The Gift of Gratitude
After a soul-filling morning at my women’s Bible study, I got in the car and began the commute home. Midway home I heard this strange squealing sound. It followed me as I drove and I rolled down my window to see if it was something outside or *cringe* my car. As I made a few more turns and slowed down on the neighborhood streets, I still I couldn’t tell where the noise was coming from. I pulled into the garage and there was no doubt, the horrible sound was coming from my car. I frantically asked my friend if she could watch the boys for me after school so I could take the car to the shop. This is not how I planned to spend my evening. In the moment, I was very overwhelmed. I prayed for safety driving to the shop, for a quick fix, and thanked the Lord for a good friend ready and willing to step in to help.
Long story short, it was a long week of stress and struggle. I got a rental car to transport the boys and I for the time being… and it ended up having an ants! I am allergic to ant bites so this was a problem. The rental agency had already closed for the night, so I brushed them off the exterior as best I could and wiped some bug barrier along the edges of the car (not knowing if this would damage the car. Thankfully, it didn’t!). The news from the shop was not good, so I decided to try to learn to drive manual and use my husband’s car. My mentor gave me a driving lesson and I practiced for a few days. After many tears and feelings of inadequacy and frustration, we decided to purchase another car. My father-in-law was already scheduled to visit that weekend so he helped with negotiations.
This was a long week that gave me plenty of opportunity to accept help from others and to pray over all the details of the situation. Through those prayers I realized how different my attitude was from even half a year ago. As my mind would race with worst case scenarios and focus on our dwindling bank account from the rental car, I was also so thankful for the provisions during the week. I was thankful for a rental that fit our family for a decent price. I was thankful for the extra finances right when we needed them to cover these unexpected costs. I was thankful that our car did not cause an accident or leave us stranded on the opposite end of town. I was thankful for friends willing to give of their time and space to help us. I was thankful that my father-in-law was in town right when I needed guidance. I realized that instead of an attitude of hopelessness and a complaining spirit, I had an attitude of gratitude which made all the difference.
How do we develop this attitude and embrace the gift of gratitude? I have a few things I regularly do to try to grow in gratitude.
1. Pray with thanksgiving. We are encouraged by Paul in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I have made it a practice to pray the Lord’s prayer. I go through each portion of the Lord’s prayer in order, personalizing it as necessary. When we begin by bringing honor to the name of the Lord (Hallowed be your name) and praying that His will be done in our lives (You will be done), then when we begin to lift our petitions (Give us this day our daily bread) we have already reminded our own hearts and minds of the fullness of the Lord and His ability to work in and through each and every situation we encounter (see Matthew 6:9-13 for the Lord’s Prayer). We still bring our requests before the Lord, but it is with the understanding that the Lord is sovereign and in total control. We are then able to pray with thanksgiving even through difficult circumstances because we trust and believe that the Lord is good.
2.Reflect on the Lord’s provision. Over and over in Scripture we see the people of the Lord reflecting on the work of the Lord to lead and sustain them. In Deuteronomy 8 we see the Lord commanding the people to remember. “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you… lest when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them… then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God… who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” Difficult seasons will come and stressful situations will arise, but when we reflect on the Lord’s provision in our own lives then we are reminded that He is faithful. We can have confidence that the Lord is always after our greatest good. Over and over we see the wilderness wandering recounted in the New Testament as a reminder to the people that God has always been for His people and continues to draw them to Himself. When we feel like we are in the wilderness, let us draw near to Jesus as He is the Bread of Life and our Living Water.
3.Surround yourself with people who will point you to Christ. In Hebrews 10:23-25 we read, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Not only should we participate in a local church that can spiritually feed us and disciple us, but also when we participate in online communities we should surround ourselves with those who encourage us in the Lord. So often social media is a tool to degrade and tear down others. People can be cruel with words and follows, but also the cycle of comparison seems never ending in our daily scroll. While part of this is a heart issue of our own, we can control whom we follow and what we choose to include in our feed*. I recently cleared out my feed of negative or superficial pages. I asked myself why I was even following these pages if they did not encourage my spirit and point my weary heart to Jesus? So click click, gone from my feed and within days my social media scroll became a source of encouragement and not a bitter emotional battle. When I was struggling with my emotions over the car situation, I took a mental break and opened my social media apps. Below are some of the posts that the Lord used to refresh my heart and refocus my mind.
In this latest car issue, I prayed fervently to the Lord each step of the way. While I had many moments of anxiety over the outcome, my prayers helped me focus on the Lord and praise Him for everything He provided just when we needed it (check back in January for part two with the story of our new vehicle). I reflected on the Lord’s previous work with this same car and different issues. Just this past summer we were driving from Michigan to North Carolina. On the highway we were at speed and suddenly the car decelerated, lost power steering, and came to a stop where there was no shoulder. Not only did the Lord keep traffic light on the winding mountain highway, but also He granted us favor in dinner, hotel accommodations, and a car shop to fix the issue. I remembered the details of that very uncomfortable situation and knew that God had us in His capable hands then and He had us in His capable hands now. I surrounded myself with people who spoke truth into my frantic mind. His church were His literal hands and feet and they helped, strengthened, and encouraged me.
There are many ways to embrace the gift of gratitude, but these are just some of the primary ways that have helped me adjust my perspective. This is not a one time, cure-all solution. Practicing gratitude has been a process over years and years. I still have so many moments where I am ungrateful and overwhelmed by external circumstances, but I choose to be thankful for the work God has done in my heart to grow me in this area. When I look at how far I have come, I am encouraged to press on in gratitude every day.
*However, I do not think that unfollowing those we dislike or envy is always the answer. Read more on that topic here.