(Presented by Lisa Bishop)
Gratitude is something we hear a lot about, even in mainstream culture. As followers of Jesus, a posture of gratitude is critical as we grow in our faith and in intimacy with God. But often gratitude can be an afterthought or based on our feelings or circumstances, rather than a regular practice as a follower of Christ. I want to spend some time on the importance of gratitude and why it’s like the air we breathe, we can’t live and have a thriving faith without it.
Before we dive in, I have a question for you. If you were to rate yourself on the God gratitude meter, 1 being, “I rarely express gratitude,” to 5, “I give God thanks daily for specific things I am grateful for,” where would you rank? 1, 5, somewhere in between? When was the last time you expressed thankfulness to God? What did you specifically thank him for?
In all honesty, over the years I have been hit or miss in my gratitude practice. I didn’t really have a plan or discipline in place. Now that may sound funny. Do we need a plan? A gratitude practice? Is gratitude really a spiritual discipline? I would say, yes.
At the beginning of this year, I vowed to keep a daily gratitude journal. While I have done this in the past if I am honest, my daily practice of gratitude tends to peter out pretty quickly.
This year has been different. I have made gratitude a spiritual discipline, taking time every morning and making a thoughtful and specific list for all of the things I am thankful for as I reflect on the previous day. Over time, with consistency and commitment, gratitude has turned into a daily habit. And it has been a game-changer in my faith life. This really shouldn’t be surprising to us because all throughout Scripture we see the call to gratitude and thankfulness and we see the impact of a lack of it.
So why can we find it difficult to be grateful? I think one reason is because we often let our circumstances and not God’s faithfulness dictate our gratitude. We count on our circumstances to elicit feelings of thankfulness, and when things don’t go our way we withhold it. Or worse, we grumble. One of the many examples of the absence of gratitude and the propensity towards grumbling is found in the book of Exodus. In the book of Exodus, we learn that the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. For four centuries generation after generation was subjected to hard labor, horrible oppression, and unpleasant living conditions. They lived being daily mastered and ruled by the Egyptians.
I will share a few highlights from Exodus but I highly recommend reading the entire book on your own. And, even though this story may sound familiar to you, I invite you to ask God what he wants to illuminate for you. Ask Holy Spirit, “Is there an area of my life that I am forgetting to be thankful? How am I like the Israelites?” Ask, “Lord, what do you want to teach me through your Word about grumbling and gratitude?”
As the story unfolds throughout Exodus we see how God goes through extreme measures to bring freedom to his people. The culmination of ten plagues appear to finally cause Pharaoh to relent and release the Israelites from slavery. And after Pharaoh lets them go, God leads the Israelites along the road to the wilderness. Exodus 13:21-22 tells us, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
Don’t miss that. In the midst of their difficult circumstances God’s presence never left them. He was visibly with them guiding every step. It is the same with you. You may not get to actually see a manifestation of God’s presence but he is always by your side and leading you, even when you feel like you are being pursued by your enemies, going through a storm or a dark night of the soul. This is in itself a reason to have a heart of gratitude towards God. He says he will never leave us nor forsake us. Will we be grateful that even when we cannot see what’s ahead, when the road is unknown and we feel uncertain that God is with us?
While on their journey to the wilderness Pharaoh once again threatens the Israelites and instead of remembering God’s track record of faithfulness and deliverance, they panic. Forgetting God’s previous provisions, they cry out to Moses, “What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12).
Their fear causes them to lose faith and to lose sight of God.
We don’t see a whole lot of gratitude on tap here. God had just delivered them from their enemies but fear caused them to double down on grumbling. How has fear caused you to grumble instead of faith propelling you to be grateful?
In the midst of fearful times in our lives it can be so easy to fall into the habit of forgetting God’s faithfulness. This is where it is so important for us to stand firm in what we know about God. The truth of his character. And we grow in our knowledge of God when we are in the Word of God and spending time with him. We learn to trust him in every season of our life and we refuse to let our circumstances dictate our feelings. Yet even when we let fear lead us down a path of complaining, God is still faithful as he was with the Israelites.
Even though his people are crying out and crabby, it does not change who God is. God still keeps his promise of freeing his people, and in his final closing act on the Egyptians, the Lord parts the Red Sea creating a final escape from Pharaoh. Their enemies are defeated, and they are on the road to freedom.
In response to their new found freedom and experiencing God’s faithfulness, the Israelites write a song of gratitude to God, 18 verses praising him for who he is and what he has done to deliver them (Exodus 15:1-18).
Yet three days later, we find the Israelites grumbling to Moses because they had been without water. Let’s be honest, I would have grumbled in two hours let alone three days so I am not pointing my finger at the Israelites but rather making the point that we can be a lot like them. God has shown his glory, power, sovereignty, and provision for his people time and time again.
And instead of staying in a posture of gratitude for all of the ways he has provided, they got spiritual amnesia, like we often do, and they resorted to complaining…again. Exodus 15:24, “The people grumbled against Moses, what are we going to drink?”
