You Don't Need to Feel Thankful to Be Thankful

Gratitude can feel elusive. Nobody wants to not be thankful. Despite what may be going on in our lives, we all know in the back of our minds, there is always something to be thankful for. But when our lives aren't going the way we'd hoped, gratitude can be the last thing we feel.

The main problem with the lack of gratitude in our lives has to do with the misunderstanding of what gratitude is. Gratitude, much like the way the bible approaches love, is not a feeling but an action.

If gratitude were merely a feeling, how could it be our duty as Christians to be grateful? When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he is not tasking us to do the humanly impossible and feel lovely towards people who have turned our lives upside down, extorted, us, betrayed us and demeaned us. We can't control how we feel after all. What he asks us to do instead is to "share our cloak," to act in spite of how we feel. The same can be said of gratitude. God's ask of us is to do gratitude even before we feel it. 

Maybe life is going swimmingly this holiday season. In which case, singing songs of praise from our hearts would come effortlessly and naturally. And we should give flowing praise. But if you are going through a difficult season, we can still be grateful. Moreover, it’s a good opportunity to learn how to be thankful not just during Thanksgiving season or during bountiful seasons but seminally throughout our lives.

The bible provides practical applications for how to be grateful. And counterintuitively, it is the act of showing gratitude that can lead our feelings to change. So don't wait to feel thankful to be thankful. Here are some practical ways the bible teaches us to be grateful. 

Share with others the good things God has done for you in your life. There are so many verses in the bible that encourage us to share with others the good things God has done for us. Here are just a few versus that point to this: 

"I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart. I will tell of all your wonderful deeds." Psalm 1:9

"I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you." Psalm 35:18

"Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy." Psalm 107: 21-22

Sharing God’s good work in your life with others is a great form of testimony. There's no more powerful way to share the gospel than anecdotally through the personal stories from your life. And when shared in humility, your stories can encourage others to find the same Hope.

But it’s also a great personal reminder. What did God tell the Israelites to do so they wouldn't stray after he brought them out of the wilderness? He told them to remember. 

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” - Deuteronomy 8:1-2

God encourages us to remember because we are forgetful creatures. Sharing our stories with others and the way God has worked in our lives is a great example of how showing gratitude can lead to feeling grateful. 

Make music and sing praise to God. The bible is chock full of versus that encourage us to sing to the Lord. Here are just a couple examples: 

"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." Psalm 95:1-2

"Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Ephesians 5:19-20

“Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp” (Psalm 147:7). 

Music is certainly uplifting and science shows music can affect brain chemistry. One good reason why we should sing and use music to express our gratitude is that the positive music, especially music about God's love, can lift one’s spirits and give courage. When King Saul was depressed in Samuel 16:23, for example, David took an harp, and played until Saul was refreshed.

But another reason we should consider showing gratitude through songs of praise is because if God tells us to make music for as many times as he does in the bible, it must be because our very creative God takes pleasure in it. Music is one of God's love languages. So singing songs of praise in community at church or even when we are alone in our homes is a great way to show gratitude to our savior. 

Work hard at everything you do, as if serving the Lord. In Colossians 3:15-17, Paul encourages the Church in Colossae with these words: 

"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. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Paul continues a few versus later in Colossians 3:23-24 by saying, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." 

Another way we can show gratitude to God is to do the thankless, menial and redundant work as though we were serving the Lord and not our earthly bosses. 

Don't envy others. There is no gratitude or joy killer like envy. Because envy is wanting something someone else has or wanting more of something, it is impossible to enjoy what you currently have if pride and envy have taken a preeminent place in our hearts.

Envy stems from the need all of us have: to feel significant. If God created us with this need, it can't be wrong to want to feel important and honored. But it is the object of justification that can either save us or destroy us. If we look to anything besides God to base our identity and validate our worth, it will lead us to envy.

If we base our identity on our careers, looks, intelligence, or wealth, we will always be envious of someone who has more success, beauty, smarts or money. The only cure for envy is to find significance in who we are in Christ because only in Christ are we justified by what he has already done and not by our works. We need to labor no longer. And until we can fill our buckets with Christ's immeasurable love for us, we will always struggle with the need to be just as good or better than the person next to us. So, then, the precursor to feeling gratitude is to feel God's love. Here are some versus to show us how treasured we are: 

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2

As Jesus cried and sweat blood and asked God to take the cup from him, he endured the unthinkable through the joy set before him. What was this joy? This joy was you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are his handiwork, his masterpiece. And the hope of being with you one day forever was the hope he held onto to on the cross.