In 1860, a boat was wrecked in a storm on Lake Michigan near Evanston, Illinois. Students from Northwestern University formed themselves into rescue teams. One student, Edward Spencer, saved 17 people from the sinking ship. When he was carried exhausted to his room, he was heard asking, “Did I do my best?”
Years later, R.A. Torrey, a well-known pastor, educator, and writer, talked about this rescue at a gathering in Los Angeles. A man in the audience called out that Edward Spencer was present. Upon hearing this, Dr. Torrey invited Spencer to the platform. An older man with white hair slowly climbed the steps as the applause rang out. Dr. Torrey asked him if anything stood out in his memory from that eventful day.
Spencer replied, “Only this, sir: of the 17 people I saved, not one of them thanked me.”
Good things happen to us all through our lives. Blessings may surround you right now, but what is your response? Are you grateful to those who helped you?
The overflow of gratitude
Whenever you receive a kindness or a blessing from another, it’s good to develop a two-fold response in life:
- Gratitude towards God
- Gratitude towards others
Don’t be stingy with gratitude; instead, let your life overflow with it. Learn to live with a thankful heart.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
Gratitude is thankfulness; it’s the very quality of being grateful. Gratitude is the acknowledgement that you have received something good from someone else. A grateful man constantly recognizes the goodness of God and others in his life. To never acknowledge blessings in your life is the sin of ingratitude.
The Apostle Paul warned of several sinful trends that are a reality in our time. Notice how ingratitude made the list, nestled among a long line of other sins:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5)
Ingratitude keeps bad company
According to that passage, it seems the starting point of these “terrible times” will be selfishness, as people become “lovers of themselves.” Selfishness leads to ingratitude— thanklessness. Gratitude is like a gauge on life’s dashboard that you must keep an eye on. If you become less grateful, other parts of your life will eventually break down. Learning to be a grateful man of God improves everything else.
For instance, we know marriages can break down under the weight of ingratitude between spouses. No one wants to be taken for granted, but if you stop seeing the good and positive things in your spouse, it won’t be long until you see only the negative things. Gratitude can stop that terrible detour.
Here are 3 ways to develop a life of gratitude:
1. Notice God at work.
“News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Acts 11:22–23
Barnabas was known as an encourager in the early Church. When he came to the young church at Antioch, he “saw what the grace of God had done.” Then, “he was glad and encouraged them all.” He saw God’s handiwork; he saw the people God was using. He noticed God at work.
You will never praise God for the work you never notice. Don’t be oblivious to what God is doing around you, and don’t ignore the people He is using to bless your life. Pay attention to His blessings – look for them. His fingerprints are everywhere. When you see Him at work, call attention to it. It will encourage everyone else in the room.
2. Express your gratitude with words.
The Bible admonishes us to praise and thank God with our voice, sometimes even with a loud voice and instruments (Psalm 30; Psalm 95; Psalm 150, etc.). The point is that we shouldn’t be shy with our gratitude. Gratitude will start in your heart and mind, but it must not stay there. Your words of thanks will do no one any good if you let them remain mere thoughts. Say something.
If God has blessed you, use your words to respond in thanksgiving. In Luke 17:11-19, after Jesus healed ten lepers, only one of them came back to thank Jesus personally—but that one thankful, healed leper was vocal and unashamed. Acknowledge God’s hand of blessing every time you see it with words from your own mouth.
3. Add thanksgiving to your prayers.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6–7
God invites each of us to exchange our worries and cares for His peace. We do this through prayer and thanksgiving, but we must remember to balance our prayers with thanksgiving. Typically, we offer God many words in our prayers but offer little or no words of thanks. We need to balance that out. Spend some time thanking God for what you just asked for. Show gratitude that the anxiety that laid heavy on your shoulders is now in His capable hands.
When you develop gratitude and become a thankful man, it affects your response to life in general. Let gratitude become your attitude today.