Gratitude: Spiritual Disciplines

This post is a part of an ongoing series on spiritual disciplines, which are tools that bring us into contact with the Lord so that His presence can shape our lives. Learn more here.

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It’s nearly impossible to not think about thanks-giving during this season of the year. How could you not, as we anticipate and plan for a holiday by the same name? Tomorrow, many of us will gather with family and friends around food-laden tables to celebrate Thanksgiving. Some families will set aside time during the day to reflect on the year and speak their thanks for the blessings within it.

While it’s helpful to mark seasons for thanksgiving into our year, Thanksgiving is more than a holiday, as I’m sure most of you would agree. It is appropriate all year round, in all seasons. But while we know thanksgiving and gratitude should be continuous threads weaving through our lives, how often do we think of gratitude as a spiritual discipline?

Like any spiritual discipline, gratitude takes practice and intentionality. It is a place where God can meet us and shape our hearts. Gratitude provides a space to worship God and for our lives and priorities to be aligned with his vision of the world. 

We have two ways of seeing the world—abundance and scarcity. We can focus on the “scarcities”—those things we don’t have or don’t have quite as much as we would wish for. Or we can focus on the “abundances” which God has poured into our lives. We can look for the lavish, bountiful, plenteous gifts and graces which are ours—or focus on the large and small ways we are lacking. Practicing gratitude is making a decision to live out of abundance.

Gratitude reminds us that all we have is from our Father above and prevents us from a sense of entitlement. It arises from an awareness that we “deserve” nothing—but God has given us more than we could ask or imagine. Gratitude gives us a vision for the small, profound, and surprising ways God is at work in and touches our world.

Gratitude is remembering what God has done in the past, and it is looking forward in anticipation of what He will continue to do in the future. It goes beyond our circumstances and looks at the faithfulness God has shown. Gratitude sparks joy in our hearts as we call to mind the goodness of our God.

As with any discipline, gratitude requires both effort on our part and the overflowing work of the Holy Spirit within us. Ultimately, gratitude comes down to our attitudes and the way we choose to view the world. Gratitude should be an inclination of the Christian heart, as we have seen through the Gospel the extent of God’s love, grace, and unwarranted blessing. As we walk deeper and further with the Lord, our gratitude should abound in increasing measure, as we understand the Gospel more fully and as we see more and more ways He has provided and proved faithful. 

Though gratitude should be a natural expression of the Christian life, there are still practices which can help to foster and develop this attitude. How do we incorporate this spiritual discipline into our lives?

In the Old Testament, the Israelite people were instructed to make piles of stones to serve as markers of remembrance for what God had done. The piles were physical reminders of the work of God. Look for ways to build your own remembrance markers. This could be an object or a verse written on a note card put in a place you see often, like the kitchen sink or your office desk. When you see it, allow it to trigger thanksgiving.

Take time daily to reflect and remember the abundant goodness of God. Try keeping a journal of the things that come to mind.

Practice gratitude with other people around you by expressing your thanks for the ways they bless and encourage you. A thankful life doesn’t exist in the abstract but should overflow on all our relationships.

How do you practice gratitude?