The Habit of Gratitude
Psalm 100.1 – 4; 1 Thessalonians 5.16 – 18
Good Questions Have Groups Talking
What is one thing you are grateful for today?
- Psalm 100.1 – 4. What do we learn about gratitude from this passage?
Gladatude and gratitude are appropriate for every situation in life. Several years ago Martin and Gracia Burnham were serving with New Tribes Mission when they were kidnapped by terrorists. During their year in captivity, they faced near starvation and were sometimes caught in the middle of gun battles. In the end both were shot. Martin was killed, but Gracia lived to tell the story. She said that near the end of their ordeal, one of the passages of Scripture that sustained them was Psalm 100. One night Martin said, “You know, Gracia, I don’t know why the Lord has allowed this to happen, but today I’ve been thinking about Psalm 100, how we can serve the Lord with gladness. Just because we’re here doesn’t mean we can’t serve Him with gladness, so let’s serve the Lord with gladness.” That night Martin was shot and killed, and Gracia was wounded in the firefight. But those words from Psalm 100 never died in her heart. “The Lord has given me joy,” was her testimony. — Robert J. Morgan, 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2010).
- What do we learn about ourselves?
You exist for God. God does not exist for you. He’s a loving Father who loves us. But He’s also our Creator who made us. Why are we to worship Him? Yes, there are benefits and blessings for us—but, ultimately, it comes down to the fact that He is God. We exist for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11). And He is pleased when we worship Him. Why is He pleasured? Because people become like that which they worship (Psalm 115:4–8). And He wants us to be like Him. — Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 123.
- What application do you find in this Psalm?
The book of Psalms is bursting with praise and adoration for God, but only one psalm is singled out as a psalm of thanksgiving. Psalm 100 is a beautiful example of how to thank our Lord. We are to shout with joy, worship Him with gladness, sing for joy, acknowledge His greatness, and enter His presence with thanksgiving. Why? Because He is good, His love never fails, and He is faithful.
The next few mornings, read Psalm 100 to begin your day. How will you show God gratitude today? — Thomas Nelson, 100 Days of Thanks (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NIV) “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How is this even possible?
“Give thanks in all circumstances”? Is that even possible, or was the apostle Paul trying to make some ironic point to the Thessalonians? People can’t really give thanks when they’ve just lost their jobs, can they? Or when they’ve just been told they have cancer? Or when they are being bullied at school? There is nothing to be thankful for in any of those circumstances, is there?
It turns out the apostle Paul wasn’t joking. There are thing to be thankful for in all circumstances. We just need to know where to look. If we have trouble seeing beyond the bad in our lives, we can ask God to open our eyes to the things he’s doing that we can’t see. He’ll help us see concerned friends, committed doctors, caring teachers and other resources we may not have noticed.
Even if we can’t see what God is doing in our lives now, we can thank him for the things he’s done in the past. There’s no expiration date on God’s blessings. We can still mention them in prayer, no matter how long ago we received them.
If we as a family learn to praise God in all circumstances, we will grow closer to him. — Christopher D. Hudson, NIV, Once-a-Day: At the Table Family Devotional, Ebook (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).
- What does “all circumstances” include?
Real gratitude doesn’t allow picking and choosing what we’re thankful for. Instead, we’re told to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Note, all circumstances encompass everything—not just the good stuff! Gratitude is easy when you’re told the cancer is gone, but what if it comes back? If your child makes the soccer team, you celebrate, but what if he’s cut? Marrying someone you love is a gift, but is heartbreak? Friend, it is hard to give thanks in all circumstances. Some days it may feel totally impossible. It takes time to get to the point of gratitude.
But hear these words: In Romans 5 Paul rejoices in suffering. What? Why?! Paul knew suffering ultimately produced good. “We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next” (vv.3–4 MSG). Other Scripture versions say suffering brings endurance, perseverance, character, and hope—and in those we can rejoice! — Thomas Nelson, 100 Days of Thanks (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
- How is life better for the grateful?
Do we know the five game-changing words?
The Bible tells us there are five simple words that can transform a miserable, lonely, and angry home into one filled with contentment, meaningful relationships, and an ongoing feast of joy. What are these remarkable words? “Give thanks in all circumstances.” It’s that simple.
When we start each day by together giving thanks for God’s character, the generosity of His heart, and the wisdom of His choices over our lives, it begins to transform our environment. When we give thanks for the person we married, the children we’ve been given, and the family that’s ours, it reshapes our perspective. Giving thanks releases God’s joy, blessing, and viewpoint on the problems facing us. It defeats the devil’s plans to discourage and depress us. We find ourselves rising above our every circumstance with true joy, and we discover we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ.
