As we get closer to Thanksgiving, many of us start thinking about how to be more grateful and what it means to be grateful. Gratitude is much easier when life is good, but how can we practice gratitude when hard times hit? How can we authentically practice gratitude when we are frustrated and unhappy with our life circumstances?
I honestly believe that we can have a gratitude mindset in every season, and still honor and value the difficult emotions that we’re feeling. Yes, it’s possible to do both–honor the hard feelings and cultivate gratitude–and that’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode.
Plus, learn how you can join me for a free gratitude practice challenge to celebrate fall and Thanksgiving (follow me on IG @vibrantchristianliving to learn more)!
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:
- [2:07] Join the free Gratitude Practice Challenge on Instagram Oct 13-Nov 24
- [3:18] How we think of and approach gratitude
- [4:10] How to approach gratitude from God’s perspective
- [7:05] Inner changes to cultivate gratitude in the everyday
- [10:37] The difference between acceptance and contentment
- [11:58] Moving from acceptance to contentment
- [14:34] Why we don’t accept or find contentment
- [20:59] Moving from acceptance to contentment to gratitude
- [24:10] Gratitude is a gift to us from God
- [25:52] The rhythm of gratitude
[2:07] Join the free Gratitude Practice Challenge on Instagram Oct 13-Nov 24
Join me for the opportunity to cultivate a gratitude practice! Every Wednesday from October 13 through November 24 watch a short, one-minute teaching about gratitude on my Instagram account (@vibrantchristianliving). We’ll talk about a verse on gratitude that you can study and think about during the week. You can prayerfully think about this gratitude Bible verse, bring it before the Lord, and allow yourself to begin to shift or grow in some these areas that God might be challenging on in terms of gratitude.
It’s totally free, and all you have to do is follow me on Instagram @vibrantchristianliving to see the one-minute training every week as a way to practice godly, authentic gratitude.
[3:18] How we think of and practice gratitude
First, I want us to get real about how we think and approach gratitude. If we’re honest, we often make gratitude or being grateful about as pleasant as eating a huge plate of our least favorite food. It seems like just another task on our to-do list in November, instead of a mindset or a practice – something we’re cultivating, growing, and nourishing throughout the years.
Our gratitude becomes forced, and I think that’s part of the problem. We make it a once-a-year activity, where we dutifully take a few minutes to list what we’re grateful for. We say things because we know we need to, and forced gratitude is not something we need to increase in our lives.
[4:10] How to approach gratitude from God’s perspective
I want to talk about a different way to approach gratitude, and that’s from God’s perspective. While gratitude is a nice concept, for a lot of us it can feel really impractical. As women who desire control in our lives and want answers for our problems, we can fall into thought patterns like: “I’ll be grateful when XYZ happens”; or, “How can I be grateful when this tragedy or difficulty is happening?”
We miss the true power of gratitude, the gift of gratitude, by focusing on it having to be a certain way for us to step into gratitude. We miss the immense power of what author Ann Voskamp calls “eucharisteo” or the presence of Christ in the everyday. By incorporating gratitude into an everyday practice, it provides an opportunity for honest connection with God. It is an opportunity for God to give us conviction about wrong attitudes, and for holy surrender for what we don’t understand or like. It means releasing those things to God, and opening the possibility of healing and peace. We stop needing God to do things our way in order to be grateful.
Gratitude is an opportunity for evangelism as we live a life of peace. Peace is one of the fruits of gratitude, so that others can see it and become curious about God when they wonder how it is that you are able to be peaceful and grateful despite what is going on in your life.
This kind of gratitude is not always pretty, but it is godly gratitude. This is the gift of gratitude, and this is the type of gratitude that I have found as an anchor in very challenging seasons. It’s a type of gratitude that I would love for us to begin to cultivate together.
Gratitude is true appreciation for what is. It’s not disappointment over what didn’t happen. It’s not impatience and anger about what isn’t happening. It’s not fear about what will happen. Gratitude simply acknowledges peace with the moment. It chooses contentment. It chooses joy for what is right here.
Gratitude looks for the everyday miracle. Gratitude acknowledges God as omnipotent, loving, and good. Gratitude praises God’s work today as enough.
