Thanksgiving was yesterday, so we all know we’re supposed to be grateful. But if we’re really honest, it isn’t always that easy. For most of us, it’s been pretty hard to be thankful these days. Maybe you were let go from your job and you moved back in with your parents. Or maybe, you didn’t get that raise you were expecting. At the very least, you thought that you would’ve gone on one date by now. (Just one! Is that too much to ask?!) Between all the Black Friday ads for things we want but can’t afford, and the reality that 2021 might be another year of Zoom calls, being grateful is hard.
But according to the Bible giving thanks is a choice. A choice that, even secular studies have shown that, if you’re grateful, and you make a habit of listing out the things you're thankful for, your life will be transformed.
In fact studies show that if for five minutes a day you spend time writing in a daily gratitude journal…basically write out things you're thankful for… your long-term well-being would increase by the same amount as it would increase if your income doubled!
We all think, “Oh, that sounds nice,” but right now, making a list of things we’re grateful for sounds hard.
And that’s why we’re here—we all need to be reminded of how much we have to be grateful for, and we can help!
Here are three questions to ask when it’s hard to be grateful…
1. What am I looking at?
When it’s hard to be thankful, we have to remember that gratefulness flows from the right perspective. But what’s the right perspective? We aren’t wrong to say that there’s a lot of hard stuff in the world right now. But does Jesus inform the way we see this life and the way we see eternity?
Think about it. If you're a Christian, imagine you don’t know Jesus and it's true; there's a hell, and anyone who hasn’t put their faith in Christ is going there (Romans 6:23). Maybe it’s been so long since you’ve thought about your salvation—you might’ve been a kid when you got saved. Think about where you’d be if you didn't have that relationship with God.
Now think about hell. Yeah, it’s a little weird to think about— but that's what you deserve. That's what we all deserve. But remember, Romans 5:8 says, “But at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s a “but” worth being thankful for every day. That’s good news!
While hell is what every person who's alive on this planet deserves (because we’ve all sinned against a perfect and holy God—Romans 6:23), if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been saved from this destiny! But remember that it's not because you chose him; he chose you (John 15:16). Think about that! How could we not be the most grateful people on the planet?!
2. What am I forgetting about?
When we overlook the little things, we forget to be grateful. Aren’t you glad you have toilet paper? Running water? A hot shower? Imagine going a week without those things. We can be grateful for a lot of things we have and experience—we just don’t always realize it.
And when we don’t acknowledge the things we can be grateful for, it’s easier to complain about the hard things. Gratefulness not expressed is gratefulness not experienced. The more you express gratefulness, the more it grows inside of your heart, and the easier it is to express. The flip side is also true. The more you complain, the easier it is to keep complaining.
Think about how often we complain. It’s sucking the life out of us.
Philippians 2:14 says, "Do everything without grumbling or complaining." Paul says we’re to do everything in life without ever complaining. Everything, Paul? That feels a little aggressive. What about when the power is out? Do everything in life, he says, without complaining.
Just like you can complain about anything, there’s a way to experience thanksgiving about anything—thanking God, being grateful about anything.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, "Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God's will for you." He doesn't say, "Be thankful for every circumstance," but he says you can choose to be thankful in every circumstance—in the midst of whatever you're walking through. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you can be thankful, knowing God has promised to work everything out for our good. Whatever you're facing, he's more than enough to get you through—sometimes we just forget.
3. What do I want my relationship with God to look like?
Gratefulness has the power to strengthen relationships. So if we want our relationships with God to be stronger, are we even trying to be grateful? And if so, how does being thankful to God strengthen your relationship with him?
Here's how: “Lord, I just want to thank you for this day. I want to thank you for the fact that I'm alive and another day was given to me—it’s a day I wasn't promised. I woke up this morning. A lot of people didn't. I have legs I can walk on. Thank you, God…" When we do this, we assume that everything we have is a gift.
Whenever we begin to assume that everything we have is a gift, we quit seeing everything we have as something we’ve earned (e.g. "I really deserve this, because I worked really hard for it"). First Corinthians 4:7 says, "What do you have that God hasn't given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?"
When we forget everything we have is a gift, we can be pretty prideful.
In other words, if you think, "Hey, what I have I earned and I deserve," that’s pride. That pride will hinder your relationship with God. The Bible says God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud (Proverbs 3:34).
A thankful posture says, "God, everything I have is because of you. I don't deserve any of this. I'm going to view everything in my life as a chance to just thank you and point it all back to you." This fuels our praise.
In the midst of the worst circumstances, we can thank God and say, "Thank you, God, that even though this is not what I would choose, it's not what I want, but you’re going to use it for good. Although I can't see it now, I'll see it someday, and I'm going to trust you until then. Will you help me be grateful? Help me to see it clearly, see you clearly, see the gifts all around me that I don’t deserve."