Like the commands in Scripture to love, forgive and serve, the instruction to give thanks does not depend on one’s feelings. It is something we are called to do whether we feel like it or not. In this way gratitude is a discipline. Like any athletic or academic discipline, spiritual disciplines are practices that help us reach a goal we could not otherwise reach.
For example, as a boy I struggled so terribly with reading that I was assigned to a special education class. My very patient teacher, Mrs. Schwab, gave me reading exercises for homework. I did not want to do those exercises after school; I wanted to watch cartoons. The discipline of homework, however, taught me to read, which I now do automatically and even joyfully. The discipline of my reading exercises equipped me to reach a goal I would never have reached on my own. They trained and equipped me to live differently.
So, what is that goal behind the discipline of gratitude? Giving thanks allows us to see the light of God in a world often filled with shadows. It trains us to recognize hope amid despair, to smile amid suffering, and to know the reality of God’s presence even when He seems distant. Simply put, practicing gratitude teaches us how to walk in faith.
For example, the apostle James tells us to “count it all joy when you face trials of various kinds,” because through such struggles good things will be produced in our life and character. (See James 1:2-4.) In other words, when we practice gratitude even amid suffering, it helps us recognize that our present circumstances, which others may have intended for our harm, God intends for our good. He will redeem and use even our struggles to produce good things. The ability to gain this perspective comes when we practice the discipline of thanksgiving even when we do not feel like it.
When we stop giving thanks and instead allow our feelings of jealousy, despair or discontent to determine our actions, it becomes far more difficult to recognize the presence of God or the hope of His redemption. In this way gratitude is not only the outcome of faith but also its source.
Reflect: Consider an area of your life in which you practice a discipline. What helps you stay committed to that discipline when you do not feel like engaging it? Similarly, what structures or accountability might help you practice the discipline of gratitude when you do not feel thankful?
(Excerpt from Whole-Life Generosity Devotional, used with permission from GenerousChurch).