I think this is a very different perspective than the to-do list of “I’m grateful for”, isn’t it? There are a lot of emotions behind gratitude. Gratitude requires a lot of releasing, and it requires that we choose a different perspective.
Gratitude also doesn’t deny those emotions because that would be inauthentic. We serve a God who sits with us in our emotions and loves us, so we don’t have to portray false gratitude.
[7:05] Inner changes to cultivate gratitude in the everyday
We’re not saying we should just ignore the bad things we see. We’re saying that it’s going to require some deeper changes inside before we say “I’m grateful for…”.
The first step in cultivating gratitude in the everyday is to notice it. We have to slow down our hectic lives, where we’re always looking for more or looking for things to be better. Instead, we have to acknowledge what it is and thank God for it. Jesus gives us a great example of this in Matthew 6:11, when He says we can thank God for our daily bread through prayer.
In the Connected Bible Community we practice the Spiritual Growth Rhythm™–a three step Bible study method that’s a powerful way to not only understand a Bible verse but to grow closer to God. The first step of the Spiritual Growth Rhythm™ is to receive God’s wisdom, which is doing a Bible study around a specific verse. The second part is to recognize God at work, and the third part is to release worry to God.
Gratitude is tied up in that second step of recognize. Recognize involves putting on a lens to say, “how have I seen God be real or show up in my life in the last 24-48 hours? How have I seen evidence of His love for me? Of His guidance? Of His plan in my life?”
Quite often, seeing God at work doesn’t look like a huge parting of the Red Sea moment. It’s a little, tiny, beautiful miracle – something we so often rush by in our haste to get where we need to be. I can’t even begin to tell you how the practice of recognizing God at work has transformed my ability to not just give gratitude in all seasons, but to believe with confidence that God hasn’t forgotten me and He does love me.
When you are able to see how God is at work every day, your mind shifts. The doubts fade away. It’s so much easier to say, “Yes, I know God is with me, because I see these little things every day.”
[10:37] The difference between acceptance and contentment in order to practice gratitude
The second part of cultivating gratitude is choosing acceptance. Acceptance can grow into contentment, which then leads to gratitude. I think this is where a lot of us get confused, because we think we have to start with gratitude. We also think that acceptance and content are the same, and they are not. They’re completely different, and are often the precursors to gratitude.
Acceptance means that we stop fighting God. It means we see the situation and say, “Okay.” Acceptance may not see something as good necessarily. Acceptance simply recognizes and acknowledges what’s in front of us.
Contentment takes it one step further. Contentment sees what is happening and then says, “It’s good. It is well with my soul.” We can have acceptance and not contentment. We can see something as good and not be at a place where we’re ready to say that it is well with our soul. I believe God gives us that space to be in a place of processing emotion. He gives us the space to sit in the messiness and be angry or frustrated.
[11:58] Understanding God’s love as a way to move from acceptance to contentment
Acceptance means we’re taking a full picture of the situation and seeing it in its totality. That means we have to see the bad and the good. So how do we get from acceptance to contentment?
I believe that it starts with understanding the character of God and remembering that He loves us more than we can imagine. He will always give us what we need. I know that this concept is really hard for a lot of us to understand.
For a long time, understanding God’s goodness was really very challenging for me as well. God has allowed our family to walk through some very challenging seasons, including unemployment, health crises, and more. During these situations. Why? When is this going to happen?
We can get to acceptance if we notice what we are feeling, and we can get to contentment by understanding that love that God has for us. Understanding His love frees us to move forward.
Around twelve years ago, I was sitting in a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting. My kids were all really little, and we were going through something challenging. I was telling my story of why I was upset, and the mentor mom leaned over to me and asked, “Do you believe that God loves you? Do you understand that God loves you?”
I responded kind of flippantly that I did, but her words really struck me. I began to think about it more and more. I thought, “If I believe that God loves me, then I would believe without a doubt that everything He is doing is okay. He was going to give me everything I needed because His love protected me.”
