Have you ever wondered where thankfulness comes from? Does it come from having things like health, a spouse, a family, or a great career? Does it come from owning a big home or a fast car? Most would agree that if thankfulness came from these things, then un-thankfulness would also come from not having these things. A materialistic culture might make such assumptions, but the meaning goes deeper than the matter that passes through our hands.
I am convinced that both thankfulness and un-thankfulness are ways of thinking. Both are a choice of how we see God and the world. Both can be fostered or inhibited.
Here are 7 attitudes that can hinder us from being thankful:
1. Being possessed by our possessions – Greed
The “stuff” God allows through our hands is the test of whether or not that “stuff” will have us, or whether we can just have “stuff”. The constant drive for more in a materialistic culture will keep us in a constant unthankful state because we never attain what we think will make us happy. Jesus warned against being defined by “stuff”:
And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
2. Fixating on the past.
Some are stuck in a cycle of time. They cannot be happy today because of happened yesterday. Psychologists call this "rumination. It’s when cows chew on their cud, chomping over and over without swallowing. Psychologists say that
when people ruminate, “they repeat negative thoughts over and over, dwelling on something either in the past or the present” (Psychology Today).
Un-thankfulness says, “Look at all the bad things that have happened to me all these years”, but thankfulness says, “It’s been rough but look at what God has done through it”. Paul, not fixating on his prison cell, said: “I know that this shall work to my salvation”.
3. Playing the comparison game.
We compare our looks, our bodies, our incomes, our families, our spouses, our homes, and our careers with others. We see a “perfectly” built person on TV and instantly (to our dismay) match ourselves up.
The quickest way to have a bad day is to compare yourself to others. It is the quickest way to feel depressed, inadequate or a failure. Comparing ourselves only embraces a spectral fantasy. In fact, we cannot imagine a hero without varnishing over their flaws and imperfections. Thankfulness however embraces our reality as is with gratefulness and says along with the Psalmist,
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14
4. Dwelling on the negative.
It has been said:
“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.” (Peace Pilgrim quotes).
When has focusing on the negative ever helped you in any way? Dwelling on the negative drains every part of you, but thankfulness creates spiritual vitality and lifts you up in every way. God gives us life-giving things to dwell on in these words:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
5. Looking only at what you don't have.
We tend to measure our lives by lack - what we don’t have - Lack of having the perfect job, people’s praise, lack of the things we want, or relationships. We believe that if we don’t have these things, we don’t really have anything. We equate blessing with the amount of "things" we have so that when we lose X, we lose everything. This is why Hebrews tells us:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
6. Believing things that are not true.
“What did he/she mean by that”?. “Did you see how he looked at me”? “The doctor is going to give me the worst case scenario”! “How can God love me if I went through that that situation?”. These outlooks underline the fact that there is what really happened, and then there is the story we tell ourselves.
Did you know that there is a connection between un-thankfulness and believing untruths? Romans connects these words:
"Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened”
When we are unthankful, it opens the door to thankless theories in our head. But true thankfulness always points you back to God and like the Psalmist insists:
“I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living”.
7. The Anxieties of Life
When something intense happens – When someone says something hurtful - An interaction at work- Bad news or tragedy - These have the effect of dropping red dye in a glass of water. Everything becomes clouded. The Word calls this “the cares of this world that choke out the Word”. Any confident thinking or attitudes become strangled out of you. But Paul gives us hope in his letter to the Philippians:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
It has been observed that every letter Paul wrote except for Galatians , 1st Timothy and Titus contained thanksgiving in some way. No other writer opens with thanksgiving the way Paul did. So could it be that it wasn’t the miracles Paul did, the sufferings of being nearly stoned to death more than once, shipwrecked, or beatings that made Paul great. It was Paul’s mindset of gratitude in any circumstance.