How to grow a thankful heart

Scripture: Psalm 7:17; Psalm 8: 3-9; Psalm 9:1; Psalm 95: 1-3; Psalm 100: 4-5; Romans 8:1-2, 37-39; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 2:1-2a, 4 and 8; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 2:14; Philippians 4:6-7; Colossians 2:6-7; Colossians 3:15-17; 2 Corinthians 5:7-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:6-7, Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 12: 28-29

Photo by Ashley Williams on Pexels.com

A flock of geese careened into Captain Sullenberger’s plane rendering both engines unusable and creating a precarious situation for all 155 passengers on board. The lives of each passenger depended on the skills and expertise of the pilot in whom they had put their trust when stepping on board. Quietly and calmly, Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot decided to employ an emergency water landing on the Hudson River. They executed their plan flawlessly and successfully evacuated all 155 people. Sullenberger was deemed a hero. If you have ever seen the movie, Sully, you know this story and have seen the account of these people singing the captain’s praises with joyful gratitude for the salvation he secured on their behalf. The passengers’ hearts overflowed with gratitude to their rescuer because they understood what their fate would have been without him. When people realize someone has saved them from imminent death and destruction, the result is heartfelt thanksgiving and devotion to the one who saved them.

You probably see where I’m going with this. As believers, we have more reason to be thankful than anyone on earth because we have experienced the greatest rescue story ever told! 

How do we grow hearts that express gratitude to God and lives that exude the joy of the Lord? We must cultivate thankful hearts by recognizing who God is, preaching the Gospel to ourselves everyday, and walking in the Spirit. We were lost- dead in our sins and headed for complete destruction, but Jesus intervened.. 

Three Keys to Growing a Thankful Heart

  1. Recognize who God is

Over and over again in Scripture, giving thanks is tied to recognizing who God is. Read these accounts from Psalms:

Psalm 7:17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High
Psalm 9:1 I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of your wonderful deeds
Psalm 95: 1-3 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.
Psalm 100:4-5 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.

The Psalms are FULL of declarations of God’s power, wisdom, steadfast love, mercy, righteousness and goodness. When we are struggling to be thankful, we are usually believing a lie about God’s character. God isn’t wise enough to have planned my day well, good enough to have given me exactly what I need, or faithful enough to be with me in this trial. To grow a thankful heart, we must remind ourselves of Who God is. Stand in awe of Who God is… Take a minute right now to worship Him for His power and might, then remind yourself of this truth:

Psalm 8:3-9 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

This God- the righteous, mighty, Creator, ruler, Sovereign, powerful God- created you. He thinks about YOU and cares for YOU. Let God’s greatness and power move you to respect and admiration then let His gentle care and steadfast love lead you to worship and praise. 

Hebrews 12: 28-29 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

We can give thanks in all circumstances because we trust that God is in complete control and that He is working everything together for His glory and for our good! 

  1. Praise Jesus for what He’s done 

Okay, so we know that God is amazing and beyond our understanding, and for some reason, He allows us to access Him through prayer. Why can we take our fears, hopes, dreams, and burdens before this incredibly powerful God?

Hebrews 4: 14-16 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Because of Jesus. Jesus made a way.. He pathed the highway between us and God allowing us access to the throne! 

Romans 8 and Ephesians 2 are two of my favorite passages in Scripture. I would strongly recommend reading both of these if you want to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving in your heart. I am going to include some excerpts here, but the whole chapter is SO packed with truth! 

Ephesians 2:1-2a And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

So let’s take that rescue story I mentioned earlier, remember those 155 people were miraculously saved by a skilled pilot? Now imagine if the pilot had taken a plane full of dead people and brought them back to life then saved them from a crash landing. This is a more accurate description of what Jesus has done for us. We were already dead in our sins, but God in His mercy reached down in love and resuscitated us. He breathed His breath into our lungs and gave us the gift of new life in Him.

Romans 8:1-2 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Romans 8: 37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Once we are alive in Christ, we can never be separated from the life and love of Christ. We are one with Him- forever united with his death and resurrection. Nothing can separate us- not imperfections, doubts, insecurities, or problems. Nothing. Let this truth wash over your heart. If we have nothing in this world but Christ, we have every reason to be thankful.  

Colossians 2:6-7 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
Colossians 3:15-17 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

When we invite Christ and the Gospel to rule our hearts and minds, His peace and presence will develop within us a spirit of thankfulness. 

  1. Walk in the Spirit

When we are filled with the Spirit, the result is a changed life. The result is a thankful heart. We become new creatures when we are rescued by Jesus, but the process of sanctification is life-long. We must grow in grace and grow in the Spirit by renewing our minds in the Word of God! 

Ephesians 5:18-20 says, “but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father.
Galatians 5: 22-25 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

When we deny ourselves, we leave room for the Spirit to work! The Ephesians 5 passage above starts with being Spirit filled then ends with thanksgiving! The two are directly tied. So often in my own life, I want to be thankful, but I don’t put in the work of walking in the Spirit. I try to be thankful without tapping into the source of thankfulness. Any thankfulness we produce on our own will be tainted with selfishness and sin. We owe our gratitude to the good Father. Good gifts from our Good Father are just sign posts to lead us to worship Him (James 1:17)! True thankfulness is always the outward expression of a heart that has been enraptured by the mercy and grace of Jesus. 

Out of curiosity, I read some secular advice on how to be thankful. Interestingly enough, many of the points were biblically based such as “get your mind off yourself”, “when you’re angry, think about all the good things in your life” and “voice gratitude”…  As believers, we have SO much to be thankful for, but we also have the POWER to be thankful because the Spirit is alive within us. Here’s a few ways to practically, grow a heart of gratitude:

Practical Application for Growing a thankful heart: 

The first four of these are biblical necessities, the last three are helpful, but not essential.

