If I’m being honest some days it’s difficult to feel grateful. If you’re reading this, and being honest then you’re probably in the same boat as me.
Intellectually we all know that we all have a lot to be grateful for. We hear all the time about the power of gratitude and how it contributes to a happy, healthy and purposeful life. There have been multitudes of self-help “life-hack” books written on the power of gratitude and a “positive” mindset. But realistically, if you’re like me, you probably spend far more time complaining about what you don’t have, and what’s not right, than you do about what you do have and what’s going well.
Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to have a positive outlook and look at the ways that I am blessed, and at others I’m so filled with gratitude, I can’t help but feel joy and optimism. So… what gives?
What I have found in my life to be true is that these two very different emotions are usually based on circumstances. But, what if we determined in our head and heart that they didn’t have to be? What if we intentionally choose to be grateful in spite of our current circumstance or situation?
Researchers describe gratitude as a personality strength. It is described as the ability to be aware of the good things that happen and not take them for granted. It’s also been shown that individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are for the most part happier, healthier and more energetic in day-to-day life. Studies have shown that grateful people report fewer ailments and symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and inactivity. Also, the more a person is inclined to feel grateful, the less likely they are to feel lonely, stressed, anxious, and depressed.
All this sounds great! But… how do we move into being a person of perpetual gratefulness
Thankfully, bring grateful doesn’t mean convincing yourself of some false reality where everything’s fine and dandy. Living your life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on what you appreciate. The goal is not to block out difficulties, but to approach those difficulties from a different perspective and with a different mindset. 1 Thessalonians 5:16- 18 says,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Easier said than done though right? Have you noticed that most things in life worth doing are not done easily and with the best circumstances? Teddy Roosevelt once said,
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.
It’s not easy to get a college degree. It’s not easy to maintain a healthy marriage. It’s not easy to be a pastor, lawyer, law enforcement officer, teacher, etc. It’s not easy to keep that job. It’s not easy to live up to the expectations of a family member, friend, title, or role. It’s not always easy to be grateful.
However, the Bible encourages us to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. In Colossians 3:15 Paul writes,
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Paul set a fine example of gratitude himself under some of the most miserable and unfavorable circumstances imaginable. You see, gratitude is a choice we make, as are all the virtues discussed in Scripture. Love is an act of the will. Joy is an act of the will. Peace is an act of the will. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all choices we make in spite of the world around us and the feelings raging inside us at any given moment.
Circumstances bear weight in the temporal, our gratitude and demeanor towards God and His blessings for us bear a weight in Eternity.
Joshua 24:15 says,
Choose you this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord
I choose to believe, even when doubts flood my soul. I choose to give thanks, even when my heart doesn’t feel grateful. I choose to worship, even when my voice doesn’t want to sing. I choose to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, even when I would prefer to serve myself.
How about today, we choose to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:18,
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 106:1 says,
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
I see no other option but to push my circumstances to the side and to choose to be grateful. Gratitude unlocks the door to a heart of contentment, for contentment is never found in abundance alone. Contentment flows from the abundance of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:11the Apostle Paul wrote,
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
What are you grateful for today?
How many of you in feel like you know someone that has a convenient “hearing” problem? My wife probably thinks I do! She can tell me that the garbage needs to be taken out and I suddenly have the hearing of someone who has ran a jackhammer everyday for 40 years, but then she can tell me that it’s dinner time and she’d will be lucky to count to 5 before I come sliding into the kitchen. Frustrating?
The writer of Hebrews expressed a similar frustration with some fellow Christians and churches in his day. Hebrews 5:11-14 says,
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
That’s not exactly the type of letter I’d want to be on the receiving end of!
In this letter you begin to get the impression that this writer is really concerned about the situation in the churches of his day. A dullness of hearing has seemingly crept in and a spirit of infancy and complacency quickly followed.
You might be asking… what is the dullness of hearing?
First, let’s take a look at the word “dull.” We could describe dull as slow, blunt, or sluggish. It’s used one other time in the New Testament, namely, in Hebrews 6:12. Take a look at Hebrews 6:11–12 and you’ll see the interchangeable word “sluggish” and what the opposite of dullness is,
We desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish [there’s the word for “dull” in our text], but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
The opposite of dullness is diligence or earnestness to turn the message of hope into the assurance of hope… to be an imitator! The opposite of dull hearing is the imitation of people that hear the promises of God and then respond out of faith with action or the actual “doing” of the message.
