Grateful Hearts, Thankful Hearts Live Longer. Love Harder.
Tips and Tests for the “Grouch-ruts” Among Us.
Today I went in to a retail store and was immediately accosted with secular Christmas music. Now I don’t have anything against Christmas—or Christmas music for that matter. In fact, for the majority of the known world Christmas represents the birthday of the most important person I know and love: Jesus! (even if they don’t actually believe in, know, or love Him).
But I digress…
The Connection between “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” & No Thanksgiving Music
My theory as to the reason why there are way more secular Christmas songs than Thanksgiving ones is basically because people are selfish…they like to get stuff! The more the better! And the songs remind them of the good, tingly feelings they get when they get stuff. Don’t believe me? Check out what the Apostle John said—or wrote–when he wisely observed:
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16, NLT). Solomon (the wisest person in the history of the world—ever) wrote these saltily lamented these lines: “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (Ecclesiastes 1: 8, NLT).
It seems that not only is there Christmas music playing on the first day of November, but all the retail stores have all their Christmas promotions already going—some already even have something they’re calling Thanksgiving “Pre-Black Friday” promotions in full-swing! It seems that the retailers don’t want anybody to stop and think about how empty they are emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. They are making an all-out effort to squeeze the practice of thankfulness, thanksgiving and contentment out of our hearts and minds.
But why? Can the answer to this age-old question really be this easy? Simply put: people aren’t truly thankful because they aren’t truly contented.
Not More Stuff—But More Savior!
During this time of the year the world works very hard to erase the fact that Jesus is the owner, sustainer—and provider of all good things! We are tempted and tainted by slick advertising campaigns promising happiness, peace, and contentment is found in some store, rather than the Savior. However, God disagrees, and writing through the Apostle Paul he reminds us to keep our eyes focused on the truth with this stark reality check:
Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.
But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT).
What Matters Most
Again, the writer of Hebrews keeps us focused on what’s most important: “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT). The focus for the Christian is not more stuff to make us happy, but more Savior aka Jesus!
Finally, Jesus Himself put it about as plainly as can be:
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met” (Matthew 6:30-33, MSG).
Mind the M.D.’s!
If what God says about stuff vs the Savior isn’t sufficient (and I certainly hope it is), secular science proves that thankfulness and gratitude is great for you—on Thanksgiving and all-year long. The brainiacs at Harvard Medical School write this: “Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.”*
Additionally, research shows that people who are regularly grateful as a daily life habit are:
- Have more life satisfaction
- Have less disease (mental and physical)
- Live longer
So now that you know that you should be more grateful and give thanks, but honestly, you’re kind of a grouch-rut (in this world, it’s easy to be one). Well, take heart: God wouldn’t tell you to do something without giving you the process and the power to do it.
Gratitude: God’s Way
God shares a practical formula for effectively beating the thanklessness and a personal negativity problem. It’s laid out most clearly in the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this book to Christians—from jail. So if anybody knew about being thankless and focusing on the negative stuff in his life, it was Paul. In Philippians 4:4-8 he gives us the process for overcoming them (I’ll wait for you to read this on your own).
Let’s break the process down into separate steps:
- Be glad (verses 4, 5). God wouldn’t tell us to be glad if it weren’t possible. Why can we be glad? Because we have a relationship with God
- Be gentle with others (verse 5). When we get thankless, worried, and anxious, we tend to easily and quickly lose our cool. We treat others—especially the ones we love the most—rudely or impatiently. But Paul says that we should be gentle, especially when we’re being pressed by our own problems.
- Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything (verse 6). Again Paul encourages us not to worry about anything, but to engage and strengthen our relationship with God. I find it interesting that here Paul invokes a standard and very effective psychological counseling principle of “replacement”: To eliminate a negative behavior, replace it with a positive one. The replacement principle is key when dealing with habitual or compulsive behavior. Translation: stop worrying and start praying!
- With a thankful attitude, tell God the things you’re worried about (verse 6). God is your Father. He knows your heart and cares about the things you’re going through. He truly wants to know what you’re worried about, so go ahead and unload. He can take all your mess and heat. Paul first wants us to change our focus from ourselves to God. Additionally, I find it interesting that Paul qualifies how we should be sharing with God. Our attitude should be thankful—but many times we just have…an attitude.
- Being connected to Christ through a real relationship will allow Him to bless us with peace that no one can understand (verse 7). This peace will control our hearts (our feelings) and our minds (our thoughts). In other words, God’s peace will take total control of us.
- Keep being glad (verse 8). Basically, repeat step 1. Initially, you’ll have to work this process many times throughout the day…because you’re dealing with habitually compulsive behavior of selfishness and thanklessness. But take heart; it does work.
Paul then goes on in verses 10-20 to expound on how being thankful and contented changes our focus from one of self to Jesus. He summarizes this passage with these four verses: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. . . . 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” (Philippians 3: 11-13, 19, NLT).
Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
- Pray. People can use prayer to cultivate gratitude. God is waiting to hear from you—not just about what you want, but more importantly about how grateful you are for His salvation and for who He is.
- Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself more joyful and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you note or letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Don’t be cheap, but buy fancy stationary (yes, it’s still made). Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude note or letter a week.
- Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day from God and others.
- Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
- Meditate. Meditate daily upon the Word of God. Pick one Bible verse or passage and spend the day thinking about it and mentally allowing it to marinate your soul. Meditation is a powerful and effective spiritual practice that you can use, but, like prayer, it has to be cultivated to be effective. I suggest that you start with a specific chapter of the Bible.
A Parting Assignment
Now that you’ve learned the truth about why people around the world become crazy and more frenetic during this time of year, and God’s prescription for the solution, I’d like to challenge you to take time every day for the rest of November to read Psalm 118. Bible scholars call this specific Psalm “The Thanksgiving Psalm,” and rightly so. It’s an absolutely beautiful Psalm about what’s most important to the Christian about Thanksgiving. It is about giving God thanks for His immeasurable free gift of salvation to us. It expresses gratitude for a joyful life on this earth filled with power and purpose. And, finally, it expresses joy in the promise of eternal life spent with Him!
As you read it, take some time to talk to God about all the things you’re thankful for that day and once you begin to do this, you will begin a beautiful and powerful positive habit that will bring you peace, purpose, and joy all the months of your life, and not just on Thanksgiving.
I’d like to wish you all, not a ‘Happy Thanksgiving,” but in order to be happy, give God thanks.
*Accessed on November 7, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
Thanksgiving Songs. The Contenders. Listen In:
If you’re so inclined, check out and enjoy this collection of Thanksgiving songs that I’ve been able to find:
- Search the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal for “Thanksgiving Hymns” you may already know, or try some new ones: http://sdahymnals.com/Hymnal/category/thankfulness
- Hezekiah Walker sings about his gratefulness in “Grateful.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE0W-kQyz6A
- World Choir Champions, the Oakwood University Aeolians sing about the “streams of mercy, never ceasing, [and they] call for songs of loudest praise. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VdyIB1_g_s
- Mormon Tabernacle Choir “Simple Gifts” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXDW-J3U2g4
- Aaron Copland: “Simple Gifts” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMtCh0VuoKg
- Johnny Cash: “Thanksgiving Prayer” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egIB7tYW80M
- Bing Crosby: “I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOrxFY14D8w
- Bing Crosby: “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qmMaPTuTEE
- Water Hawkins & The Love Center Choir “Thank You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jkz0Y4rUAlg