  1. Meet with God every day in His Word 

Y’all already know this one, but it really is VITAL. God’s Word is where the renewal happens. He reveals Himself to us and fills us with His spirit as we meet with Him in His Word. The narrative of the Bible reveals countless reasons to be thankful- creation, fall, redemption, resurrection, and new life in Christ.. 

2. Get your eyes off yourself and serve others 

Usually, when I catch myself grumbling and complaining, the root issue is selfishness. In Philippians 2:14, Paul instructs, “Do all things without murmuring and complaining”, so we can shine as lights in the darkness. Earlier in the passage, he reveals the way we resist a complaining spirit (the opposite of thankfulness) is by “looking not on our own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When we put other people’s needs before our own, we imitate Christ who took on human form, served, and died on our behalf. The problem is we get so focused on our own lives and routines, we forget about other people. We grumble and complain because we’ve made ourselves the center of our stories. Extend the hands and feet of Jesus all over your community! It doesn’t have to be starting your own non profit organization. It can be making a meal for a neighbor, sending a card to someone, watching someone’s kids for them, volunteering somewhere.. Please don’t forget, these things are not earning God’s favor. You don’t have to work for God’s love or people’s approval! Serving is the result of a thankful heart that has realized who God is and what Jesus has done. 

3. Shift to an eternal perspective 

Paul talks about contentment from PRISON. He talks about being beaten, oppressed, forsaken, crushed and persecuted, and yet, he says the suffering of this world cannot be compared to the joy that’s coming. (2 Corinthians 5:7-18) After Paul talks about all of those awful things that he experienced THIS is what he says in verse 15 “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase THANKSGIVING, to the glory of God.” He sees everything he’s been through as glorious because it has led others to Christ. His sufferings have developed a spirit of thankfulness in others. His sufferings have drawn others to worship God. We are commanded to be ready to give an answer to the hope that is within us… If we are never hopeful in bad circumstances, how will others ever see Jesus? Our attitude in difficult circumstances reveals what we believe about God. When we give thanks in good circumstances, the world doesn’t bat an eye. When we give thanks in trials, the world starts asking questions. Sometimes I feel like I have to physically pick up my thoughts and place them on eternity or as Paul says, “take our thoughts captive”. Remember, we are not victims to our thoughts. Jesus has died to redeem our thoughts. He has rescued us from being slaves to our sin. 

4. Start praying and meditating on God’s truth

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Prayer is the way we express gratitude to God. The more we offer prayers of thanksgiving, the more thankful we will become. As we shift our eyes off ourselves and onto Him and others, our view changes to one of gratitude. 

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Meditating is different from reading God’s Word. Let’s not get so wrapped up in checking the boxes on our reading plans (type A people where ya at?!) that we forget to take the truth with us throughout the day. First of all, I want you to know I am not giving you a personal example because I’ve arrived. I’m giving you a personal example because I STRUGGLE with this, but by God’s grace have found a few strategies to help me! On my “thankfulness walks” (see application #6) I take a notecard with a verse on it. I usually just make one a week. I read it while I walk and pray it back to God and meditate on what it means. I keep it with me on my desk at school too, so I can look down at it when I’m feeling a little less than spiritual… Lol In my personal devotions, I write out the verse to help commit it to memory, and by the end of the week, I usually have it memorized! It has been amazing to see how God has used that in my life to develop a more consistent conversation with Him throughout the day. Meditation and prayer go hand in hand. Meditating on God’s Word leads to a renewed mind and thankful heart.

5. Keep a journal as you read and record 5 things you’re thankful for every day 

In Scripture, God commands Israel to set up memorials to remember His goodness. It’s so cool to see how these things develop and change as you grow and God answers prayers! When you record your thankfulness, you can reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past which will inspire thankfulness in the present/future.

6. Tell God those 5 things you’re thankful for every day in prayer

Don’t you love it when someone tells you they’re thankful for you??? God delights in hearing our thanksgiving poured out before Him! Many Psalms were written to do just that. Don’t assume God already knows. Don’t only bring requests before His throne. Bring gratitude and praise. And ask Him to continue to grow that heart of thankfulness. 

7. Tell other people you’re thankful for them

Write a note or send a text. It can be short and sweet, but as you spread thankfulness, your heart will grow! We don’t have to feel thankful before we are thankful. We can tell our feelings what to do and watch as God transforms our hearts! Perhaps you wrote down a person on that list of five things you’re thankful for? Let them know! Maybe pick a day of the week (like thankful Thursday) to always reach out to someone with words of gratitude.

8. Take a thankfulness walk without your phone and talk to God

Sometimes you just need to be alone in nature. No distractions. No music. Deep breaths. Hear the birds. See the sunshine. Watch creation at work. Allow the beauty of it all to wash over your soul and audibly voice your praise to God for who He is! Jesus encourages the disciples to consider the lily and sparrow because creation speaks to the care of the creator. Jesus also practiced solitude with His Father in nature. He prioritized His relationship with His Father over His relationship with his disciples or His service to others. A relationship with the Father is water and nutrients for growing a thankful heart.

So friends, let’s get to know our God. Let’s stand in awe of our Savior. Let’s walk hand in hand with the Spirit. When we delight in His Word, meditate on His goodness, and set our minds on eternity, God- the perfect gardener- will grow within us the most beautiful heart of thankfulness.

Your loving sister,

Charis

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