Giving thanks is the ultimate game-changer. — Bob Moeller and Cheryl Moeller, One-Minute Devotions for Couples (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2013).
- What is gratitude? A feeling? An attitude? An activity? A habit?
We want to talk about how we can be people who give thanks in all things, but before we do, let’s explore some of the benefits of gratitude.
Nothing predicts happiness like gratitude. No single activity more reliably predicts your happiness as the practice of gratitude.
Notice I said the practice of gratitude, not the attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is something you do. For example, you might make a gratitude visit.
Think of someone that made a big impact in your life growing up, or someone who means a lot to you right now, but you have never really told them. Write out a letter of gratitude to them. Tell them what they did that was meaningful and why it was meaningful to you.
Set up an appointment to go visit them. Be a little vague as to the purpose. Go over and read the letter to them. Talk about it. Cry. Hug. Scientific research says you will be happier and the effect will last at least 30 days. Seligman reports, “The gratitude visit produced large decreases in depression and large increases in happiness one month later.”87
The point is that gratitude is something you do. You write a letter. You go to them. You read it to the person you are grateful to. You don’t just feel grateful feelings. You write. You drive. You read. — Josh Hunt, Obedience (Josh Hunt, 2015).
- What are some activities you could engage in that would lead to the attitude of gratitude?
Write down three things you are grateful for every day and why you are grateful for them. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds so simple that there is a good likelihood that you won’t take it seriously and you won’t actually do it. But it is in the doing that all the benefits come. And, in this case the benefits are huge. “In a study of people who completed the first web exercise, ‘Three blessings’, Seligman found that 94% of severely depressed individuals became less depressed, and 92% became happier, with an average symptom relief of a ‘whopping 50% over only 15 days’ (Seligman, 2005).”88 “The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”89 — Josh Hunt, Obedience (Josh Hunt, 2015).
- I’d like to invite you to keep this idea of gratitude in the back of your mind while we look at a couple of verses that might seem unrelated. First, 1 Timothy 5.13. There is a lot of bad behavior here. Look for the cause. What was the cause of this bad behavior?
Note it says they got “into the habit.”
- There is a similar idea Hebrews 10.24 – 25. Why is it that some in our group are not here today?
The last one is a classic, and one we referred to earlier. It has to do with habit of meeting with the church or not. This verse teaches that we should form the habit of encouraging one another daily. By the way, notice the habit is not to sit in straight rows and watch the same event happen on the same stage. The habit is to encourage one another. I encourage you; you encourage me. It is a habit. We do it every day. — Josh Hunt, Break a Habit; Make a Habit (2020 Vision, 2013).
- What place does habit have in Christian living?
The vast majority of what we do is simply habit.
- We either pray or not as a function of habit
- We read our Bibles or not as a function of habit
- We go to church or not as a function of habit.
The writer of Hebrews warned that some people had gotten out of the habit of meeting with fellow believers—to everyone’s detriment. They didn’t intend to stop meeting together. They didn’t stop meeting together as an act of rebellion. They simply got out of the habit. Most of life is that way.
- Did you exercise today? If not, it is likely you have not formed the habit of exercise.
- Did you have a Quiet Time today? If not, is almost certain that you have not cemented the habit of Quiet Time.
- Are you giving regularly? No? Form a habit.
- Are you memorizing God’s Word? What a wonderful habit that is!
“Good habits are hard to form and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with.” — Josh Hunt, How to Live the Christian Life (Good Questions Have Groups Talking, 2017).
- How would you form the habit of gratitude?
Here is the key to forming a habit:
- Set a low bar.
- Go for ruthless consistency.
- Get a long list of reasons why you want to establish the habit and what bad things will happen if you don’t.
- Take some friends with you.
- Overdetermine success.
Josh Hunt, How to Live the Christian Life (Good Questions Have Groups Talking, 2017).
- How long does it take to form a habit?
Do a google search for, “How long does it take to form a habit?” and you might find the answer, “21 days.” Read the fine print. Research shows it take far more than that—on the order of about two months.
Of course, if depends on what that habit is. Getting into the habit of eating ice cream is easier than getting into the habit of eating broccoli. — Josh Hunt, How to Live the Christian Life (Good Questions Have Groups Talking, 2017).
- To develop a habit, we do well to set a low bar and go for ruthless consistency. What would this look like in developing the habit of gratitude?
