With all the complexities, challenges, and distractions of life, sometimes we lose focus on what is most important. When we allow challenges and hardships to take our focus from God, the result will be a loss of faith.
We often endure what seems like a never-ending battle that takes the shape of increasing responsibilities in our jobs, family strife, and financial woes that seem to plague our lives incessantly.
It can sometimes be difficult for Christians to remain grateful.
Yet, gratefulness is a primary characteristic we should always have. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonian church, reminds us, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
The result is we are busy, yet not effective…
We continuously strive for better but not contented…
We are prosperous, but not at peace.
Gratefulness is one of the ways that God uses to center us. Refocusing our attention on God rather than the issues and challenges surrounding us requires faith and operating with the knowledge that God is in control.
Gratefulness is more than virtuous; it is essential to living out the will of God in our lives. Being consistently grateful equips us to keep our eyes on Christ and not be distracted by the storms of life.
Here are five ways to help you in your goal to remain grateful to God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1) Look around
Looking around… observing what is around you is an excellent way to remain grateful. I am not suggesting that you compare yourself or your situation to others, but to pay attention to what you have.
When we go through tough times, we often say to ourselves how we wish for something we do not have.
• We wish for more. More money, more time, or more things…
• We hope for a better situation. A better house, a better car, a better job, a better spouse (well, maybe… the same spouse with a “better” attitude towards household chores)…
• We want something different about ourselves. Lose weight, lose that toxic relationship, be more motivated, more focused…
However, the key to attaining peace in our lives begins with acceptance.
• Acceptance of who God made us to be
• Acceptance that God is in control
• Acceptance of where God is taking us
Only when we can do that is when we will pay more attention to what we have rather than what we don’t.
We can be grateful to God for all that He has given to us and provided for us.
That is not to say that we cannot work to be better or have a better life.
The point is that our lives’ improvement is paved on the road of gratefulness, not longing.
Paul encouraged the Philippian church, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV)
Additionally, another way to look around is to see what others mean to us. According to the Greeting Card Association, thank you cards are the third most popular greeting card sold after birthday and sympathy.
Greeting cards have been a common way to express gratefulness to the people in our lives.
We naturally feel more gratitude when we show it to others. And in so doing, we consider the needs of others (Philippians 2:3)
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church encouraged believers in writing, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11 /ESV)
The idea is that generosity to others produces abundance in the life of the believer.
This concept is broader than giving materially. In blessing others with your time, concern, a listening ear, and prayers, God will bless you!
2) Look within
Being introspective has value in making us grateful. While none of us are perfect, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we make every effort to be more Christ-like daily.
Most famously, Paul encourages Christians to examine themselves before the act of taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28). However, that is not the only time Christians should examine themselves.
The humility required for consistent introspection necessitates that we confess our sinfulness to God (1 John 1:9) and thus should be a way of life.
In time, we recognize how God is working in our lives through careful introspection, which brings us closer to Him.
Day-by-day, God is making us more forgiving, more loving, more caring.
Day-by-day we see God making us less judgmental, less angry, and less selfish.
When we see these consistent changes by the Holy Spirit within us, we have a reason to be grateful to God for the work He is doing in us.
In examining ourselves, we notice the subtle ways we are not what we used to be, which is a reason to be grateful for God’s unmerited favor (Colossians 1:20-23).
3) Look upward
Sometimes, our situations can be so painful and so surrounded by grief and despair that we do not find any peace no matter where we turn. In times such as these, we can be grateful that as Christians, we have the ability and privilege to look up to God for peace and direction.
David, as not yet crowned King of Israel, was having an unbelievably lousy day.
While on the run from King Saul, he made alliances with the Philistines and often fought on their behalf. Upon returning to Ziklag, the town he inhabited within the Philistine territory, he and his men discovered that the Amalekites had kidnapped all their families.
David and his men were distraught at the loss of their loved ones. The scriptures record that David and his men wept until they had no more strength to weep (1 Samuel 30:4).
However, despite how hopeless the situation appeared; David did something we should all model in desperate times: He inquired of the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:8).
Like David, Christians today have the incredible privilege of prayer.
Unlike David, many do not avail themselves of the privilege.
Often, when we are faced with what seems to be insurmountable hardships and impossible situations, we turn to others.
We may turn to loved ones… to seek comfort
We turn to those in authority… to seek advice
We turn to professionals … to seek assurance
We may even turn to self-destructive vices… to seek escape from pain
But none of these things we may turn to has a complete answer, let alone complete control. Jesus Christ is the ONLY ONE who has ALL the answers AND complete control.
Here is where we need to look up and turn to Jesus.
• Jesus knows about the situation.
• Jesus does not lack answers.
• Jesus has the power to turn any situation around.
Our God is a God that answers prayers (Psalm 107:28-30; Isaiah 65:24; 1 John 5:14-15).
4) Look back
Looking at where we have been and where God has brought us is another place, we can find reasons to be grateful. Many may concede that we are not where we wish to be in life.
However, few, if any, can say God has not brought us a long way in life. Looking from whence, God brought us gives rise to gratefulness.
Many of the bible’s greatest heroes of faith did not begin that way.
- Abraham hid the fact that Sarah was his wife in fear of his life.
- Jacob swindled and tricked nearly everyone in his path.
- Moses was afraid and asked God to send someone else.
- Peter, Jesus’ closest friend, and disciple denied Him.
- Mark gave up when things got hard (and caused a terrible bruhaha between Paul and Barnabas).
Yet each of these bible characters went on to do great things as their relationship grew with God.
- Abraham became the father of a nation that showed the way to salvation.
- Jacob “wrestled” with an angel until God blessed him.
- Moses led the Children of Israel to freedom and presented them with God’s Law
- Peter affirmed his love to the risen Christ and pledged to feed Jesus’ sheep
- Mark became an aide to imprisoned Paul and wrote the gospel of Mark.
Similarly, we have not always been where we are now. God, the Holy Spirit is continually remaking us in the image of Christ Jesus, and that is a reason to be grateful (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
5) Look ahead
God has a plan and a purpose for everyone’s life (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 2:10). Looking to a future guided by the Lord gives us hope and optimism that gives us a reason to be grateful.
The hurdle that many of us need to overcome to have this level of gratefulness is TRUST.
Trusting God in every situation is the only way to take full advantage of the assurance and peace He provides.
And the only way to fully trust God is to grow in a relationship with Him.
And the only way to grow in a relationship with Him is to surrender our lives to Him.
A theologian once remarked that working for God is not a replacement for a relationship with Him.
Therefore, growing in relationship with Christ must be primary in our lives as Christians.
Church attendance is NOT a substitute for spiritual growth in Christ…
And neither is…
- Paying tithes
- Giving to charity
- Singing in the church choir
- Running the board of Trustees
- Or any of the two dozen other ministries we can name
Talking to God (prayer), listening (obedience), and reading His word daily are ways to grow spiritually and in a deepening relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
Consequently, as we grow in our relationship with God, we can look ahead with the assurance that we are walking in the will of God for our lives.
This assurance produces gratefulness realizing that we serve a God who is always near, always has the best in store for us, and is still in control.
Particularly in the Psalms, but throughout scripture, God gives us examples of people expressing gratefulness. Read God’s word regularly to renew your mind and your focus.
God gives us manifold reasons to be grateful for all He has done, all He is doing, and all He has yet to do in our lives. When tempted to pay more attention to a difficult situation than to the greatness of God, use gratefulness to refocus your attention back to God!
A God who will not only bring you through the difficult situation but is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us…” (Ephesians 3:20-21).