It’s that time of year when we gather ’round big tables and slice into flaky pies and sip pumpkin spice concoctions and try to think thankful thoughts.
The words “give thanks” are everywhere. And rightly so. We should reflect on our never-ending reasons to be grateful; and not only that, we’re on the right track when we take our gratitude and express it to others.
But if you’re like me, you might find yourself trying hard to muster up all kinds of thankful thoughts (because it’s what we’re supposed to do, right?) without truly experiencing a life of genuine gratitude.
We post a family photo to Instagram with a caption about how #thankful we are for family and Grandma’s gloriously magical pies.
At the Thanksgiving table, we take turns sharing gratitude for our many blessings.
We retweet that article about how giving thanks should go beyond the fourth Thursday in November.
But our hearts are left empty. Pretending, even.
“I want to be more thankful. God’s given me so much,” we whisper to ourselves. Though the “something’s missing” feeling lingers.
Perhaps the reason for this disconnect is that we’re attempting to sprinkle thankful thoughts over a heart that’s actually, at its core, ungrateful. Like a dusting of warm, ground cinnamon over year-old pumpkin pie, the pretty topping doesn’t fix the nastiness underneath.
Because the truth is this:
We can’t suddenly become gratitude-filled at Thanksgiving without first removing the ingratitude that’s crept into our hearts, almost undetected, during the other 364 days of the year.
When Ingratitude Sets Up Shop
In Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth describes the seriousness and sneaky subtleness of ingratitude:
It really is surprising how easily ingratitude can worm its way into our habit patterns.
But actually, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all, because ingratitude is the taproot out of which grows a host of other sins. And if we don’t put the axe to that root, we provide Satan with a wide, vacant lot on which to set up his little shop of horrors in our hearts.
Ingratitude allows the enemy to set up a shop of deceit in our hearts—where he can produce and sell a whole assortment of lies to us.
I deserve more.
God’s not giving me what I want.
I can’t be happy with what I have.
Why isn’t my life different, better?
Why can’t I have what they have?
My life is the worst.
And when the enemy swindles us into swallowing these lies, we build a pathway of thanklessness, which he uses to lead us right into more sin.
That’s why Nancy calls ingratitude “one of our enemy’s most lethal weapons.”
More simply put, ingratitude can lead us into sin.
- If I’m not grateful for what God has given me, I’ll lunge after whatever I believe I should have. Temptation city.
- If I’m thankless for the good things in my day, I can get super angry about the stressful, inconvenient, and challenging things in my day. Hello, meltdowns and a biting tongue!
- If I forget the ways God has blessed me, because I’m only focused on what I believe He is withholding from me, bitterness can fester in my heart. Doubting the goodness of God, party of one!
The list could get longer, but the point is this: Ingratitude isn’t just something we should maybe, probably avoid. Ingratitude is an affront against God.
Whining vs. Worshiping
So how can we tell if this dangerous ingratitude settled deep into our hearts?
- A grateful person recognizes the things God has given her instead of fixating on the things she feels she’s missing.
- A thankful person is humble and understands she doesn’t deserve anything from God; an unthankful person is proud, convinced she deserves better.
- A grateful person overflows with thankful words and doesn’t hold back when she sees something to give thanks for; an ungrateful person doesn’t know how to express thanks very well.
- A thankful person readily worships the Lord, the Giver of all things; an unthankful person whines more than she worships.
My heart is in that ungrateful column all too often. If I’m honest, I gripe more than I give thanks. I whine more than I worship. My pride blinds me to see all that is good in my life—and all my gratitude is choked to death by the sin of ingratitude.
Nancy says it this way:
Gradually, subtly, we become desensitized, as layers of entitlement and resentment wrap themselves around our hearts, until thankfulness is all but gone from our lives and lips (emphasis added).
No wonder Thanksgiving can make us feel like we’re missing something. We sniff the air of gratitude, trying to pinpoint its delectable scent, but it disappears as soon as we head out for Black Friday shopping. We love the idea of giving thanks, but we aren’t sure how to grab onto it all year long—because ingratitude has us locked in its vice grip.
