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The Practice of Gratitude: 3 Ways to Become Thankful

The world thinks of gratitude as an emotion. And like all emotions, we cannot control them. We feel them when they come our way, and we don't feel them when they don't come our way. That is a bit fatalistic for me - and not particularly biblical.

Christ-followers need to see gratitude as a spiritual discipline. Gratitude is a spiritual discipline to be learned and practiced. And that changes everything! The Bible says it this way:

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

We can be grateful because where we are in our faith journey is not a surprise to God! And we can be grateful because every promise God has ever given us comes with a kind of money-back guarantee.

I love money-back guarantees. We once bought a used car to replace a van that had 225,000 miles on it. We decided to take our "new" car on vacation. It was a total disaster. From day one, there were problems. We could not find a mechanic who could repair the vehicle. We couldn't even find a mechanic who could explain what the problem was! We were frustrated when we got back home. Dan immediately contacted the dealership, ready to battle his way to a solution. Imagine how surprised Dan was when the manager said we could get a refund or trade it in for a different car.

I will give thanks to your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness, because your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. Psalm 138:2

The psalmist is saying there is a guarantee on every promise God makes. So, we can give thanks! God has made a life-long commitment to teaching us how to be grateful. Why? Because he knows how valuable gratitude is in our lives.

In Scripture, the practice of gratitude is often teamed up with two other practices. So again - let's read what Paul writes:

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

Let's start with the end of that verse, where we find the reason behind these three practices. This is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. God's will be less about what you do and more about who you become. Think about that for a minute. We sometimes think of God's will as a specific task we must accomplish. I have said things like, "God led us to Kansas City, and we came." But God is more concerned about our condition than our address.

This verse tells us what God's will is for us.

• Rejoice always

• Pray continually

• Give thanks in all circumstances

How do we regularly practice gratitude? How do we become the person God wants us to be? How do we know if we are in the middle of God's will? By following these three practices.

The First Way We Practice Gratitude Is: Rejoice Always

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

The original Greek word for "rejoice" is the word that means "enjoy again" or "repeat your joy." It translates well into English as the word "rejoice." Recycle your joy. Remember your joy. Repeat your joy. Rejoice means to enjoy again. To remember a past joy and re-live that joy in the present.

My husband grew up with enough farm roots to know what cows do with their food. It's gross but thoroughly accurate - and clearly illustrates what it means to rejoice. Cows have four stomachs. Or, more accurately, four compartments in their stomachs. When they initially swallow grass or grain, it is kept in the first part of their stomach, where digestion begins. And the cow can burp back up food in the first part of its stomach and chew it again. Yep! Gross! For over 500 years, we have used the phrase "let me chew on that" to mean "Let me think about that some more." That expression comes from the farm - from a cow chewing its cud.

God is telling us that the practice of gratitude begins by re-chewing all that He has done for us. To remember those things that brought us joy. To re-enjoy all the ways God has blessed us. And it is to be continual. "Rejoice always." One practice that has helped me do this is to keep a journal of what God does in my life. It is a simple truth. We get through the tough times by remembering the good times. We get through our present trial by recalling how God brought us through past trials. The first way we practice gratitude is to rejoice always.


Photo credit: ©GettyImages/olegbreslavtsev

The Second Way We Practice Gratitude Is: Pray Continually

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

We tend to think of prayer as a specific set of words we use at a particular moment in time. But prayer is not a one-time thing. It is constant communication with God.

When our daughter was a teenager, I walked into the den to find Danna on the phone with Amanda – her best friend. But neither one of them was talking. When I asked Danna what they were doing, she said. "We're watching T.V. together." I came back later to find Danna still watching T.V., the phone lying beside her on the sofa. When I started to hang it up, Danna said, "Oh no, Mom. We are still talking. She just had to eat dinner and then she will be right back."

Praying continually means we never hang up the phone of prayer. God wants us to see prayer as our continual connection with Him. So, our Father is inviting us to an ongoing conversation. Not just a series of short prayers. But to "pray continually.

First - we practice gratitude by rejoicing always. That builds gratitude. Second - we practice gratitude by praying continually. That builds gratitude.

The Third Way We Practice Gratitude Is: Give Thanks Continually

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

The phrase "give thanks" in the original Greek language of the Bible is a present tense, active verb. Thus, it means "be giving thanks" or "always giving thanks."

Alexander Whyte, a famous Scottish preacher, always began every prayer with praise – even when it seemed as if he had no reason to be thankful. One bitterly frigid Sunday, the church members filed into the church only to discover there was no heat. The people complained and murmured, wondering how the preacher could find a reason to praise God in the world. Alexander Whyte taught a powerful truth as he bowed his head and prayed, "O Lord, we thank Thee that it is not always like this."

Do you sometimes feel that you simply cannot and do not want to praise God? Gratitude is the last thing on your mind. I have learned that our feelings have little to do with genuine gratitude. Praise is not about us. Praise is all about God - and learning to make the deliberate choice to give God glory simply because of His presence with us. As we continually choose to praise God, it will become a habit that produces contentment in our lives.

Always live with your gaze on Him and your glance on the circumstance. That is our goal. To come to the point where we live in the gear of gratitude. But there is more in this verse than that. There is a double portion of gratitude called for here. We are to give thanks continually. And we are called to give thanks in all things. Guess what that little Greek word for "all" means? It means all! Romans teaches that we are to give thanks in all circumstances. That is not my tendency! I tend to give thanks in good times but not so much in bad times. The practice of gratitude requires that we give thanks in all things.

Notice it does not say "give thanks for all things." It says, "give thanks in all things." I do not thank God for the bad things that come my way. I do not thank God for the evil and sin in this world. But I can still thank him for his presence with me in those things. And this is why we can be thankful in all circumstances.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

When I remember the truth of this verse, I can choose to be grateful. Because I know God works all things together for good. Let's review: Gratitude is a spiritual discipline to be practiced. It is coming to the point in our lives where we always give thanks – no matter what.

Three practices:

• Rejoice always.

• Pray continually.

• Give thanks in all things.

The practice of gratitude brings the sacred into our everyday lives.

Have you ever heard of the taste berry? In Africa, there is a fruit called the "taste berry" that changes a person's taste buds so that everything tastes sweet and pleasant. Gratitude is the "taste berry" for every Christian. Gratitude is the fruit of a committed heart. And the tool of a life completely surrendered to God. When we are discouraged, gratitude reminds us that there is hope in God. When we are afraid, gratitude reminds us that no matter what happens, God is with us. When we are lost, gratitude reminds us that God has already been where He is leading us. When we are confused, gratitude reminds us that heaven is not in a panic.

Let's practice the discipline of gratitude. There is so much ground to be gained when we do.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Olezzo

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.

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