“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
How Kids Think
Some children wonder, “Why can’t I have what I want?” They would like all their desires to be gratified. Regrettably, they often fail to show appreciation to those who do provide them with good things. Those kids also show little gratitude for the blessings that God gives. They have developed an “entitlement mentality,” taking things for granted and assuming that God will be back tomorrow with more.
Entitlement may appear subtly: in a negative attitude at the dinner table, a poor response when receiving a gift, or a struggle sharing toys with a sibling. This mentality is based on a sense that God or people “owe” them something. When expectations are not realized, disappointment, frustration, and anger often ensue.
[Tweet “The Lord expects people to express gratitude to Him”] and to others. Gratitude is a response attitude that is not directly connected to circumstances. Again and again in the Bible, God reminds His people to “give thanks”—because the Lord is good and because His love endures forever. Adele Calhoun explains, “Though ‘blessings’ can move us into gratitude, it is not at the root of a thankful heart. Delight in God and his good will is the heartbeat of thankfulness.”1
God commands His children to “give thanks in everything”—even in the midst of difficult situations. Many people learn to appreciate families, possessions, and God’s blessings only after unexpected disasters take those things away. As we practice the discipline of noticing and affirming God’s blessings, He begins to transform our hearts. We stop thinking that someone “owes us.” Instead, we embrace gifts as “above and beyond” what we deserve. We focus on God and His goodness instead of fluctuating circumstances.
Real Life Examples
About two months ago, I resolved to become intentional in thanking God and others. During the previous months I had seen God provide blessings above and beyond what I had prayed for. However, after receiving those blessings, it was easy to “move on with life.” Something in my heart said, “Okay, great, that prayer is answered. Time to move on to the next.” My distracted heart overlooked opportunities to respond in awe over God’s blessing or His intervention.
At first, this practice took deliberate effort. Instead of just writing thank-you cards, I sometimes called the friend, thanked him/her in person, or verbally affirmed the generous action. So that I would not forget, I took time to write down all the ways I had seen God provide: I thanked the Lord aloud while driving to a meeting; I expressed appreciation for God’s goodness while worshipping at church. I realized that gratitude was as much about “paying attention” as it was saying “thank you.”
After awhile, I noticed that negative thoughts that had been pulling me towards discouragement were now pulling me towards positive ways God’s hand was active in my life. My prayers were more “faith-full” because my mind was dwelling on God’s goodness, not on my problems. This attitude began to bleed into my ministry. I observed how selflessly my children’s volunteers were serving with me: What a sacrifice they are making to be here so consistently! My assistant and family small group directors were serving many hours each week as volunteers: What an honor to serve alongside them!
Areas of my life that had previously been discouragement-laden now glistened with hope; my circumstances had not changed, but my perspective certainly had! I clearly saw that God owes me nothing, but He delights to show His love in tangible ways every day. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What You Can Do
These spiritual practices will help you and your children cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”:
- Sing prayers and songs that focus on God’s generosity.
- Express an exuberant “Thank you!” when people help or bless you.
- Give generously to others who possess less than you.
- Write thank-you cards when you receive gifts.
- Pause your activities to appreciate God’s presence throughout the day.
- Focus on your blessings instead of dwelling on what is not happening.
- Begin a “Gratitude Journal” that records things you are grateful for.
- Avoid complaining and comparing.
- Look for evidence of God’s presence in the midst current hardships.
- End each day by thanking God for at least one blessing.
1 Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg Spiritual Disciplines Handbook