“When we bless God for mercies, we usually prolong them. When we bless God for miseries, we usually end them. Praise is the honey of life which a devout heart extracts from every bloom of providence and grace.” Charles Spurgeon
Would you characterize 2020 as a year of gratitude or grumbling? Did you notice complaining rising in your heart and slipping off your tongue more than thanksgiving to God?
If 2020 felt like a year of grumbling, you’re not alone. But I hope most of us, especially if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, desire to complain less and give thanks more in 2021. That doesn’t mean denying or downplaying pain and difficulties, but it does mean trusting God in the midst of them. There are always more reasons for gratitude than grumbling.
New Year, Same Me
Unfortunately, just because the calendar changes it doesn’t mean our heart changes. A new year provides new opportunities to pursue a different path, but it’s not automatic.
Thanksgiving is like any other discipline in that it takes intentionality, commitment, hard work, and time. It’s not just a matter of choosing to be more thankful, but it needs cultivated. We have to patiently till up the soil of our hearts so seeds of thanksgiving can be planted, and we have to persistently pull the weeds of discontentment and grumbling that pop up.
“Forming a new habit (especially a good habit) is a tremendous draw on your willpower reserves. Initially the new behavior may be physically or mentally challenging. It will cut against the grain of your natural inclinations. It takes effort. Lots of it.”Drew Dyck, Your Future Self will Thank You
Instead of discouraging you from trying, my hope is to remind you that changing our heart requires changing our habits. And changing habits takes time. Whether it’s eating or exercise habits, thought patterns, routines like picking up your phone even when you don’t know why, or forming new spiritual habits, changing our habits takes work. Thankfully, God equips us even as we fight this battle. It’s not all on us. He is with us and helping us. But the fight, and the opposition we’ll face, are real.
Record and Respond
Even though 2020 might have been a year of grumbling, that patten doesn’t have to dominate 2021. As we cultivate the spiritual discipline of thanksgiving, we can change our outlook as we see God’s work and grace, even in difficult days.
The easiest place to start is by recording reasons to be thankful and then responding by thanking God for these things. You can record these in a journal, on your phone or computer, or just a piece of paper on a desk. But have some way of writing it down. Then write down five things you’re thankful for each day. They can be big or small, a material blessing or a spiritual blessing. And then take the time to respond by praying with thanksgiving to God.
Other Ways to Practice Giving Thanks
Here are other ways to cultivate thanksgiving this year.
- Build “thanksgiving” into your prayer life by always including thanking God for specific things before asking anything from him.
- Walk through your house, or any other familiar space, and let the things you see be opportunities to give thanks. Give thanks to God not only for the things you see, but more so for God’s kindness and faithfulness in the memories, stories, experiences, and relationships tied to those items you see. (For example, if I see my kitchen table I might thank God for the gift of food and flavor, that he provides and we don’t go without eating, for the people we love who we’ve had around that table, for good conversations among our family over a meal, for that time we laughed through a joyful celebration or cried through a painful situation at that table, etc.).
- Go for a walk and give thanks to God for the things you see in nature or your neighborhood.
- Take a passage of Scripture and look for things you notice about the person and work of God. Return thanks for who He is and who He is for you.
- Cultivate a habit of gratitude by thanking at least one person a day for something you notice them doing.
- Consider starting the habit of testifying to God’s goodness by sharing with at least one person a day something God has done that you are thankful for. Sometimes, just ask others this simple question: “What’s one thing today or this week you can thank God for?”
- When eating a meal with friends or family, before beginning or while eating ask everyone if they would be willing to share one thing they are thankful for.
- Start helping children in your life develop gratitude to God by giving thanks for many things. Ask them about good things in their life and who they ultimately come from. Help them give thanks to God.
- Write down personal or group prayer requests and then record ways God answered prayers. Give thanks when he answers and refer back to what you’ve written down in the future to give thanks.
- Consider a frustrating, hard, or painful situation in your life right now or something not going like you want. Think through things you can thank God for in the midst of it.
- Take a “gratitude challenge” where each day you write down something like 1, or 3, or 10 things you are thankful for that day. If it’s helpful or encouraging, use social media, a blog, or your journal to record and share these things.
- Find songs or prayers of thanksgiving by others and sing or read through them for yourself.
For more on thanksgiving, including understanding it biblically as well as how to practice, see my book The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of a Lost Spiritual Discipline.