I live in an amazing condo. I married a girl I love. I spend my days doing work that’s meaningful to me. My fridge is full of food. And I still find myself grumbling some days.
On one hand, I understand why. Life is hard, and all of us struggle. Even the good things can’t fully satisfy our souls. Ecclesiastes teaches us to enjoy life without expecting that the blessings of life will ever be enough. Only God can ultimately satisfy us.
But why is it so hard to cultivate a grateful mindset? And what can we do to begin to build grateful hearts?
Worse Than We Think
A lack of thankfulness is worse than we think. When we struggle with ingratitude, we’re facing a symptom of a serious spiritual illness.
God has been so gracious to us. We don’t deserve anything, and yet He’s given us so much. On top of that, He’s revealed Himself to us and offered us his grace and forgiveness instead of condemnation. To refuse to give thanks under these circumstances reveals that something is seriously wrong with our hearts.
In fact, Paul writes, “For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened,” he writes (Romans 1:21).
We all know God, Paul argues. But we stubbornly refuse to glorify Him or give thanks. Paul doesn’t see this as a minor flaw. He sees this as a sign that something has gone horribly wrong with our hearts.
“When you say that he is not thankful to God, you have said about the worst thing you can say of him,” said Charles Spurgeon.1
Why is ingratitude such a problem? In his book In Two Minds, the British writer Os Guinness argues that doubt is a middle place between faith and unbelief. Because this middle place is unsteady, we’ll tend to move either towards faith or towards unbelief. Ingratitude will always push us towards unbelief, he argues. “Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant.”2
According to the Bible, ingratitude is the next-door neighbor to unbelief.
The solution is simple. It’s to regularly practice the biblical command to give thanks.
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
We don’t have to wait for a feeling of gratitude. Sometimes the feeling comes after. We just need to start by obeying this command regularly in our lives. The way Paul states the command indicates that it’s supposed to be a regular practice in our lives.
Paul told us to give thanks in everything. We don’t have to give thanks for everything, but we can learn to give thanks in every situation, trusting that God is at work even when we can’t understand it.
Your wife? Give thanks for her. You may find that your gratitude begins to transform your relationship with her. The same with your kids. Sometimes we go through challenging times with our children; they are still a gift from God, and we can thank God for the privilege of loving them, knowing that God loves them even more than we do. The same applies to our jobs and our bosses. We may have many reasons to complain, but we also have many reasons to give thanks. One day we may even long for the problems we have today.
Paul teaches us how we can learn to become grateful. We become grateful by practicing it. Gratitude doesn’t start with a feeling. It starts by simply obeying the Bible’s commands to give thanks in everything. And we can start with whatever is going on in our lives right now, with our families, our work, and the people around us.
We all have so many reasons to be grateful. Ingratitude is a serious danger to our souls. The place to start: simply give thanks, and repeat. Cultivate gratitude to God, because He is worthy of our gratitude and worship.