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How to Have a Grateful Heart

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A few years ago, I wrote a short post about having a month of gratitude in November. While the ideas I shared are a great place to start, sometimes I think we need to push ourselves in the gratitude department! Maybe that’s especially true for you this year. Or maybe, since 2020, it seems like it’s especially true always. How can you and I and all of us learn to have a grateful heart all year round, not just during the month of Thanksgiving?

Why You Need a Grateful Heart

gratitude journal with gold pen

It’s easy to look up reasons for practicing gratitude. There are hundreds – probably tens of thousands – of pages on the Internet about this practice. But as Christians, we always want to be sure we are choosing God’s way in everything.

How to Make Gratitude a Habit

Not that the reasons you’ll find for practicing gratitude are worthless – they’re not! Gratitude can increase your happiness, improve your health, strengthen your relationships, advance your career, and even help build your bank account! These are all good things.

But the question isn’t “Are these good?” The question is, “Why does God want me to be grateful?” For that answer, we turn to the Bible.

What the Bible Says About Gratitude

  • First, your gratitude is rooted in your salvation in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). What greater reason for being thankful and grateful is there? You have been redeemed from sin and released from its punishment. Eternity will be too short to express your gratitude for that priceless gift!
  • Second, your gratitude is based on the nature of God. He is good, loving, and righteous. His plans are always accomplished, and His lovingkindness is eternal (Psalm 106:1; 118:29; 138:2; Isaiah 25:1).
  • Third, your gratitude is a reflection of the awareness of all that God has done and is continuing to do for you and in you (Psalm 9:1; 79:13; 118:21; 139:14;1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
  • Fourth, your gratitude glorifies the Father throughout the world as you point to Him as the source of blessings and accomplishments (Psalm 105:1; Isaiah 12:4; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
  • Finally, your gratitude is a choice that recognizes you are incapable of living victoriously apart from your precious Savior (Psalm 86:12; Ephesians 5:4, 20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This list is not exhaustive. There are many more reasons we need to be practicing gratitude as a daily habit. But it is certainly a good place to start! I encourage you to take the time to read the verses included, meditate on them, and pray them back to the Lord as you practice how to have a grateful heart.

How to Create a Grateful Heart

Start With a Trigger or Anchor

give thanks letterpress with tea

Starting any new habit can be a challenge. It is no different when you are learning how to have a more grateful heart. For any new habit, it helps to have a trigger or anchor to remind you to practice gratitude. Any time or occasion during your day can be a trigger or anchor for you to practice being more grateful.

What works for you will probably be different than what works for me or someone else. If you need ideas, start with one of the suggestions below. If those ideas don’t help, search for more triggers and anchors, ask friends, or pray for wisdom from God. He’s good at answering prayers for wisdom!

A list of gratitude triggers and anchors to try:

  • Your morning alarm
  • A noon reminder on your phone
  • Just after dropping the last child at daycare or school
  • When starting a new load of laundry
  • Before eating a meal
  • After your devotional reading – write one sentence in a journal
  • Before turning on the TV
  • While loading the dishwasher
  • Just before pulling into the driveway after work
  • As you lay down for bed at night
  • At a meaningful personal time each day (for example, 1:05 PM every day because that was when your precious Grandmother entered Jesus’ presence)
today I am grateful for written in a journal

Try Writing it Down

I’m fond of journals. I think there is power in writing our thoughts down. The process of writing (not typing!) forces us to think about what we are writing. To zero in on what is going on inside our heads in a way that the daily hustle of life seldom allows.

This is in some ways even more true when it comes to gratitude. Taking just a few seconds or even an entire minute to write a sentence of gratitude can focus your thoughts on actually being grateful, not just checking something off your to-do list.

If you’re out shopping, at work, running errands, or playing chauffeur, this can be more challenging. But you can easily find small notebooks to keep in your purse, desk, or car for writing down your words of thanksgiving.

An added benefit of writing your daily gratitude reminders is that over time you will be able to look back and see God’s hand at work in ways you might otherwise forget. Noticing what God is doing in your life, and then thanking Him for it, opens the door to ever more blessings!

Don’t Go to Bed Until…

Make a promise to yourself and to the Lord that you will not go to bed without writing down at least one item of thanks for each day. More is always nice – but don’t stress yourself. Some days are just hard. If all you can offer is one sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psalm 50:14; 23), God is still honored.

Gratitude changes everything - inspirational text on a vintage slate blackboard

I urge you to get a small notebook today and set it with a pen or pencil right beside your bed. Start tonight writing one short sentence of gratitude to the Lord. He loves you. He loves to bless you. But He doesn’t like to be ignored! Give the Father all the thanks He deserves.

Gratitude Empowers Your Prayer Life

Gratitude is not only beneficial for you, it is also an essential part of a vibrant prayer life. However, limiting your expressions of thanks and gratefulness to you dedicated prayer time will result in both weaker prayers and weaker gratitude.

Practicing gratitude throughout the day helps you focus on the goodness of God all day long. So, when you enter His presence in an intentional time of prayer, your heart is already tuned to Him.

Think of daily gratitude practice as keeping your tires aligned on your car. It’s so much easier to drive with your tires aligned correctly. And it’s so much easier to pray when your heart is already aligned with the Lord through habitual gratitude.

If you struggle with other aspects of prayer besides gratitude, a prayer journal can be a valuable tool. I have used a prayer journal off and on for many years. One of the special things about using a prayer journal is that it can change as your needs change.

Maybe all you need is a small notebook in which to write everything: wants, needs, sorrows, joys, blessings, gratitude, verses that impact your heart, and anything else. Everything is written in one place as an anchor and record of your life.

Maybe you need a more structured notebook. Something with a place for gratitude, for specific prayers for children, your church, or your spouse (among other people); for notes from your devotional time, or lists of books to read that will build up your faith.

If you need a more structured tool, check out the prayer resources I have available in my Etsy shop – including a great deal on bundled prayer tools!

No matter what tools you use, the important thing is to have a tool that helps you pray more specifically, intentionally, and consistently – and helps you have a grateful heart.

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