What Most Christians Get Wrong About Gratitude

3 Powerful Ways to Build a Life of Thanksgiving

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We are about to celebrate Thanksgiving – the day we set aside to express gratitude. Though the Bible says that gratitude should be a lifestyle, we often fall short of this ideal. So, how do we stop our chronic complaining and build a life of gratitude?

Gratitude is God’s will and purpose for our lives. And, yet, we can be complainers and grumblers. I have internal complaints and murmurings about all kinds of things – from weather to geography to traffic to lack of money to all sorts of other things. If you are anything like me, you probably have a few things about which you complain. What are some practical steps we can take to build a life and habit of gratitude?


We cannot talk about gratitude without first mentioning its arch enemy – ingratitude. Ingratitude was the first evidence of the fall in the Garden of Eden. Eve showed ingratitude for God’s provision by not trusting him as a good Father (Genesis 3:2-3). So, ingratitude is part of the fallen human nature (Romans 1:21) and a sign of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2).

Ingratitude is such a deep brokenness in us that the Bible compares it to becoming like animals (Isaiah 1:3), prostitutes (Ezekiel 16:17-19), and an adulteress wife (Hosea 2:8; 4:12; 5:4; 9:1). How do we avoid being compared to animals, prostitutes, and whores?

Gratitude in the New Testament

Paul mentions the subject of thanksgiving in his letters more often than any other Hellenistic author, pagan or Christian. He uses the verb and noun form well over 50 times. Today, I want to focus on the verb. In the 23 times, the verb is used, it is always directed toward God and never toward people or circumstances. This is important because in directing gratitude toward God, we recognize that the source of all our blessings is God (1 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2).

Now, there is nothing wrong with thanking people. However, if we want to have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the concept of gratitude, we should always direct our thanksgiving to God, even as we appreciate people.

Focus on Thank You Second Word and Not the First

The first step in building a life of gratitude is always to focus on “thank you” as the second word and not the first. The word thanksgiving  in the New Testament (eucharisteo) is built on another paramount Greek New Testament word – “charis.” The word “charis” means grace. Grace is God’s favor that we don’t deserve and cannot earn. God gives us something that we don’t deserve so he can get the desired response – praise, worship, and gratitude. Therefore, we must intentionally reflect on and discover the grace/favor of God in our lives. Discovering grace gives breath and life to our appreciation.

The most obvious grace/favor is the Good News of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. When we reflect on the grace of the gospel and how it has and continues to transform us, our supernatural response should spontaneous gratitude. So, we should focus on thanksgiving as the second word and not the first.

Spend Time Expressing Gratitude for The Gift of people.

Paul uses the verb in connection with individuals who had added value to his life and his ministry, had progressed in their faith (Romans 1:8), partnered with him in taking the gospel to various places (Philippians 1:3), used their gifts and abilities to advance the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:4), risked their lives for him (1 Corinthians 1:14; 14:18). Paul recognized that people are gifts from God. So, our gratitude should be directed toward God for the gifts of individuals. To be theologically correct, we should not thank people directly, but thank God for people. So, spend time expressing gratitude for the gift of people in your life.

Parents – for their influence
Pastors – for insights and directions/guidance
Friends – for being there during difficult times
Teachers – for belief in our abilities, influence in our lives
People in your ministry – for their gifting and partnership, cooperation
Congregations – for people who are growing in their walk
Authority figures – for government officials who help us maintain our freedoms
Neighbors – for watching out for you and loaning you tools
Co-workers – for helping you complete a project
Enemies – for causing you pain. Even in pain, there is a grace – the grace to make you look more and more like Jesus.

Therefore, when God blesses us through the grace of people, we should say something like: “Mary, I thank God for you and how you responded to my financial, emotional, or spiritual needs.” 

When we don’t intentionally remember people who have added values to our lives, we run the risk of thinking we’ve arrived where we are on our own. Those who were born on third base will delude themselves into thinking they hit a triple. When we take inventory of our lives, we conclude that God has used a host of people to add value and provide opportunities that we would not otherwise have.

Focus On What is True About God

When adversity comes, and there seems to be no reason to be grateful, focus on what is true about God. He is still in control. God is large and in charge and is in control even when life seems out of control. Paul encouraged his hearers to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul directed this command at people’s will and not their emotions. Thanksgiving is a choice. I understand this is tough, but we should remember that gratitude is not a feeling that dictates our choices; it is a choice that affects our emotions. We must choose to thank God despite feelings. It is a mistake to wait until we feel like being thankful to be thankful.

When adversity comes, let’s thank him in advance and make a declaration of faith – God is God, and he will use this situation for his glory and our good. The ultimate goal of all of our gratitude is to increase thanksgiving among God’s people so that in the end the glory of God will increase in the world.

For what and whom are you grateful? 


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