So dull hearing doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your physical ears. It means there is something wrong with your heart.
You’ve heard the message you just weren’t moved enough by it to respond. The heart is not eager and diligent to embrace the promises and turn them obedience through faith. Instead, the Word comes into the ears and goes down to the heart and hits something hard or tough and does nothing to change you or encourage you to press forward in your walk with Christ.
That’s dullness of hearing. It’s the kind of hearing with the ears that is unresponsive in the heart. It doesn’t embrace the Word of God with faith. And therefore, it doesn’t produce the fruit of patience and obedience.
My wife and I live near the airport in Louisville, Kentucky. There are always planes overhead… passenger planes, military planes, UPS planes delivering all of my compulsive middle of the night online purchases. If you were to stay the night in our guest bedroom you’d probably hear those planes. But… I don’t. I have gotten used to the sound, and the sound means nothing to me because there is no action that I need to take attached to it. I haven’t conditioned myself to acknowledge the sound as anything other than background noise. But on the other hand there is a reason cop cars and other emergency vehicles use sirens. When we hear the sound we know there is an action attached to it! MOVE! PULL OVER! We have been conditioned to attach an action to the sound, we hear it and know that because we have heard it there is something immediately required of us.
Let me ask you… Have you gotten to used to hearing the Word of God with no action attached? Have you conditioned yourself through your continual inaction or delayed responses to hear the Word of God only as background noise?
Dullness of hearing is hearing the Word of God the way I hear the airport near my home. You hear it but you really don’t. You have grown dull to the sound, and the sound spurs no action in your life. It does not awaken or produce anything within you.
The most urgent question to ask yourself today is: Do I have this disease, and if so, what am I going to do to make myself well?
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Some days if we are all being honest we will admit that it’s difficult to feel grateful. Yet other times, we’re so moved filled with gratitude we can’t help but feel joy and optimism. These two very different emotions are usually based on circumstances.
But what if we intentionally choose to be grateful in spite of our circumstance?
Researchers describe gratitude as a personality strength: the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen and never take them for granted. It’s been shown that individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are happier, healthier and more energetic. Grateful people report fewer symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and they spend more time being active. Also, the more a person is inclined to feel grateful, the less likely they are to feel lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed.
All of that sounds great! But… easier said than done. Have you noticed that most things in life worth doing are not done easily? Teddy Roosevelt once said,
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.
It’s not easy to get a college degree. It’s not easy to develop and maintain a healthy marriage and friendships. It’s not easy to raise children. It’s not easy to keep that job and give your best day in and day out. It’s not always easy to be grateful.
Gratitude is a choice we all have the ability to make. Love is an act of the will. Joy is an act of the will. Peace is an act of the will. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all choices we make in spite of the world around us and the feelings inside us. We see that all these choices are good and are choices we ought to make. Galatians 5:22-23 says,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
We must choose to believe, even when doubts flood our soul. We must choose to give thanks, even when our heart doesn’t feel grateful. We must choose to worship, even when our voice doesn’t want to sing. We must choose to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we would prefer to serve ourselves.
Joshua 24:15 says,
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
How about today, we choose to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:18,
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Regardless of what you face right now, choose to give thanks to the Lord for all He has done. Give thanks for His love that surpasses any and every circumstance. Psalm 106:1 says,
Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Gratitude unlocks the door to a heart of contentment, for contentment is never found in abundance alone. Contentment flows from the abundance of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
There’s an old Chinese Proverb that says,
When you drink from the stream, remember the spring.
We live in a country abounding in resources, prosperity, and freedom. And yet we also experience political divisiveness, violence, a slumbering church, and natural disasters such as the horrific fires in California leaving a wake of death and destruction.
What causes us to rise above the chaos and celebrate the blessings is to “remember the spring” from which we drink. Lets remember the spring of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and honor that granted us freedom from sin. Galatians 5:1 says,
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
John 4:14 says,
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
If you drink the water of life, remember the spring of His love that never runs dry. As has been said many times, “Freedom is never free.” Our national freedom came at the cost of many lives. Our spiritual freedom came at the cost of the life of One.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
What are you grateful for today? Let us be grateful for the freedom we have in Christ. And if we drink from the stream of freedom, let us remember the spring from which that freedom flows.