That first little seed was planted in me during that season, and I’ve seen God strengthen that through every season that has followed. So friends, don’t despise the challenges that you’re going through, but rather lean into God. Ask Him, “What are You trying to teach me? How are You trying to grow me? How are You using this to grow me closer to you? How can I trust You more in this? How can I accept and find contentment in this?” You don’t have to love every moment of a trial or life challenge, but you can say that it is well and learn more about what it means to be grateful in every circumstance.
[14:34] Bible verses on gratitude to help us be grateful for the good in hard times
If we don’t accept or find contentment, it’s usually because we’re not happy with how things are. It’s impossible to be grateful for something that we’re frustrated and angry about, and we haven’t resolved those feelings with God. I want to share some scriptures to help us to understand that, yes, it is possible to accept what’s in front of us as enough and how that can lead us to gratitude.
Hebrews 13:21, May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever!
This is a powerful force, because it reminds us that we have the ability to do all things through Christ Jesus – not through our own abilities, but because of Christ working in us. Christ has conquered every obstacle in our lives, including the grave itself. So we have the ability to know that we are capable of going through what we have before us with God’s strength.
Psalm 23:1, The Lord is my shepherd. I have all that I need.
When God is our guide, He gives us everything we need. I love that picture of the Israelites going through the desert for 40 years and living on manna. Every day that manna would fall, and every evening it would go away. They couldn’t collect it and keep it for another day. It had to be given to them at that moment. If you’ve ever been in “manna seasons” you will know that God often doesn’t promise you beyond what is right in front of you. You have to get to the place where you say, today is enough. I am enough right now, and that is all that matters. I don’t have to look beyond that because God has proven Himself to be faithful. I will choose to be content, and I will choose to praise him for what is right now.
Philippians 4:18-19, At the moment I have all I need – and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Paul is saying that he has everything he needs, and that the same God who takes care of him will give you everything you need – not from your own power but from the glorious riches we have access to because of Christ.
Deuteronomy 28:12, The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do. You will lend to many nations, but you will never need to borrow from them.
This is that “manna process” of trusting in the rain, the provision coming from God’s powerful treasury in charge of all things. It will come at the right time. We can choose to say, “what I have right now is here and that’s enough. I will choose to trust God to give me what I need.”
Another reason why it’s hard to get from acceptance to contentment is that life can feel really unfair. There are some really hard, difficult, unjust things happening in the world right now – and we don’t need to hide our frustration about that from God. We can still hold that frustration with the situation and trust God through it. We can have both frustration and acceptance and then contentment, which leads to gratitude.
We know that gratitude is possible even in the hard times because we can see it all throughout scripture. My favorite example is a story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He is preparing His mental state to go to the cross. He knows what’s ahead of Him. He knows what He’s going to be asked to do. He knows of the pain. He knows of the denial and the emotional anguish he’s going to go through to watch one of his closest disciples turn Him in to the authorities and then all of His friends leave him. Peter will even deny that he knows them. He will be left alone there on a cross, being beaten by the people He came to save.
This was what was before Him, and He didn’t push it all away and say, “it’s not real. I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to choose gratefulness or contentment.”That’s not what He did. He wrestled with God, and He wrestled with such fierceness that he was sweating drops of blood while He was praying.
He was honest with God. He asked His friends to pray for Him. He went to God with the attitude that we can have, which says, “I don’t necessarily like what is ahead, but I want Your will, not mine.” That is the attitude that helps us transition into a released state that allows us to get into contentment, and then move to gratitude.
We don’t have to let our emotions and frustrations decide where we’re going to dwell in the long run. We can choose to think about what we want to think about, and we can ask for God’s help to manage our minds like Jesus did to give us that peace; to give us that ability to stay strong and do what he wants us to do.
[20:59] Bible verses to help us move from acceptance to contentment to gratitude
We are called to release our emotions to God, to be real with them, and to get in line with the Holy Spirit. Thinking about His promises and His character can help us move from acceptance to contentment to gratitude. I love the Psalms, because there are so many proclamations of David saying “all these bad things are happening, but I’m going to choose to trust in God.”
Psalms 27:3, Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.
This verse shares this beautiful mindset of “I’m afraid but I’m not letting my heart dwell in fear – even if You don’t save me and I am attacked, I will still remain confident.”
