the power of a grateful heart

woman praying

I have a friend who posted this on Facebook yesterday –

“My daughter asked me yesterday, ‘Why is it called Black Friday if people celebrate it on Thursday?'”

This was just a 5 year old asking a question that made us all giggle, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it’s had me thinking. I wonder how many of us skip right over, or at least fast track, the gratitude and quiet time of the holiday to get right to the other side – the commercial side. How many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving as Black Friday Eve? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sale and I think it is a pretty admirable quality to be thrifty, but it seems like each year we rush faster and faster through the time of thanks to get to the time of “I need more.”

We focus for two hours on being grateful for what we have, and spend the next four weeks in the crazy hustle and bustle, stressed and agitated on our quest to accumulate more. I mean, have you been on Stratford Rd this time of year? Then you know what I’m talking about.

Hear me – I don’t think there is anything wrong with buying gifts for our loved ones. I don’t think there is anything wrong with shopping or looking out for the best deal. I know that shopping together can be a fun time for loved ones to be together, laughing and having a good time. But you have to admit, the commercialism of the holiday season has gotten seriously out of hand. I can’t believe that stores are opening on Thanksgiving now. Every year it gets earlier and earlier, as if to say “Let’s spend a little less time on the thanking and add a little more time to the getting.”

Gratitude is a discipline we need to learn to practice – intentionally and with purpose. It is to easy to look around at others and focus on what we don’t have, but there is some serious power in focusing on and being thankful for all the blessings that are already in your life. There have been several studies that prove this.

Did you know that being grateful improves your physical health? People who regularly practice gratitude generally report fewer aches and pains and feel healthier than their counterparts. Not surprisingly, practicing thankfulness also improves psychological health. It reduces depression and helps eliminate toxic emotions, such as envy, frustration, and regret. It increases empathy, reduces aggression, improves self-esteem, and helps you sleep better. Being a grateful person can even help you overcome trauma in your past! Those are some pretty serious benefits. That may help to explain why it’s such a big deal in the Bible, too.

Thankfulness is mentioned at least 102 times in the Old Testament and 71 times in the New. The words used for thankfulness in the Bible are not just wrapped up in the gifts, but they are directly expressing thanks to the Giver. True thankfulness, authentic gratitude doesn’t just express gratitude for something, it expresses gratitude to Someone. I love these verses from Colossians: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” I desperately want to be a person who is rooted in my faith, walking in Him, and abounding in thanksgiving. 

What does being abundant in Thanksgiving look like? I’m not exactly sure, but I would imagine it means treasuring time with family and friends, putting down our phones and tablets and engaging in conversation. I think it’s praying continually and praising God constantly, not just for what He’s done but for who He is. I think it’s looking for the good instead of focusing on the bad, being a person of life-giving words, and making a daily effort to encourage others. It’s asking God for help and waiting in hopeful expectation for His power to work out a situation instead of assuming the worst and being consumed by anxiety. If you are like me, this may be easier said than done.

Here are a few practical ways for you and your family to actively practice gratitude –

  1. Pray all the time. Praise God through the alphabet. (Example: I praise you because you are Almighty, Beautiful, Creator, Devoted…)
  2. Daily compliment someone on a quality you love and admire about them.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal. Try to get to 1,000 things in a year!
  4. Have a “Gratitude Jar.” Each day write down on a slip of paper what your thankful for. On New Year’s Eve, sit down and read them all together as a family.
  5. Snap a picture of something interesting or beautiful you see in nature every day.
  6. Avoid negative or destructive content in the media.
  7. Reach out to your neighbors. Introduce yourself, take brownies, stop and talk to them when you’re on a walk!
  8. Commit to one day a week where you try not to complain about anything.
  9. Write a thank you card to someone who has affected you positively and been a good influence on your life.
  10. When faced with a trying situation, pray first, wait for an answer, look for the bright side, and then take the next step.
  11. Make or purchase small thank you gifts for your community servants (postal carriers, crossing guards, trash collectors, etc.).
  12. Post quotes and images around your house that remind you to be thankful.
  13. Watch videos or read encouraging articles and books that inspire you.
  14. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger each week.
  15. Use your God-given gifts to volunteer and help others.
  16. Visit your grandparents!
  17. Invite a family over for dinner you haven’t spent time with in a while.
  18. Have a game night with your friends.
  19. Specifically thank and compliment people at work when you notice they’ve done a good job.
  20. Start looking at your mess-ups as opportunities to grow and be refined.

Gratitude is definitely a mind game. It can be tough, especially when we find ourselves in situations that are especially complicated or frustrating. But Satan will use a discontent, envious, or frustrated heart in a hot second to try to pull you away from God. In learning more about who He is, His character, and walking more closely with Him, we cannot help but overflow with gratitude – for His forgiveness, His miracles, His power, His love that never gives up on us.

My prayer for us today is that we will become people of contagious gratitude. Help us, Lord, every day, to be abundantly grateful.

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Acknowledge that Yahweh is God.
He made us, and we are His —
His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures through all generations.

Psalm 100