Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude

As a parent, teacher, and writer, I have spent many decades teaching biblical truths to children. But I have also had the immense privilege of being taught by those same children. My most recent lesson came from a 13-year-old boy from our church who was working with my husband on a car repair. I made a simple lunch for them and was somewhat taken aback when Luke thanked me as I placed the quesadillas on the table. When I set out the grapes, his response was, “Mrs. Michael, thank you for the grapes.” When he finished eating, he thanked me again for the lunch. I had never experienced this frequency or depth of gratitude for such a small kindness. I felt blessed by Luke, but even more, I felt challenged by him. Do I have such a sincere heart of gratitude? Do I remember to appreciate small things? Where does such an attitude come from? Am I more like this young man, or am I more like the grumbling Israelites in the wilderness? Does my Heavenly Father receive from me the kind of gratitude I received from Luke?

I have to admit that I often take God’s gifts for granted. I can go through my day insensible to the countless blessings he pours out on me—every breath, a small flower, sunshine, a friend’s smile, our daily bread. God freely pours his grace upon me, though I am undeserving of his kindness.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:3–5 ESV

Why should God be mindful of us? God does not owe us anything—but he gives us everything.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Acts 17:24-25–ESV

I was teaching a class of 11-year-olds about the providence of God, and one of the boys outgrew his bike during that year. His family wasn’t able to buy Jacob a new bike, but one day his grandmother offered to replace it. Because Jacob’s mother knew he was learning about the providence of God, she asked him, “Why do you think this happened?” His reply was, “It is the providence of God.” He understood a great truth. It was true that Grandma was buying the bike, but God was providing it. Grandma was simply the instrument of God’s blessing.

By recognizing God as the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17; Romans 11:34–36), Jacob’s gratitude extended beyond Grandma to the ever-present, constantly attentive, all-providing God.

The Heidelberg catechism beautifully defines God’s providence as the

“almighty and ever-present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.”

The Heidelberg Catechism Question #27

“All things” include those things that don’t seem good, like illness, suffering, difficulties—and even lice, as recounted by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie’s sister was grateful for the lice in the concentration camp barracks because it kept the guards at bay and enabled the sisters to share their Bible readings with the other prisoners. What an amazing perspective! Even lice can be a blessing when we look beyond our circumstances and anticipate God’s providence. What is the secret to such a perspective in hardship? According to Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment: “So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires.” What a blessing to be able to look away from comfort and toward Kingdom values! Surely subtracting our sense of entitlement and looking at each day’s mercies should give us a sense of our indebtedness to God.

Of all God’s mercies that should engender gratitude in our hearts, the greatest is the incomparable sacrifice of his own Son for sinners (Romans 8:32). Yet we can become numb to his overwhelming grace as we breeze through the familiar with little thought of the vast significance of this undeserved gift from God.

How can we readjust our hearts? How can we become more grateful? As always, the first step is prayer. We cannot change our hearts, so let’s pray and ask God for a grateful heart.

Next, we should take the blinders from our eyes. For example, I had never heard of a Honda Accord until we bought one ourselves. Then, suddenly, it seemed like there were Honda Accords everywhere! Was there a sudden run on Accords? No, I hadn’t noticed them before, because I wasn’t looking for them. God’s mercies are like the Honda Accords—but they don’t just seem like they are everywhere, they really are everywhere! How often do we fail to notice God’s mercies? We need to be on the lookout for grace—everywhere, every day—from the faintest smile to the realization that Jesus died for the redeemed. Tune your radar to look for God’s blessings.

Then, simply follow God’s command to thank him in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We may not feel like thanking him for the flu or an unexpected bill. But Romans 8:28–29 assures us that even these are meant for our good to conform us to the image of Jesus. It isn’t hypocritical to thank God for something you don’t feel thankful for. It is being obedient and choosing to trust his providence.

The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, in The Cure of Melancholy,has sage wisdom: “Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praise to God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can . . . Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirs up thankfulness in the heart.

Finally, I would propose something I realized from watching Luke. Where did Luke learn to be thankful? From his parents, two of the most grateful people I know. Align yourself with thankful people. And, if you are a parent, remember that the greatest influence you can have on your children is to have a grateful heart yourself. As you cultivate a thankful heart, it will overflow in blessing to your family and acquaintances. Just as grumbling begets grumbling, an attitude of gratitude is contagious and spreads to others.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:21–24 ESV

Good Gifts Come from God

Good Gifts Come from God

Every day God gives us good gifts to enjoy—family, friends, sunshine, hugs, smiles, and kind words. The greatest gift from God is sending his Son, Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. We should always thank God for his good and perfect gifts. Part of the Bible Verses to Remember series, Good Gifts Come from God helps preschoolers to memorize Scripture and understand how it applies to their little lives today.

About the author

Sally Michael

Sally Michael is a cofounder of Truth78 and has authored curricula and books marked by a passion for developing God-centered resources for the spiritual development of children. For 16 years, Sally served as minister for children at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota under the leadership of John Piper and of her husband, David. Sally and David live in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sally is the author of the Bible Verses to Remember series.

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