It makes me think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego going into the fiery furnace. They said, “even if our God does not save us from the fiery furnace, we will not bow down to you.” It’s choosing to say “I trust in You. I believe in You, regardless. I love You. And I’m choosing to focus on Your promises and Your character.”
Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
We often quote this verse, but the first word in this verse is to trust, with all our heart. Choose to let your emotions be real and honest, but eventually allow God to change them into released submission to His will. Do not depend on having to have an answer. So many of us fall into the trap of thinking that things have to go our way or we have to know the answer in order for us to be happy and grateful.
I know that’s some tough love and it can be hard to accept, but it’s so often what keeps us from gratitude. I have struggled with this quite often as well. God has done immense growth in me in this area. Now I find myself saying, “I don’t like that I don’t know the answer, but I’m letting gratitude and thankfulness be my sacrifice. This is my offering back to God during this hard time.”
Psalms 50:14-15, Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.
Thankfulness itself can be your act of sacrifice. It can be the gift that you give back to God through tears saying, I don’t understand. I wish I knew the answer. I wish I knew why. God challenged me on that just a few months ago. He told me, you need to stop asking “why”. You need to stop trying to figure out an answer, and you just need to trust.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t ask the “why” questions, but I’d become so wrapped up in my head with questions that it was distracting me from what God really wanted me to do: simply love and trust in Him. I needed to let Him hold me through the “what-ifs”.
[24:10] Gratitude is God’s gift to us (not a checklists of “must dos” for God)
Gratitude can be a sacrifice like we discussed, but ultimately gratitude is God’s gift back to us. Gratitude is a haven we can go to – a mental clearing that we can enter at any time to remind us of the truth of God.
Gratitude allows us to keep the right attitude during hard times. Gratitude is a remembering of His character and His promises, and we can choose to step into that place instead of into rumination and fear. Gratitude can even be a vehicle for evangelism.
2 Corinthians 4:13-15, But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
We go through hard times and we choose to praise God through it. God’s grace reaches more and more people, there is more thanksgiving, and God receives more glory.
Psalms 107:1-3, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
We have the opportunity to say, I’m giving thanks to You. Your love is always here. You’re redeeming me, and I’m going to tell other people about that. Even in the middle of the trial, he has redeemed me. That is the ultimate salvation, and salvation is the ultimate gift.
[25:52] How to cultivate this new type of gratitude mindset (join the free Instagram gratitude challenge)
I want to help you begin to cultivate this gratitude mindset, especially right now in this season of beginning to turn our hearts toward Thanksgiving.
Gratitude is a choice. It is a practice, and it is a habit, but not a legalistic habit. Instead we can think of gratitude as more like a rhythm, and a rhythm fluctuates. A rhythm is sometimes strong and It isn’t perfect. A rhythm has times where it grows greatly, and times when it doesn’t. A rhythm also has room for experimentation and play.
Let’s practice this kind of gratitude together! Join me for a special seven-week gratitude practice on Instagram (follow me: @vibrantchristianliving). I’ll be posting a one-minute teaching every Wednesday from October 13 through November 24, 2021, on a Bible verse on gratitude to help us cultivate an authentic gratitude practice.
I’ll introduce the Bible verse on gratitude, and give you a chance to think about it throughout the week. Plus we can interact back and forth on Instagram about it. It’s totally free – all you have to do is hang out with me on Instagram. Everything will be available in the reels section of my Instagram account. I look forward to having you join us for the gratitude challenge!
OTHER PODCAST EPISODES ON CULTIVATING GRATITUDE:
- Ep 46: Discovering Gratitude in Real Life with Tricia Goyer
- Ep 52: How to See God at Work in Your Life (Spiritual Growth Rhythm Pt 2)
- Ep 106: How to Hear God’s Voice in Your Life
- Ep 120: The Truth About Finding Contentment in God During Trials with Nicole Jacobsmeyer
Please Subscribe to the Podcast + Leave a Podcast Review
- First, please subscribe to the Vibrant Christian Living Podcast in your favorite podcast player (subscribe here on Apple Podcasts or follow on Spotify),
- leave a review (5 stars if you loved it) and comment HERE.
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