All Posts /

The Methodology of Gratitude

The Methodology of Gratitude

Welcome to Sit & Listen Saturdays with Devotionals Daily. We hope you enjoy reading as well as listening to this devotion from Robert Morgan, excerpted from his new book Worry Less, Live More. Listen on the blog or on your Alexa device by asking Alexa to read today’s devotion.


I’m tempted to feel some fiendish delight when modern researchers spend large sums of money to “discover” something the Bible announced long ago. But as it relates to studying gratitude, secular researchers run into an impassable roadblock when they try to answer the question: “To whom are we thankful?” They may uncover the benefits of feeling thankful, but how can we be thankful to a purely impersonal naturalistic universe?

We can always be thankful to certain people who love or befriend us. But what about all the blessings that can’t be credited to friends, loved ones, or ruling authorities? What about the wonders of sky, sea, and land? What about life itself, the privilege of living on a spinning blue marble in a vast universe of fathomless complexity?

The ability to say, “Thank You, Lord,” is among the most wonderful things about being a follower of Jesus Christ.

We can enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. We don’t thank and praise God merely to gain the psychological benefits of doing so. We thank and praise Him because He is the God from whom all blessings flow. But this gratitude boomerangs into benefits the world can never know. Emotional benefits. Psychological blessings. Spiritual experiences, which our passage in Philippians 4 labels as transcendent:

With thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And consider this: Jesus-followers are the only people who can truly thank God in a Christly way for all His blessings. What a tragedy if we fail to do it. The Lutheran minister Martin Rinkart wrote a hymn of thanksgiving to rally his village of Ellenburg, Saxony, during the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War. Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in town, and he sometimes conducted as many as fifty funerals a day. Yet he kept himself and his village sane by finding items of thanksgiving, even among the carnage. He converted this attitude into one of our great hymns:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.16

How can we cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving like that?
My friend Linda Derby once faced a health crisis in her family. Her daughter-in-law, Becky Derby, mother of two little boys, was diagnosed with cancer, and it was a devastating case. On the day the bad news hit, Linda said it felt as if a black cloud of poisonous insects was swarming around her head, and she was panicked with fear.

She later wrote:

As I sought God and started to pray, He brought to mind the words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians: 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. — Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

After this epiphany, I decided to really get serious about talking to God. I started telling Him everything our family was experiencing, our worries, anxiety, fear, depression, anger, and uncertainty — I told God what we wanted, such as peace and assurance that Becky would be all right. Then I tried to think of all the things God had done that I was thankful for — just like Paul had instructed. To my surprise, there were many good things that had recently happened.17

She went on to list five distinct blessings, and she was surprised at how she had nearly overlooked them. By the end of the evening, she said, the cloud of insects had been swept away by the Spirit of God and she was able to go to bed with peace in her heart and enjoy a restful night of sleep.18

If Linda had omitted that last stop of thanksgiving, a few of those insects would have buzzed through her mind all night. “With thanksgiving” is an indelible part of the verse and an invaluable habit for dispelling the cloud of worry from our minds.

Here are some habits I’ve gleaned from others and tried for myself in my efforts to develop an accelerating attitude of gratitude.

  1. Keep a thanksgiving list. I’ve been doing this for many years, ever since I read about the British hymnist Frances Ridley Havergal, who kept a thanksgiving list alongside her prayer list. Every morning I begin my prayer time by listing something for which I’m grateful to the Lord.
  2. Before you fall asleep at night, thank God for three things that happened during the day. I don’t remember where I learned this little technique, but I’ve been practicing it regularly. In that way, I begin the day with one item of thanksgiving and end it with three. It puts my mind in a better place before it falls asleep.
  3. Keep a thanksgiving journal. This is the chief tool used by psychologists like Dr. Emmons. They suggest keeping a little notebook in which you write down one, two, or three things each day for which you’re thankful.
  4. Give thanks at meals. We have three opportunities a day to express our thanksgiving to the Lord. You can be specific. “Lord, thank You for this bowl of beans and cornbread.” Remember that every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, from whom there is no shadow or variation (James 1:17).
  5. Whenever you encounter a disappointment or disaster, try to specifically locate and list items for which you can be thankful, even in the midst of the problem. Write them in your journal, in your calendar, on a sticky note, or in a text to yourself — whatever works to focus your mind on them. The Bible says, Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:18
  6. Express your gratitude to others. Let people at work know that you’re grateful for their work. Studies have shown that offices are the least common places to hear or express gratitude, and when we express our appreciation to coworkers it increases the overall effectiveness of the organization.19 The same is true, of course, in home, church, school, and every other social unit.
  7. Read books on gratitude. I’ve mentioned a couple of them, and whenever I study a subject or read or listen to a book about it, the subject expands in my mind.
  8. Sing thanksgiving songs and hymns, like “Now Thank We All Our God.” Ephesians 5 tells us to be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21). If you’re in a difficult place right now, find a song and sing it aloud. It might seem a little awkward, but keep doing it. Find that song online and sing along. It will begin lifting your spirits.
  9. Memorize some thanksgiving passages. Psalm 100 is a good place to begin. That’s the psalm that says, Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.
  10. Remember Philippians 4:6, and write out the verse where you can see it. Underline or capitalize or color or bold or highlight the words, “WITH THANKSGIVING.” Make this an undying rule in your life.

Excerpted with permission from Worry Less, Live More by Robert J. Morgan, copyright Robert J. Morgan.

* * *

Your Turn

Next week in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving! Have you made your thankful list yet? Why not challenge yourself and your family to write down what you are thankful for and share it at the family meal on Thursday. Encourage your family to memorize Psalm 100 and recite it together on Thanksgiving. What are your ideas to express gratitude to God today? Come share with us on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily