives voice to what you do have to be grateful for, drowning out negative thoughts seeking to sneak in and derail the positive. Find a quiet place where you can be alone, and just as you might write in a prayer journal, lift your voice to God, thanking Him for all that He has given you. You may find, as others have, that by doing this, you begin going about life with more joy in your heart than before.
But maybe you can't seem to find Him working–you can't seem to understand how He is providing. Maybe it is too hard to utter any kind of thank you because you simply don't see where you can be grateful; and if you do, you surely don't feel it. It is during these times that we need to press more deeply into Jesus and His Word where we will find all that we need–He is enough, and He provides. We remember that we can give thanks to Him in all things.
Cultivate a heart of gratitude by going to Scripture.
As we cultivate hearts of gratitude, what better place to look for guidance than examples in Scripture. In even the most difficult and trying circumstances, we see God's people give thanks. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes, "give thanks in everything; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (CSB). In chains, Paul writes from prison, rejoicing in the way the Lord is using Him. Despite his circumstances, he continues in thanksgiving and explains that "through...prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance" (CSB). With the Lord's strength, rather than looking at the discomfort of his situation, he looks at gratitude with the opportunity he has to share the gospel with those around him.
Yet another example is found in the book of Daniel when the king places restrictions on prayer: "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." Even with probable feelings of uncertainty and fear, Daniel did not allow his feelings to keep him from giving thanks to God.
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring change our hearts. But for Him to change them, we must allow room for Him to work–we pray, we read His Word, we listen to good theology and sermons or podcasts, we read books that point to the truth. It is when we come to a true and right understanding of who God is that we can develop genuine gratitude.
If you are struggling to keep a heart of gratitude, do not lose hope! How difficult it can be to cling to the truths of Christ in this present life when so many parts of it seem unbearably broken–and they are, for we live in a broken world. Yet, as believers, we await a future glory in heaven, and to this we cling, and in this we have hope and thankfulness. No matter what loss or need we experience in this life, we can rest in the truth of Christ–that one day, all will be made right, sin and death will be no more, our bodies will be made new, and lacking in nothing, all needs will be fully met in Him as we praise His name forevermore in eternity with Him.