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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Cultivating a Gratitude Mindset

There’s a perfunctory, almost embarrassed prayer of thanks many of us offer up around Thanksgiving time because we’re not accustomed to gratitude as a habit. It’s foreign to our daily routine. We’ve become too much like the nine lepers who — unlike the lone, grateful Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus for healing him — take God’s blessings as our due; we’ve succumbed to an entitlement mindset. (Read the full story in Luke 17:11-21.) 

Thanksgiving is what we really should be doing every day, all year long. Why don’t we?

Do Not Forget!

Moses described the lifestyle and mindset of gratitude God desired for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:11-14. He then reminded them that the Lord had cared for them in the desert place, providing for and protecting them (Deuteronomy 8:15-16a). All of this He did to humble them, with their good in mind (Deuteronomy 8:16). Then Moses warned them what would happen if they did forget God:

Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)

If the Israelites forgot God, then rather than seeing God as the giver of everything, they would become either proud and presumptuous (if things appeared to be going well), or bitter and resentful (if things started going badly). Both of these attitudes — presumption and bitterness — are a result of ingratitude, which ultimately stems from forgetting God. 

How do we guard against ingratitude? We do so by remembering God for:

  1. His deliverance in the past, 
  2. His benefits in the present, and
  3. His promises for the future.

If we forget God in any one of these areas, ingratitude will slip in, leading to missed blessings and missed opportunities for growth. 

His Deliverance in the Past

The prophet Hosea relayed God’s perspective on Israel’s forgetfulness (see Hosea 13:4-6). He then detailed the terrible consequences of forgetting and ingratitude.

After coming through a period of drought and arriving at a point of satisfaction in our lives, it’s easy for us to become like the Israelites: taking our eyes off of God and letting a subtle sense of pride seep in. We begin to suppose we achieved our own success, through our own abilities. This is foolish! Not one of us sat around in a primordial cafeteria selecting the attributes we would have. 

God has the power to raise us up in a day and the power to bring us down in a day (see the stories of Joseph and King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible); He has the power to give and the power to take away. Anything we possess, and any skill we have, is derivative (1 Corinthians 4:7) of the hand of the living God.

His Benefits in the Present

A gratitude mindset entails thanking God not only for His past provision but also for His blessings in the present. These benefits include His creation as well as personal blessings (material, relational, and spiritual).

Most of us default to a deficiency mindset — focusing on what we do not have — rather than a sufficiency mindset — focusing on what we do have. I don’t advocate a shallow philosophy of positive thinking, but I do know God is serious about 1 Thessalonians 5:18: we’re to acknowledge Him and give Him thanks in all things. We can even give Him thanks in and for difficult circumstances, recognizing our pain is never wasted and is often needful for our growth and development (sometimes called “the hard thanksgiving”).

His Promises for the Future

Finally, we’re to remember and thank God for His abundant promises for the future. One of these promises is that what He has planned for us is far beyond what we can imagine or think of on our own (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Corinthians 2:9). God has a better vision of our lives (both here on earth and beyond this life) than we do. And right now, His desire is to lavish the riches of His grace in acts of kindness toward us (Ephesians 2:4-7). 

Practice It!

Gratitude, at root, is not a feeling. If we leave it to spontaneous experiences, the feelings will diminish. But if we see gratitude as a series of choices, the difference is huge.

Cultivating a gratitude mindset requires an intentional, daily effort to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness to us in the past, present, and future. I’ve developed exercises to help you get started. I invite you to practice one of these two samples for a week or longer, and see how they affect your life and relationships.

Copyright © 2018 Ken Boa, used with permission.
 

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