I was taught a lesson (a discipline, really) during my senior year of high school that has had a profound impact on my daily life: the discipline of gratitude.
A wise woman in my church (named Vicki Allwardt) handpicked a few of us to mentor and disciple; our journey formally began on January 1, 2001 and ended when we all left for college, but I have never forgotten the wisdom that was conveyed.
She handed us all journals and asked us to write at least three things each day for which we were thankful.
She included verses on colorful paper about thankfulness at the front of the journal.
I faithfully wrote in mine that year and sporadically the next. The entries are amusing at first, giving insight into my eighteen year old mind (I was very thankful for boys 😉 ), but a gradual shift can be seen as I fine-tuned this discipline of gratitude.
Looking back, it isn’t the specific things for which I was thankful that had an impact: it’s that I was taught to recognize God’s hand in my life in such a simple, yet incredible, discipline.
Now, fifteen years later, I am a thankful person most of the time and I don’t even have to purposely try to think of things for which to be thankful. It’s part of who I am.
Gratefulness naturally flows out of my heart because I have trained my heart to be thankful in ALL circumstances.
This goes beyond optimism. This goes beyond happiness. This is a form of worship because you are continually recognizing God’s presence and His faithfulness all around you.
4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
— Philippians 4:4-9 NLT
This passage from Philippians contains SO much wisdom about how to live life, but I want to focus on these three things:
- ALWAYS be joyful. We are commanded to be joy-filled (remember, joy isn’t happiness) at all times, in all circumstances (v.6).
- Prayer – including thanking God for what He has done – will be followed by God’s peace (v. 7).
- Focusing on things that are good, true, and pure (in other words, God’s character traits), and continuing to try each day to live as Christ did will bring peace (v.8).
Joy + gratitude + Godward focus = peace.
As I started to write this post I did some quick research and found a couple of great articles about this discipline, and you can read them here and here.
The first article mentions suffering and why we should be grateful even during those times:
Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person…
…Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
I loved this quote from the second article:
“When we discipline our hearts and our lives to see that all is grace we are filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything.” – Sam Luce
When you are grateful, you are more likely to be:
- generous with what you have been given
- content with what you have been given
- focused on God and His sovereignty
- at peace
This discipline of gratitude is why Brennan and I can be so overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace even though He allowed Tori to have Krabbe…even though He took her to Heaven at such a young age…
“…even so, it is well with my soul.”
“Your grace has overwhelmed my brokenness…”
We have learned to focus on all the good He did in our lives and in the world through Tori instead of on her earthly absence.
We have learned to praise Him for the time we had with her, for the memories we made, rather than all that we won’t experience with her.
After all, what good does it do to dwell on the things we cannot change?
We are not perfect, we don’t live this out perfectly, and there is certainly nothing wrong with mourning the loss of her and the life she could have lived. We did that frequently while she was with us, mostly in unexpected moments, and I know that we will grieve her absence at times throughout our earthly lives.
But, the discipline of gratitude has brought us such peace even in the midst of a parent’s worst nightmare, because we are focused on the truth of who God is – a loving, gracious Father who loves us more than we can fathom, and who works all things for our good. He is a Redeemer, and He will redeem all of this someway, somehow.
For now, we thank Him for all that He has done and praise Him for He is worthy to be praised.
Six years ago I had the privilege of going to São Paulo, Brazil, to observe and serve alongside missionaries there. One conversation starter they often use is this: Where did you see God this week?
It doesn’t require a super-spiritual answer. Wherever you see goodness, joy, grace, kindness, love, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23) you are seeing God at work.
God IS love, and He is kind, gracious, and just, so whenever you see those things in the world, you are getting a glimpse of His character, and it gives you fresh reasons to be grateful.
We’d like to encourage you to cultivate the discipline of gratitude in your own life, in all circumstances. Look for God at work all around you and write a few things down each day. You won’t regret it.