The Value in Maintaining a Grateful Heart

Last week, we posted about the things that can hinder our prayers.

(You can review that post, if you’d like, via this link.) I closed with an acknowledgment that what was included was not, in any sense, a complete list.  And then, this week, through what I believe was no accident, I was reminded of another, that I believe warrants some consideration.

Our Father God, responds well to genuine gratitude.

It’s simply hard for me to believe that a lack of gratefulness in our conversations, sits well with our Heavenly Father.  Not that God is, in any sense insecure or needy of our acknowledgment, affirmation or approval.  But that, since we are made in His image, it just somehow makes sense to me that when we take things for granted, or perhaps worse, out of some sort of entitlement, without showing any sense of gratitude… well, it’s not hard for my human brain to imagine Him at some point just (metaphorically, of course) throwing his hands up as if to say, “really?!?”  I mean, I know God is bigger than my imagination but, who among us doesn’t like to at least be acknowledged for the gifts we give?  When we put thought, effort and resources into a gift and present it to someone we love, of course, we look forward in anticipation of their response.  Gratefulness, as a response, is life-giving in our relationships.

Recently, we found ourselves in a situation where our water main needed to be shut off, at least overnight and likely, for a good part of the next day.  For clarity and perspective, the water main is that main valve, usually out near the street that controls ALL of the water flowing into your dwelling. You know, the one that controls the water that flows out of your taps, allows you to fill a pot for cooking, wash your hands or do the dishes, brush your teeth, take a bath or shower, flush the toilet…. Yeah, it’s that water main.

Now initially, my mind went to, “It’s only for a night.  We’ve got bottled water we can use (at least for some of that stuff).  How bad could it be?  But then I started to think, “But what if they can’t fix it right away?  What if it takes all week?  Will I need to walk over to the neighbors in my (manly) fluffy slippers and bathrobe, ring the bell and ask if I can use their bathroom to shower or use the restroom?”  (Don’t roll your eyes at me that way, you’d have had your own irrational thoughts, too, at least at some point.)

And finally, it got me thinking about all the gifts of God in my life that I, too often, tend to take for granted…that I way too regularly fail to give thanks for.

As it turns out, the plumber showed up and was able to fix the problem in pretty short order. Crisis averted!

Afterward, as I stood in the shower to get cleaned up for the day, I felt that nudge from the Holy Spirit and began to make a mental list of the associated things I was grateful for. It developed something like this:

  • A place (inside) our home in which to refresh and get cleaned up
  • Water
  • Warm Water
  • Clean Water
  • Flowing Water
  • Soap
  • A roof over my head and a place to call home
  • Gainful employment from which to afford these things
  • Relative peace – certainly, at least free from the uncertainty of war or other threats that could create fear
  • The Cross…and a God who loves and wants relationship with me so much that He sacrificed His only Son to provide cleansing from all unrighteousness…

You get the idea, right?  I mean, I recognize that your list might be different and that this could have continued on into perpetuity but that’s the point…yes?

When we pause to consider all of the things God provides for us – even what we might consider the mundane or that we so often feel we’re just entitled to and take for granted; our response should be to show appreciation and give thanks.  We can do this in the shower, in the car, in our workplaces, in our resting…anywhere!

The Bible teaches us to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in every circumstance.  (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)

Through Bible commentators, I’ve learned that in his instruction, Paul is saying that Christ followers should pray regularly and often but, more than that, he desired Christians to live prayerfully.  As we’ve stated before; prayer is more than verbalized words.  It is the acknowledgment of God’s constant presence and our continuous dependence on Him.  To pray without ceasing is to recognize that all our actions are done before God, all our gifts come from God and all of our actions should include Him. Read that again!  He “hears” (knows) even our unspoken words (thoughts) and it’s actually good for both our soul and our psyche when we regularly include gratitude as a part of these “conversations.”

In prepping to write this week, I came across an article from Licensed Professional Counselor, Stacy Hall that, while intended for a secular audience, I believe speaks well to the wonder, power and majesty of our all-knowing and creative God.  See if you find the same.