In alignment with God’s character and nature, he provides what they need by making water come out of a rock.
But quickly we see the Israelites filing another complaint when, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 16:2).
Okay, I am laughing here because reading about all of the grumbling is feeling a little ridiculous at this point and if I were Moses or Aaron I would be inserting a big old eye roll at all of the grumblers.
And let’s not miss what this verse tells us, the ENTIRE Israelite community grumbled. Misery sure does love company. Can you see how grumbling is contagious? No non-grumblers in the crowd, everyone decided to chime in on the gratitude-less chant. We do that, don’t we? It can be so easy to fall into the mentality of grumbling. At home, in the workplace, and in life! It is easy to get into a grumbling rut.
As we read a little further, The Lord hears their complaint (again), this time, around provision of food, and once again God responds to their complaint by providing for all of their needs. And he provides for them the entire time they are in the wilderness…40 years. Well, some things don’t change because we start to see another cycle of complaining and grumbling. I won’t go into details but this time in exasperation, Moses’s response is, “Lord, what should I do with these people?” I can’t say I blame him. I think all of the complaining would have driven me nuts too.
If you are honest with yourself, would you say that it is easier for you to fall into a pattern of grumbling or is your life marked by the habit of gratitude? What do you spend more time on? Where does most of your thought-life, your words and energy go? I’m not saying it’s easy. As I said earlier, gratitude is a discipline. Training our eyes to see all of God’s blessings, even in the midst of hard situations.
We serve an almighty and sovereign God and he doesn’t waste anything. Even when we go through challenging times, he is still faithful. He is still providing even when life feels uncertain or your world feels like it is falling apart. I once heard something that I thought was really helpful. Learn to glance at your circumstances but fix your eyes on Jesus.
The Israelites kept forgetting God’s character, just as you and I can tend to do. It really all comes down to trust. Do you trust who God says he is and that he will always come through for you? It may not be in your timing or the way that you envisioned but God will come through.
Is there a circumstance in your life right now that you are focusing on more than you are finding yourself in a posture of thankfulness and praise for who God is and his character? It can be really hard to instruct your heart and mind to focus on truth and the faithfulness of God but if you want to live the life that Jesus died to give you, full life in him, it will require daily mining for the things to be grateful for. God will come through. He is in control. He sees you, He knows what you need. He is making a way through whatever tough thing you are facing.
We express gratitude to God because he is worthy. We express gratitude because it is a way of recalling all of the ways that God reveals his perfect character, gracious provision, and steadfast love. Gratitude matters. And it is important to intentionally cultivate a grateful heart.
Consider a gratitude journal. Take time first thing in the morning to sit and reflect on the previous day. Write down all of the things you are grateful for. Be specific.
Another idea is to keep a gratitude jar. As you go throughout your day take slips of paper and write something specific that you are grateful for. As you put each slip in the jar take time to express your gratitude to God.
The key here is to really experience heartfelt gratitude and not just go through the motions. When you first start out you might find it hard but once you start practicing, it is amazing how you will reflect on your day and grow in your awareness of God’s goodness. And nothing is too small to be grateful for.
In fact, try it right now. Yep, now! The great thing about gratitude is we can practice it anywhere and there is no preparation required. What is something right now that you can express gratitude to God for? Do you have something? Take a few seconds to express thankfulness to God. Simply say, “God I am so grateful” and name what you are grateful for. Try it out! Shout it out. Say it until you can feel it. “Jesus I am so thankful.”
Keep practicing throughout the day!
As I mentioned I keep a daily journal of my thankfulness to God. Here is a peek at one of my lists.
- Thank you for providing me with my daily bread. You know just what I need.
- God, thank you for a nice warm cup of coffee and quiet time with you.
- Thank you for a home to live in and a place to lay my head.
- Thank you for my job.
- Thank you for frustrating coworkers and work situations. I know that you are refining me in the process.
- Thank you for my health.
- Thank you for time with my mom.
- Thank you for time with Keighla this morning and Lisa this afternoon. It was so life giving to be with women who love you.
- I am grateful for your Word and time on my knees in prayer.
- Thank you for Lauren treating me to tea.
- Thank you for helping me when I feel anxious about what is next in my life.
- Lord, thank you for the women in my life that hold a safe space for my fears and anxieties and who pray for me.
- Thank you for Kelly’s encouraging words.
Thank you for your love and your mercies that are new every morning.
What is on your gratitude list?
Research on the effects gratitude has on our biology shows how being thankful increases our longevity, our ability to use our imagination, and our ability to problem-solve. Gratitude makes us feel that life is worth living, which brings mental health benefits and more resilience—the ability to bounce back quicker during hard times. Gratitude is essential to overcoming difficult circumstances and achieving success in all areas of your life! God didn’t design you for grumbling. He designed you for gratitude!
Let the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 138:1-2 be the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart.
“I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame.”