A few years ago, Harvard Health Publishing released an article titled “Giving thanks can make you happier.” In it, they shared the following from a research study on gratitude:
Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After ten weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
It seems (and I imagine this won’t surprise you) gratitude begins in what our thoughts dwell on. So, when we talk specifically about gratitude to God, it comes down to continually dwelling on who He is and who we are in Him.
Throughout the Bible, we see gratefulness as a primary characteristic of the people of God. When the apostle Paul described the life of a follower of Jesus, he said they are to be “overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:7b, CSB). On the other hand, when Paul described those who choose not to follow God, he said “…they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude” (Romans 1:21a, CSB). Scripture is clear: Gratefulness is how we are to respond to our Creator and Redeemer.
Gratefulness in the church
God desires hearts of gratitude from His children, which means our churches should be marked by thankfulness, too. Would you say this is true of you and your church? Do you actively think about the promises and blessings the Bible says are yours as a follower of Jesus? Is your church regularly encouraging and modeling gratitude from the pulpit? Or do you spend your time comparing yourself and your ministry to others—envying the eloquent preaching, the number of people in pews, or the excess of volunteers others always seem to have? To be a person and church overflowing with gratitude as God’s Word tells us to be, we can’t do both.
The grateful church is the church that regularly and corporately focuses on blessings over burdens, on spiritual gifts over personal grievances, on the gospel over gossip. And cultivating a grateful church begins with you—the leader—and your own practice of thanksgiving, specifically what you say and what you do.
What you say
The primary way to become a grateful church is to have leadership that dwells on the gospel in all things. One of the clearest pictures of gratitude in Scripture is in Luke 17 when Jesus heals 10 men with leprosy. In response to truly life-altering healing, only one of the men acknowledged what Jesus did for him and took the time to give Him thanks. Jesus referred to the man’s gratitude as a demonstration of his faith and an example of giving glory to God.
What we have in Jesus is so much more than life-altering; it’s life-saving and life-giving. Through Jesus, we were dead and now are alive. We were in bondage and now are free. Like the one leper who returned to Jesus, we should fall “facedown at his feet, thanking him” (Luke 17:16, CSB) every time we are reminded of who we are in Christ.
From the pulpit to the nursery, the Gospel should permeate every aspect of your church’s life together. Becoming a grateful church begins with acknowledging how the One who owes us nothing has given us everything. As you reflect on this truth together, thanksgiving to God becomes the natural overflow of your heart.
What you do
Secondary to dwelling on the gospel, you become a grateful church by…giving thanks! No doubt this sounds like a given, but reflect on your personal ministry influence. Paul encouraged the church in Thessalonica to “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, CSB). As a leader in your church, do you rejoice always? Pray constantly? Give thanks in everything? This is the model God gives us for gratitude in Scripture. Yet if we aren’t modeling it from our positions of leadership, how can we expect to cultivate grateful congregations?
So, give thanks—when you pray, when you see needs being met, when volunteers show up, when you meet visitors, when you send off former members, when you are held accountable, when you counsel, when you are tired, when you are frustrated, when you are broken—not just in November and not just when something extraordinary happens. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you.
Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to the Lord!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God.
He made us, and we are his—
his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and bless his name.
For the Lord is good, and his faithful love endures forever;
his faithfulness, through all generations.Psalm 100, CSB