A series of troubles hit one of my friends like a thunderstorm unleashing rain, wind, lightning, and hail all at once into her life. Shortly after one of her sons fell into a drug addiction, she learned that her husband was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Then an injury sidelined her from her work as a dance teacher while she had surgery and recovered. All of these problems led to yet another problem: financial difficulties. Soon my friend was struggling to keep paying basic bills and in danger of losing her home.
Yet, no matter what, she kept giving thanks to God.
That year at her dance studio’s recital, she performed a solo after all of her students had danced. Twirling around gracefully on stage, my friend danced to a worship song with lyrics that praised God for his many good qualities. Tears escaped from my eyes and ran down my face as I watched her express gratitude to God despite all that had gone wrong in her life lately.
At Thanksgiving, gratitude is often presented in terms of counting our blessings. It’s a popular tradition to go around the holiday table, encouraging everyone present to name something for which they’re especially grateful. The blessings themselves – not the God who gives the blessings – are the focus.
But our ability to give thanks doesn’t really depend on how many blessings we have to count at a certain time. We can always give thanks, because we always have the ultimate blessing: a relationship with a good Father.
The key to learning to do that is developing a lifestyle of gratitude, no matter what. Here are five ways to incorporate the practice of giving thanks to God into your life as a regular spiritual discipline:
1. Look beyond your circumstances to God’s presence.
No matter what circumstances come into or out of your life, you can always count on God to be with you. Circumstances change, but God’s presence is constant. Psalm 139:7 asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” and then describes how God is with people anywhere they could ever go. So God’s presence is something for which you can always be grateful.
Remind yourself regularly of God’s presence with you. The more you do so, the more your perspective on your life will change to promote an attitude of gratitude. You’ll notice more in your life to be thankful for when you’re focusing on the main reason you can be grateful: God himself is always with you!
2. Develop daily rituals you enjoy that help you notice God’s work in your life.
Your awareness of God’s activity around you (which is always going on – even in the toughest situations) will grow if you intentionally look for it on a regular basis. Think and pray about meaningful ways you could search for, and celebrate, evidence of God’s work in your life. Then create some rituals to express those ways as you go through each day.
For instance, each morning, you could read your plans for the day (on your calendar or daily to-do list) and pray briefly about each one, thanking God for the opportunity to have each experience. Or, in the evening, you could start a dinner tradition of talking with your family around the table about how you all encountered God at work lately and why you’re grateful for that. At church, you could spend some time reflecting on Jesus’ death on the cross before taking Communion, so gratitude for that ultimate sacrifice will be fresh on your mind when you celebrate Communion (also called the Eucharist, which means “give thanks” in Greek).
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SOURCE: Crosswalk, Whitney Hopler