Beholding Leads to Worshiping
Genuinely, joyfully, unshakably grateful. That’s what I want to be—not just because the calendar says it’s time to give thanks, but because the mind-blowing goodness of what we have in Christ has sunken so deeply into my soul that I can’t help but worship Him with a humble, thankful heart.
So if you’re doing the “thankful brain squeeze,” scrunching your face to think of all the ways you’ve been blessed and hoping the gratitude begins to bubble up, you can relax.
We can’t muster up a long-lasting attitude of gratitude in our own willpower; it’s God at work in us, as He opens our eyes and hearts to behold Him and to respond in gratitude.
Behold God —> be humbled and amazed by God —> respond to God with worship. (And worship = gratitude!)
We’re naturally ungrateful people who can become ridiculously grateful people when we ask God to rock our world with who He is. As we look to Him (through studying the Word, through prayer, through gathering with believers), we begin to understand this: We can only be truly grateful because of Him. He’s the reason for our gratitude, and He’s the life-changing, enabling power behind our gratitude. Our ridiculously real gratitude.
So how can we start taking practical steps today to grow this kind of gratitude? Nancy points out in Choosing Gratitude that cultivating a thankful heart is like a spiritual muscle that needs exercising:
The grateful heart that springs forth in joy is not acquired in a moment; it is the fruit of a thousand choices. It is a godly habit and pattern that over time becomes a new muscle in our spiritual makeup.
Let’s look at some of these godly patterns.
1. Kick out complaining.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil. 2:14).
I don’t complain that much . . . do I?
Complaints are a rather accurate gauge alerting us to the inner workings of our hearts. If negative and critical comments consistently stream from our lips, that negativity—and ingratitude—resides inside our hearts (Luke 6:45).
Ask God to help you replace ungrateful thoughts and thankless words with thoughts and attitudes that are true, pure, lovely, commendable, and joyful (Phil. 4:8).
2. Dig into gratitude-inspiring Scripture.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Psalm 107:8).
As we saturate our souls in who God is and what He’s done for us, we can’t help but overflow with praise! Spending time in the Word is a daily gratitude exercise. (Have you noticed that God’s Word is the answer for nearly everything? That’s because Jesus is the Word, and He is the answer!)
You can find passages of praise throughout the entire Bible, but here are a few places to start:
- Psalm 100, 107, 118, 138
- Or dive into Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to behold Jesus and His jaw-dropping sacrifice for us.
3. Journal thankful prayers.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1).
One way to respond to God in worshipful gratitude is to journal prayers of thanksgiving to Him. You can simply grab a notebook and with your Bible open, write prayers to God, thanking Him for who He is and what He has done in your life.
I’m currently following the She Reads Truth Give Thanks reading plan, and for each day, they’ve included a prayer journaling prompt. I love this intentional way of expressing gratitude to the Lord. As you begin to journal your own prayers, you’ll discover countless reasons to praise Him!
4. Throw gratitude around like confetti.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Eph. 1:16).
This is so simple and yet so powerful. Say “thank you!”
It’s crazy easy to miss an opportunity to express thanks, isn’t it? But when we actively search for those moments—and follow through—the effect can be huge!
Say “thank you” for the big things and for the small things. Jump on every opportunity to spread gratitude (because it’s contagious) and to encourage someone else’s heart!
Gratitude That’s Ridiculously Real
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:16–18).
Let’s run to God and ask Him to change us, to kick out the ingratitude so that gratitude can move in—not because Thanksgiving tells us to, but because He’s a Savior worthy of our unending praise (Rev. 4:11)!
As we peel potatoes and chop pecans and spray whipped cream atop pies, let’s choose gratitude—real, gospel-driven, grace-enabled, overjoyed gratitude.
It’s not about a single day, but a lifestyle. Let’s live it.