When I teach on Quiet Time I always turn to Nehemiah 8.5, “Ezra opened the book.” I always explain that this is the single most difficult part of forming the life-changing habit having a daily Quiet Time. Get the Book open.
Once the Book opens, all kinds of good things happen. You might find something really interesting. The Holy Spirit might start working. You might find something you are curious about. You might have a question. You might find something to apply. All kinds of good things happen once you get the Book open. Nothing happens until the Book is open.
The low bar in this case, is getting the Book open. If you want to have a vibrant, vital, warm, life-changing life with God, it is largely about the habit of starting your day with your Bible on your lap. It starts with getting the Book open.
When I started exercising years ago, I set a low bar—take a walk around the block every day. Walk every day. I didn’t set the goal of walking five miles a day. I set a low bar. One short walk around the block each day.
I remember one night coming home from church. It was nine o’clock, cold and dark. I was tired and grumpy. I realized I had not taken my walk. I walked. I walked around the block.
Question: how much difference did that half-mile walk around my block make to my overall health?
From one perspective, it didn’t make any difference at all. One half-mile walk is not going to change your life.
On the other hand, it made all the difference in the world. It helped to form a habit—a habit I have kept with me till this day. With the habit of daily exercise, good health is much more likely. From a statistical perspective, I can look forward to much better health in years to come because I took that half-mile walk. — Josh Hunt, How to Live the Christian Life (Good Questions Have Groups Talking, 2017).
- Ruthless consistency. Sounds like a lot of work. Why can’t we just try hard to be grateful this year?
Much of Christian teaching on discipleship could be reduced to this sentence: try to do better. It rarely works.
Here is what I recommend. Work on one habit at a time. Identify one key behavior. Go for ruthless consistency.
Get the Book open every day.
Walk around the block (or more) every day. No exceptions. Ruthless consistency.
Only ruthless consistency will weld in the habit. Only ruthless consistency will get it deep into your psyche that this is what you do.
Ruthless consistency will change your identity. You start to see yourself as the kind of person who starts their day with their Bible on their lap. Once your identity changes, your behaviour will follow. As Jayson Demers says it, “habits are grounded in consistency.” — Josh Hunt, How to Live the Christian Life (Good Questions Have Groups Talking, 2017).
- It still sounds like a lot of work. Will it be worth it? Let’s brainstorm again some of the benefits of practicing the activity of gratitude until it becomes a habit. What good things come to the grateful?
Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. It is the greatest of virtues. Studies have linked the emotion with a variety of positive effects. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and forgiving of others. People who keep a gratitude journal are more likely to have a positive outlook on life. Grateful individuals demonstrate less envy, materialism, and self-centeredness. Gratitude improves self-esteem and enhances relationships, quality of sleep, and longevity.1 If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder, then, that God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude. — Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
- What does lack of gratitude cost us?
Psychology Today published an article titled “The Benefits of Gratitude,” which mentions,
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, say, a consumer-oriented emphasis on what one wants or needs. . . . Studies show that . . . grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy.2
Energy, optimism, and empathy for others are the fuel to invest in people and relationships.
On the other hand, when we’re not grateful, we tend to take a short-term approach and are self-serving toward others. This not only hurts them, it damages the relationship and brings less satisfaction, and more pain, upon us. When we have a conditional, performance-based value system, we are only shooting ourselves in the foot! Being a consumer in relationships simply doesn’t work. — Jeff Kemp and Tony Dungy, Facing the Blitz: Three Strategies for Turning Trials into Triumphs (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2015).
- I have an idea… We are likely to forget about this teaching by this time tomorrow. Let’s do a Bible reading together on the topic of gratitude. This will be a daily reminder of what we talked about. Does everyone have the YouVersion app? Find a short plan on gratitude. By the way, we are not all supper tech-savvy. Let’s help one another find the same plan and read it in a group together.
Encourage your people to read. At the beginning of every series, my normal is to say, “If you are not reading anything else these days, join me in reading the book of James as we study this together.” Most people need continual encouragement to read their Bibles. Nothing predicts spiritual growth like individuals getting into the Word for themselves. — Josh Hunt, The Effective Bible Teacher, 2013.
- One more thing we could do together. Let’s break up into text-groups of about 5 people in each group. Let’s agree to share one thing each day we are grateful. (I am suggesting about five because I don’t want to get 20 texts a day about this.) Who is in?
- Let’s close with a prayer of gratitude for all God has done for us.