By Mary Southerland, Crosswalk.com
Where does gratitude come from? America was built on what history calls the Protestant Work Ethic. The basic idea is simple: work hard, and you will get ahead. Good things come to those who work hard. If you want something good to happen, you have to work hard to make it happen. While I agree with much of that work ethic, it has a dangerous flip side. It causes us to think that good things happen to us because we have earned them. In other words, we cause the good in our lives to happen. We are the source of the good things in our lives.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If we are going to learn the lost art of gratitude, we must learn to practice this truth: Everything good comes from God. Check out what James, the leader of the early church in Jerusalem, said about gratitude:
If it is good - and it has touched your life - it is from God. So, let’s explore that truth and its implications for the art of gratitude. Begin your gratitude journey, embracing that everything good is coming from God in these three ways. These three practices will create gratitude in your heart as you realize God is your source.
First - God is your source: remember what God has done for you.
Psalm 136 is, like all of the Psalms, a song or hymn the Hebrews sang in worship. What makes Psalm 136 unique is that it can also work as a responsive reading. The worship leader would declare what God had done in their past, and the people would respond with “His love endures forever.”
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
To Him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
Who by His understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever.
Who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.
To Him who led his people through the wilderness. His love endures forever.
To Him who struck down great kings, His love endures forever.
He remembered us in our low estate. His love endures forever.
And freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.
When we remember what God has done for us, our souls soar because gratitude takes root, and thanksgiving wells up in our souls.
What would it be like to write out your Psalm? Start with ten things God has done for you. Ten things with which God has blessed you. And then add the phrase “his love endures forever” after each of them. Read that Psalm out loud every day this week. Watch your gratitude grow as you remember what God has done for you. Everything good in your past was a gift from God.
Second - God is your source: recognize what God is doing for you now.
God is always working all around us. The question is can we see what He is doing? Amid the crises of 2021, where have you seen God working? What is He doing around you?
“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged” (Psalm 69:32, NLT).
When we see where God is at work, we will be glad. We will be encouraged. Remember the story of Elisha in the Old Testament? Elisha’s young protégé is afraid because the enemy has surrounded them. So, Elisha prayed and asked God to open his young friend’s eyes. “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:17-18, NIV). Elisha could see that God was at work and surrounding them. But his young servant could only see the problems - until God opened his eyes.
It is so easy only to see the problems and miss God. Stop right here and pray for God to open your eyes to what He is doing for you now, what He is doing for you amid your mess. Everything good that has happened in your past is from God. Everything good going on in your life right now is from God.
Third - God is your source: realize God will show up in all your tomorrows.
Gratitude is built when we remember what God has done for us in the past. Gratitude is built when we recognize what God is doing for us in the present. Gratitude is built when we realize God will still be at work in the future.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT).
God started a work in us - we are thankful for that. God is still working in and through us - we are thankful for that. God will continue to work in us and through us to the very end - we are thankful for that. God always finishes what he starts!
In the end - God wins. In the end - God’s people win. In the end - we win.
Everything good in your future comes from God. The God who has shown up in your past. The God who is at work in your present is the same God who will be with you in the future. Jesus said it this way:
"I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life? Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (that you need) will be given to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (from Matthew 6:25-34, NIV)
We don’t worry about the future because the God who has blessed us in the past and is working for us in our present will be there for us in our future. Final thought: gratitude grows when we recognize God as our source. Remember what God has done for you, recognize where God is working in your life now, and realize God will continue to work in your future. Some people try to work up gratitude on their own. However, human gratitude is not enough and is a poor substitution for gratitude toward God. Human gratitude is shallow and quickly runs out because it is focused on circumstances. Genuine gratitude comes from our God and flows to all those around us.
Two winters ago, my husband Dan managed to flood our basement. In preparation for winter, he forgot to unhook one of our water hoses from the outside spicket. You know where this is going. Temperatures dropped below freezing, so the water in the pipe running down into the ground and the basement froze. We came home from eating out, and I said, “I hear something strange.” It was coming from the basement. Dan went down to check because strange sounds in the basement are the man’s job in my house. And there it was. Water was spewing out from the crack it had created in the cement block wall. The water was flowing all over the basement – about two inches deep. Everything was soaked. Gratitude does the same thing. It flows down from God as we are grateful to Him. When we thank Him for everything He has done in our past, everything He is doing in our present and will do in our future, the gratitude will break through whatever we are facing and spill into every part of our lives.
When we acknowledge He is the source of everything good thing in our lives, our hearts fill with gratitude, and it spews out on everyone around us. Gratitude floods our lives and changes our perspective, our focus, and our attitudes. You cannot work up this kind of gratitude on your own. It comes from a relationship with God made possible through His son Jesus Christ. It comes from surrendering your life to Him and letting Him flood your soul with gratitude.
Let me share a story from my book, Escaping the Stress Trap: Our grandchildren are a source of great joy in my life and some of my most capable teachers. One of the most powerful lessons came from our daughter’s oldest son, Justus. When he was about five years old, Justus reminded me that God is the ultimate Gift-Giver. Justus has always loved dirt. If he is not truly dirty – he is not truly happy. One of his favorite toys to play with in his beloved dirt was what he called a “digger.” Justus had quite a collection of yellow plastic construction vehicles and knew the name of each one. But he preferred to call them diggers … so diggers it was.
Our daughter and son-in-law wisely gave Justus a section of their backyard where he could happily dig and play with his diggers. He spent hours transferring dirt from one part of his work site to another, creating mounds of dirt while building what he called “massive” cities and then tearing them down to begin all over again.
One day, our daughter enjoyed a beautiful, sunny afternoon with Justus and his younger brother, Hudson. Danna was reading, and Hudson was contentedly snoozing while Justus happily played with - you guessed it - his diggers. Justus suddenly stopped, sprung to his feet, and thrust both arms in the air as high as they could reach. Then, with his smiling little face turned toward heaven, Justus shouted at the top of his lungs, “God, thank You for my dirt!”
I am reasonably sure time stood still for a moment. I am almost certain heaven paused as God smiled and replied, “You are so welcome, Justus.” I tend to forget that our God is the ultimate gift-giver. How often do I dismiss His gifts as something to which I am somehow entitled? How often do I take His gifts for granted?
As we celebrate Jesus this holiday season, let’s do three things:
• Remember what God has done for us.
• Recognize where God is working in our life now.
• Realize God will continue to work in our future.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Radu Florin
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.