An Attitude of Gratitude.
I saw a post on social media recently that has really stuck with me. It said: “If you all had left at the end of the day was what you had thanked God for, what would you be left with?” Wow. That really challenged me. I think I’d probably end the day with very little. How about you? I probably don’t thank God anywhere near enough for everything He gives me, and even those things I cherish most dearly I don’t always thank Him for every day. It taps into that old adage that you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. That’s a natural state for each of us – it’s human nature to take familiar things for granted – but I don’t want to live like that. It might be hard, it might be going against the grain, but I want to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
An attitude of gratitude is the state where we’re so used to being thankful that it becomes our natural reflex. It’s not enough to be occasionally thankful but have a poverty mindset the rest of the time. No, it needs to be built up over time, our minds and hearts need to be trained in a new direction through constant use. Instead of immediately lurching to anxiety or craving, having an attitude of gratitude will help us to be grounded in contentment no matter what life throws at us. It’ll help bring us to a place where not getting something is just a minor disappointment, not a soul-crusher.
The truth is we have so much to be thankful for. Most of us are far too concerned with what we don’t have to appreciate what we do have. That’s natural human envy and greed at work, but modern marketing excels at exacerbating those natural faults. We’re bombarded 24/7 with messages about what we don’t have but need. It might be active promotion: ‘you need this outfit/car/gadget/holiday’, or it might be passive comparison, ‘look what so and so has in all those wonderful Instagram photos’, but it’s constant and it’s pervasive. How can we hope to be content and at peace if those are the only messages we receive?
We need to change the narrative and regulate the influences around us. Turn off those notifications, spend less time on those apps, swap the TV show for something more edifying. Time spent reading the Bible is far more worthwhile because it presents us with a much better message: all that God has done for us, all that the Holy Spirit is doing for us, even at this very moment, and all that Jesus will do for us when He returns. It’s a catalogue of what we already have in the spiritual realm. Forgiveness, redemption, grace, acceptance, love, mercy, spiritual gifts, our very being. The list is endless.
Just as endless is the list of what we have in this world when we just stop to think about it. From the clean water in our taps and the electricity driving our lights and heat to the relationships that bless us and the material things which keep us warm, safe and nourished. Try to list all those things that you have, no matter how mundane, and see if you can ever exhaust it. I’ve tried it, and there’s always more to think of, more to be thankful for. Indeed a short while ago I set myself the challenge of making a list every night of things I’m grateful for that day. The last thing I would do each day is exercise my thankfulness. It’s been a game-changer for me in a difficult season. In a time of frustration when I could be complaining about so much this simple practice has helped keep me grounded in gratitude. It’s helped me cope and manage my emotions much better.
I set the same challenge for my connect group, and they too really valued the shift in perspective it brought. I want to set you the same challenge. Write down five things every night that you’re grateful for. Just 5 things. That barely scratches the surface, but it is so manageable that we can’t possibly use the excuse that we don’t have time or can’t think of enough things. Start with five. Every day. Keep it up as long as you can. And see what happens. I’ve found my heart changing. Discontent is being weeded out. Depression is being warded off. Despair is being pre-empted. Dread is being turned into peace. As Rick Warren says, ‘gratitude is the antidote to anxiety’.
Colossians 2:6-7 puts it this way:
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
We’re supposed to have so much thankfulness that it overflows to influence and encourage others. Gratitude should be the fountain that pours out of us, and at the same time our faith will be strengthened and our spirits will be built up. It’s not something we do once, or every now and then, it’s a daily necessity. The truth is, we in Britain in 2018 could lose everything and still be better off than 95% of the humans who have ever lived. Perhaps a lot of us need to hear that right now, in a time of great national uncertainty. However hard up we might think we are, we’re actually wealthier than the vast majority of people in history. For those of us who are people of faith, we could lose everything, and still be immeasurably rich in Jesus. But how wonderful that He adds physical, material, relational, financial and mental blessings to the spiritual ones which are already mind-blowing on their own?
We have so much to be thankful for. So be thankful. Turn your eyes away from what you don’t have and towards what you do. In a season of excess and spending sprees, let’s be grateful people. The positive effect on our lives going into 2019 could be enormous.