Four Practical Ways to Give Thanks (Even When It’s Hard)
We’re on the home stretch! Today’s post marks week six of what we’re learning from author Jennie Allen on stopping the spiral of toxic thinking. Our springboard comes from Thessalonians:
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:18
Giving thanks in ALL circumstances sounds like a tall order. And yet when we know and trust the heart of our Father towards us, we understand that His desire for us to cultivate ongoing gratitude is not for His benefit but ours.
When we give thanks, we feel gratitude, and research proves unequivocally that grateful people are happier and healthier.
So how can we cultivate thankfulness? There are many ways, but for the sake of time (and a not-so-ridiculous word count), we’ll look at just four!
Remembering is one way to cultivate thankfulness.
The concept of remembering is a consistent theme throughout Scripture.
Every single one of us has a story. Moments that when we look back and remember, we know that God was at work on our behalf.
But it’s not just our stories that are worth remembering. It’s THE story. The story of creation that we see at play every single day. The story of global redemption made possible through Christ. The story yet to come because heaven is absolute, and it is promised to every person that believes Jesus Christ died for their sins.
Cultivating gratitude also requires a particular kind of forgetting.
Have you ever had a goal, something you hoped to accomplish, and things started strong, but you found yourself tripping? Then, before you know it, you’ve convinced yourself that the goal was unattainable, and you quit.
It’s certainly happened to me.
And perhaps the Apostle Paul as well. Here are his words from Philippians:
“I want to know Christ… Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead….” Phil 3:10-13
We may want to be more thankful. There may be days we do pretty good. And there may be days, even seasons, that it’s a struggle.
Sometimes we go through situations that involve suffering. Thankfulness can be incredibly difficult to muster in such times.
But as Jennie Allen writes:
“We can observe our suffering without being overtaken by our suffering. We can see it without becoming its slave.”
Learning to be thankful when we’re amid suffering is like developing a muscle. It takes time. And there will be days that we’ll be stronger than others.
Another practical way we can practice thankfulness is by serving someone else.
There are many opportunities to serve right where we are.
Maybe we have an elderly neighbor that can’t bring their garbage up to the street. The act of moving that can is likely to remind us of the strength we have in our own back and legs.
Sometimes the hardest folks to serve are the ones under our own roof. Yet, something powerful happens inside us when we serve someone with whom we are struggling. It’s as if our act of service reminds us of how Christ humbled himself to serve US. Astounding!
The bottom line is that when we serve others, we expose ourselves to situations that lead us to give thanks.
Praising God is a powerful antidote to a heart struggling with thankfulness.
Remembering what God has done for us is wonderful, but praise does something even more. It helps us remember the attributes of God Himself.
“The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
“God is not willing that any should perish…” 2 Peter 3:9
“… if we are faithless He remains faithful…” 2 Timothy 2:13
“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” Psalm 86:5
“For God so loved the world He gave His only son….” John 3:16
Praise unlocks thankfulness, and once again, thankfulness is the bridge to feelings of gratitude.
We opened with the verse from Thessalonians and its call to give thanks in all circumstances. But, as we noted, that can be a tall order.
Context is everything, as is perception. Both can be game changers when it comes to giving thanks.
The book of Thessalonians was written for people who were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, its author, wanted his readers to know they could live or die with HOPE. Jesus rose from the grave, and they could look forward to eternal life with Him.
The introduction of Thessalonians from the Message version says this:
“If our sense of the future is weak, we live listlessly. Much emotional and mental illness and most suicides occur among men and women who feel that they have no future.”
“For if our perception of the future is dominated by the second coming of Jesus, there is little room left on the screen for projecting our anxieties and fantasies. It takes the clutter out of our lives. We’re far more free to respond spontaneously to the freedom of God.”
When we are in the midst of hard times, the knowledge that Jesus is coming for us creates a context for our suffering. This context gives us perspective.
Again, from the Message, “Paul’s letters to the Christians in Thessalonica prodded his readers to live in taut and joyful expectancy for what God will do next.”
This is not our permanent address. Our Master is coming. Our heavenly home awaits. This knowledge changes our perspective and can spark gratitude within us even when it doesn’t make sense.
A great quote by a Jesuit priest says, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.”
Feelings of gratitude nurtured by practices of thanksgiving can lead to a joyful life even when life is hard.
Would you pray with me?