In an excerpt, Stacy writes, “Cultivating a heart of gratitude means having an appreciation for life in the present moment (emphasis added). It’s counting our blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging the abundance already here. When we are truly thankful for what we already have and content with what is – this is enough. We tend to take for granted all the good that is already in our lives.”

“All too often, we hold out for the big achievements, before allowing ourselves to be truly happy. The mind is never quite satisfied, always demanding and wanting more. It is as if we make up that life owes us something, other than the greatest gift of the present. This mindset of lack and never enough is a maddening way to live and is a surefire way to keep oneself miserable, or just short of real contentment. This limited mindset is not in service to you, and is a superficial form of gratitude.”

“The more we shift out of complaining and adopt an attitude of thanksgiving, the “more” we receive. While gratitude is often a mental acknowledgment of everything that is going well in our lives and all that we receive, true thankfulness runs much deeper. This type of gratitude is a deep sense of your very presence and “being-ness.” What is our being-ness? This is the natural feeling ‘I am’ or ‘I exist.’ We can access our natural being-ness anytime, because it’s always here, underneath the noise of the mind. When we are able to find the space between thoughts, we are naturally at rest within ourselves.”

“When we become attuned to this sense of aliveness, true gratitude emerges. Through being fully present with life as it is unfolding now and recognizing our very presence, there is a felt sense of appreciation for all that is.”

“Almost two thousand years ago, the philosopher Plutarch wrote: ‘Most people bypass what is good and refreshing in their lives, and habitually focus on the unpleasant, bad elements.’ How easily all our attention can get absorbed by our “problems.” Thinking and talking about them strengthens a false sense of self. And so, we miss the good in our lives. Where is the good? It’s where Life is: in the present moment. It’s in the clouds and vast spaciousness of the sky, the air you breathe, the life-giving light and warmth of the sun, the silence of the night. It’s in a small act of kindness given or received. It’s in the sound of the rain, the intense aliveness of a flower…. the same aliveness that you can also feel inside your body. Another word for acknowledging the good in your life is – gratitude. And: what you focus your attention on, grows.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

While we cannot and likely should not avoid planning for our futures, there is wisdom and merit in doing so while living out what each day brings to us and responding in ways that accurately reflect who and Whose we are.  Too many of us get caught up in idealizing how our lives should be unfolding (our plan) that we miss the real blessings that come through surrender to His.  Staying present and maintaining a deep acceptance and assurance that God is in control allows us to find peace and gratitude even in the midst of difficult situations.  As we mature in our faith and practice acceptance of our present circumstances with a heart of gratitude and in the spirit of what we might learn, peace naturally develops.

There are many ways to begin to practice gratitude.  One that many have found helpful and life-giving is to start and/or end each day with a list of “thank yous.” Whether you physically write them, perhaps in a prayer journal (where you can later keep track of God’s responses) or say them out loud or even in the whispers of your mind’s voice, God knows…

As the good people at remind, The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). Peter gives a reason to be thankful for “grief and all kinds of trials,” saying that, through the hardships, our faith “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

The people of God are thankful people, for they realize how much they have been given. One of the characteristics of the last days is a lack of thanksgiving, according to 2 Timothy 3:2. Wicked people will be “ungrateful.”

We should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him for “every good and perfect gift” He gives (James 1:17). When we are thankful, our focus moves off selfish desires and off the pain of current circumstances. Expressing thankfulness helps us remember that God is in control. Thankfulness, then, is not only appropriate; it is actually healthy and beneficial to us. It reminds us of the bigger picture, that we belong to God, and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Truly, we have an abundant life (John 10:10), and gratefulness is fitting.

Our enemy, the devil (Satan) wants nothing more than to keep us in a spirit of ungratefulness and misery.  And he has many tools in his arsenal that he will try and use to accomplish his purpose.  Contrarily, a grateful spirit is powerful and transformative.  Each day, we can learn to appreciate the very gift of life and life eternal, through Christ Jesus.  This is the value of maintaining a grateful heart.  May we be people who come to practice this daily.

Right here with you,