7 Ways To Be More Thankful (or “How to Frustrate God” if you’re more of a “half-empty” kind of person)
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col:2:6-7)
Why is my gratitude level in awesome times so much lower than my frustration level in difficult times? Let me say that another way: Why do my feelings of discouragement or anger or fear, in trials, so outweigh my feelings of gratitude when things are easier? Since God is so amazing and so faithful, why am I not naturally overflowing with thankfulness like I’m supposed to be?
I still desperately need to improve, but over time I’ve found some truths help me be more thankful. My wife will tell you I haven’t arrived yet, and she’s absolutely right. But maybe these tips can help all of us:
- Be intentional
If I only express gratefulness when I feel that way, it’s not going to happen very often. At all. Ever. I wish that weren’t true, but it is.
But like so many other truths in the Christian life, our actions precede our feelings rather than the opposite. That means that If I intentionally communicate my thankfulness to God–even when I don’t feel grateful– I can expect the actual feelings of thankfulness to eventually follow. Even if they don’t I will still have been obedient.
2) Realize it’s Good For You
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. That’s 1 Thess 5:17, and it’s taped to our bathroom mirror. It’s been there for years. Why? Because I need a constant reminder that it’s God’s will for me to be thankful. And I need it early in the day, every day.
There is an actual science of gratitude now developing that shows there are amazing benefits from being thankful. Do a google search on “science of thankfulness” and see what people are learning. And apply it. I did. It actually helps.
3) Keep Track of God’s Faithfulness
A while back I started using the Notes app on my phone to log things I’m grateful for. I try to enter them right after they occur. My notes range from “Michael accepted Christ at church” to “played real chess with my (young) son for the first time,” to “encouraging comments about the worship team” to “Ravens 38, Broncos 35 (2 OT),” and dozens more. It only takes about 30 seconds a day to do this. Sometimes days or weeks go by where I forget to update the list. But I’ve managed to keep it going in some form for several years now. And on difficult days (which are inevitable) I go back and skim through it; and stand amazed at the scroll of goodness, provision, encouragement, mercy, grace, love, friendship, and power that God has provided–that I have simply forgotten about. I am re-overwhelmed by His faithfulness and it gives me strength to keep going, and also reminds me that so much of what I worry about never comes to pass.
We need to constantly devise ways to remember God’s faithfulness. Why? Because we forget! My tendency too often is to fail to remember God’s goodness and move back to frustration, fear, lack of faith, complaining, or maybe all four, about the next looming obstacle. The irony is that God already knows the solution for that one too. He’s not worried.
4) Thank God For The Intangibles
My oldest son was born at 10 pounds 9 ounces, two weeks late. The labor was induced, and my wife still had to have a c-section. 150 years ago both he and my wife could easily have died in childbirth. My younger son would never have existed.
I have daily access to clean water (lack of which halved the life span of Americans about 120 years ago).
I have dozens of Bible versions, most of the music I’ve ever owned, a great camera, and dozens of games on the smartphone in my pocket.
I have conveniences and an ease of life my ancestors could never have dreamed of.
All of these are opportunities to thank God, daily.
5) Have a Mini-Concert of Thankfulness
Sometimes on days that I’m struggling or frustrated, I’ll take a set amount of time (10 minutes is usually enough) to do nothing but thank God, for anything and everything that comes to mind.
It’s easy to try this: Just lock yourself away in an undistracted location. Set a timer on your phone if you need to. And–honestly–thank God (and only thank God, don’t ask for anything or complain about anything or pray for anything else) until the timer goes off. 10 minutes is usually more than enough to take me from crabby or embittered, to grateful for how He has come through in the past and can come through again.
6) Ask for help
I believe that “God please help me to be more thankful.” is a prayer He loves to answer.
7) Realign your expectations:
Luke 17: 7-10 says: 7 “When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? 8 No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ 9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not.10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”
I will read this verse sometimes on days where I feel like I have it worse than the whole world. The passage sounds like a slap in the face at first, but it’s actually really helpful. It’s a reminder that I didn’t sign up for a Christian life where God works for me or is required to give me anything. Every good thing I ever experience is a gift from Him. He is still the King and we are still the servants. He doesn’t owe me. But in spite of that He is a bountiful Father who frequently showers down blessings beyond what we deserve. It’s a dangerous thing to miss them and complain.
If you don’t believe me just go back and re-read Numbers 14. The chapter is pretty much summed up here: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: 29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
If you want to frustrate God, be ungrateful. God eventually got so “done” with the Israelite’s complaints He declared they would never see the promised land they wanted so desperately.
Is there a promised land in our lives that always seems just beyond our reach? Maybe part of the reason we can’t get there is simply our current lack of gratitude.
We have a cool pantry in our kitchen. (I know; it’s pretty sad when you think a pantry is cool. But this one is.) It’s got a lot of shelves in just the right places, some of them roll and rotate and there is even additional space in the back, and it’s about as storage-efficient as anything we’ve ever seen. When we first got our house it was our favorite thing in the kitchen. But we also didn’t have much spare cash for groceries, so it was never full. One of my prayers then was that someday we’d be able to actually fill up the pantry.
Fast forward to now, and the pantry is overflowing to the point where we don’t have any more room to store things in it. Older items sit in the back forgotten and unused, with newer items on top of them or in the way. So am I grateful that my prayer was answered? No. . . . I forgot about my earlier prayer, and now I’m frustrated by the clutter. And my weight gain. And the amount of food in it we eventually throw away because it expires.
I need constant reminders to keep my expectations in the right places. Maybe you do too. So let’s be intentional about being more grateful. Start today or it probably won’t happen.