Cultivating Thankful Hearts
Welcome to the November edition of Ezer Equipped. This month we are talking about gratitude. I know it seems a little cliche to focus on gratitude in November, but thankfulness is an important and powerful spiritual discipline we must learn to cultivate in our daily lives—not just in November and not just when things are going well for us.
The word cultivate is a gardening term. When you cultivate a garden, you loosen the soil, plant seeds, feed and water the budding plants, root out weeds, and protect from insects and disease. Cultivating a garden takes time and intentionality; it is nurturing and fostering an environment where fruit can grow. This is true of our hearts as well. There are many things that harden the soil of our hearts and threaten to choke out spiritual fruit: entitlement, weariness, suffering, the mundaneness of life, bitterness, our consumer-driven culture, unmet expectations, loss, other’s sins against you. All of these chip away at a spirit of thankfulness.
Many of you know my story of overcoming alcohol and drug addiction many years ago. When I was first getting sober and found myself struggling, tempted to give in to my desires, or just overwhelmed by life, one of my mentors would always tell me to write a gratitude list. She told me that a grateful addict would never use drugs again. When I recorded things I was thankful for, the temptations to turn toward escape into alcohol and drugs dissipated and I was strengthened in my resolve to stay sober. This is no less true for me today. Gratitude leads me out of my stinking thinking and reminds me of God’s faithfulness.
Cultivating gratitude doesn’t change your circumstances; it’s not a magic pill you take to make you feel better. It also isn’t striving to be naive Polly-Anna’s who ignore or dismiss true suffering and hardship. Instead, cultivating gratitude is like putting on a new pair of glasses. It helps you see life, God, and others more accurately. Daily life in a broken, sinful world clouds our vision and causes us to forget who God is and how gracious and kind he has been to us in all things big and small. It helps us to pause long enough to see God’s hand at work in our lives and to reorient our hearts toward the truth of his character.
We are not naturally thankful people. Cultivating gratitude is a discipline; it is something we must put into practice. We have provided a few resources to read or listen to, some questions to reflect on and discuss with those in your community, and some believable next steps you can take to grow in cultivating thankfulness.
Grace Church Women’s Discipleship Advisor
Exerpt from Book: Cultivating a Thankful Heart
by: Chrystie Cole (Body Matters, Chapter 7)
This three-page excerpt from Grace’s Body Matters study highlights three specific ways to cultivate thankfulness in our lives: reflecting on God’s past faithfulness and provision, acknowledging God’s present provision, and moving forward in hope and assurance of God’s future faithfulness. While this article discusses cultivating thankfulness regarding our bodies, these practices extend to all areas of our lives.
“If we draw breath, it is from him. If our heart continues to beat, it is because he causes it to do so. All things are from him, through him and for him” (Romans 11:36).
by: Matt Williams
In this brief five-minute video, Matt shows us the connection between worry, prayer, and thanksgiving through Philippians 4:6.
“When things are not going well—giving thanks is a way to remind myself that this moment is not about me. It humbles me. Makes me rely on him. When I am thanking God in difficult moments, I am reminding myself that I am not some kind of King and that everything needs to work for me, and needs to be oriented toward my comfort.”
by: Lauren Hlushak, She Proves Faithful Podcast
This podcast highlights four ways to cultivate a thankful heart when life is going well and when it’s not.
“How can we praise God when he is not even answering our prayers? As women who want to be wise and live gospel-centered lives, we must practice thanksgiving at all times. Our thanksgiving is actually a sign of our faith. We believe that God is real, that he’s present, that he’s sovereign, that he’s working—even when we ourselves can’t necessarily feel it at that moment.”
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community.
1. What is currently clouding your vision and choking out the spiritual fruit of gratitude?
• Mundaneness of life
• Unmet expectations
• Harms done to you
2. Reflect on the words you spoke in the last 24 hours. Are they more characterized by grumbling or gratitude? Ask someone in your household or workplace if they would describe as more content or discontent?
3. In situations where you do not get your way, how do you typically respond? What would a response rooted in gratitude look like?
4. What are you currently experiencing that you are finding it difficult to be grateful for? What are some specific ways God has been faithful to you in the past that can help you trust him for his provision in the present and move forward with hope?
Scripture warns us to not just be hearers of the Word but to be doers of it as well. All of life is repentance. What is a believable next step God is calling you to take in response to all you’ve learned? Pick one or two of the below steps to take.
1. In your current season of life, what are you forgetting about God that is clouding your vision? Write down one or two steps you can take right now that will help you remember God’s provision and promises toward you.
2. Create your own Ebenezer Jar. An ebenezer is a marker, a way of remembering God’s faithfulness to you. Every day, write five examples of God’s kindness and generosity towards you. These could be anything God brings to mind—an event, a conversation, a person, the beauty of nature, an attribute of God. Watch the jar fill up, and observe how your attitude towards life changes. Invite family or friends to participate as well. Read them periodically on hard days, or set aside a special meal or celebration to read them all at once.
3. If you are in a season of suffering, a lament is an authentic way to carry your fears and despair to God while clinging to his provision and faithfulness. A lament has three main parts:
• Tell God how you are suffering
• Ask him for help
• Remember the ways he has been faithful in the past.
You can see these patterns in the laments in Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Lamentations 3:1-16, or Job. Write a lament that acknowledges your pain, asks God for specific help, and reminds you of his faithfulness in the midst of this season.
4. How often is your internal satisfaction tied to your external circumstances? How might this need to change? Determine one step you can take to begin to cultivate a thankful heart.
5. Set aside time this month to spend an extended period of time in nature, disconnected from technology. Take this opportunity to engage all your senses. Consider all that is around you that you did nothing to create or sustain. Pause long enough to be in awe of how God not only created all of it but also sustains it.
6. Memorize Philippians 4:6-7
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
7. Music has a way of entering our souls and shaping our thoughts and can be used as a tool to cultivate the hard soil of our hearts. Create a playlist of songs that can anchor you and reorient you toward what is true, good, and beautiful.
This resource is adapted from our Ezer Equipped monthly newsletter dedicated to equipping our women with content, from both within and outside of our church, to help us continue to grow as disciple and disciple-makers. To subscribe to the Ezer Equipped newsletter, click here.