God showers us with thousands of blessings every day. So why are we so prone to miss those and fixate on the handful of hardships?
This post will reintroduce you to a thousand gestures of God’s love coming from every direction.
Noticing God’s Love
The first step to enjoying God’s love is noticing it. This chapter will help you do that.
Adam and Eve failed to notice God’s generosity because they turned their attention from what God had given to what he had not. When that happened, God’s staggering generosity suddenly felt like stinginess. And from that perspective, they were vulnerable to the serpent’s message. God is withholding something you should have.
Was he? What does it mean to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad?
Adam and Eve already knew what God had said about what’s good and bad. I believe eating of that tree represented Adam and Eve taking it upon themselves to decide what’s good and bad for them rather than trusting what God had said.
The people of Israel ate from that tree when each man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). We are all tempted to eat from that tree every time we think we know better than God how he should have expressed his love to us.
“No God. Not that gift. You should have given me something better.
I know better than you what’s good and bad for me. Brownies, not cookies.” This is what we say every time we complain.
And when you think that way, that attitude turns your shoulders bit by bit until you have your back to God’s love. All your attention is on what you think would be good and you become blind to God’s favor.
And the more oblivious you are to God’s moment-by-moment expressions of his love, the greater your anxiety. Without a God who loves you, you really do have a lot to worry about.
Gratitude Shifts Your Focus
Gratitude cures anxiety by shifting your attention from what you lack to God’s love. It turns the orientation of your soul 180 degrees away from anxiety back to God’s favor. This is why it’s impossible to feel anxiety and gratitude at the same time.
|Anxiety is your soul guarding against a threat.||Gratitude is your soul welcoming blessing.|
|Anxiety is an expression of fear.||Gratitude is enjoyment of favor.|
|Anxiety is on the lookout for trouble.||Gratitude’s eyes are pealed for God’s kindnesses.|
|Anxiety frets about the evil that people intend.||Gratitude rejoices that God meant those same actions for good (Genesis 50:20).|
Not only does gratitude reverse the physical effects of anxiety, it undoes all the spiritual damage as well. Gratitude is the reversal of everything the bad kind of anxiety does.
Appreciating Common Gifts
Gratitude is a miracle cure, but we won’t be grateful for the blessings we don’t notice.
One reason we lose sight of God’s kindness is we’re distracted by our troubles. In the next chapter, we’ll learn to appreciate even our troubles as blessings from God. But it’s important to realize that the painful gifts are always outnumbered by pleasant ones. Always.
How many problems do you currently have? Ten? Twenty? Maybe fifty? And how many blessings? Less than 1000? I doubt it. So if that’s the ratio, why aren’t we overflowing with joy?
One reason is God’s gifts are so abundant, ubiquitous, and reliable that we take most of them for granted. Like Adam and Eve, we fail to see the countless fruit trees because we’re so used to them. We forget they’re even there.
Until you’re deprived of it, you forget what a delight it is to simply have air to breathe. The beauty of the creation, the stability of the laws of physics, paved roads, loved ones, functional limbs, air conditioning, comfortable chairs, transportation, cell phones, grocery stores, clothing, books, music, thunderstorms, pleasant memories—the list of good gifts you receive every hour is endless.
Our problem is not our problems. It’s our blindness to our blessings.
Part of it is the way we were created. It wouldn’t be healthy to live in a constant state of arousal, so God designed us to adapt to our circumstances. You have an emotion, positive or negative, and soon adapt to it so your emotions return to a neutral state. If you triple your salary and increase your standard of living, it’s amazing … until you get used to it. Then it’s just normal life. When the pipes in your dream home freeze or your late model Mercedes gets a flat tire, you’re just as prone to grumble as when you were in the studio apartment with a $500 car.
Emotional adaptation is a gift from God, but it can get in the way of gratitude. Remember the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable? How did he get such a bad attitude? He grew up in a wealthy, loving home, and everything his father owned was his (Luke 15:31). Yet he still felt deprived when his brother got something he didn’t get (Luke 15:29-30). He was so accustomed to his father’s love and all that came with it, he became blind to it.
For Granted or As Granted?
A good starting place for a grateful life is to reacquaint yourself with the common blessings you’ve gotten used to. And remember, the goal is not merely to enjoy them. It’s to become emotionally responsive to the love behind them.
Shift from taking them for granted to taking them as granted—granted as gestures of God’s love for you.
When you recognize each enjoyment is a gesture of God’s favor, and you are emotionally responsive to that favor, that’s gratitude. And it’s a dose of joy.
What if a dozen or more times a day you injected little bursts of happiness into your soul through gratitude? Notice the pleasantness of some fresh air, a tasty bite of food, shelter from the rain, a chance to bring a smile to someone’s face.
Imagine Unfolding Creation
Try this. When you’re driving or walking, imagine out ahead of you, just beyond your line of sight, there’s nothing but an empty void. But as you move, God creates everything ahead of you. Trees, roads, buildings, cell service, people, light, air to breathe—it all unfolds right in front of you as you progress forward. Imagine each item has a tag that says, “From God to [your name]. Enjoy!”
Sound like a bizarre thing to imagine? It’s not that far from reality. God did create all those things using people and natural processes as his tools. The only part that’s different is the timing. Rather than doing it spontaneously, he created it all ahead of time with this moment in mind.
But is the “from God to you” tag realistic? Did God really create all those things for your enjoyment? Yes.
“God … richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
The goal of this exercise is to rediscover the commonplace blessings that have blended into the backdrop of your life, and to transform them from meaningless white noise to surprising, delightful gifts from God. Let this spark a fountain of gratitude in your heart toward God.
Gratitude for Enjoyability
Enjoy not only the gifts, but your ability to enjoy them in the moment. Have you noticed how sometimes a smell, a breeze, or a drink is especially pleasing and other times that same smell or drink does nothing for you? That’s because you can’t enjoy anything unless God grants you the ability to enjoy it.
“When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
Inability to enjoy life’s pleasures is a curse. Just ask any depressed person. It’s one thing to be deprived of blessings, but to have them and be unable to enjoy them—that’s like pulling the plug in your soul and draining your hope dry.
If God stopped giving you the ability to enjoy things, your world would drop into the blackest, most hopeless depression. Think back to the last ten experiences God enabled you to enjoy. Each one was a special gift from God to you expressing his love. Thank him!
Just as it’s important to be specific when making requests (see chapter 7), words of thanks should also be specific. The more generalized the thanks, the less meaningful. If you tell your spouse, “Thank you for everything you do,” it won’t mean much to you or to your mate. Far better to say, “When you touched my knee and smiled, it meant a lot.” It’s the same with God. If you say, “Thank you, God, for everything in the whole wide world” that’s not likely to move your heart like thanking him for a cool breeze you’re enjoying in the moment.
Being specific forces you to think carefully about what God has given. And the more deeply you consider the gift, the greater your gratitude.
In one study, two groups were told to write five statements of gratitude. The first group was to write one thankful sentence for each of five blessings. The other group wrote five sentences about one blessing. After repeating this for ten weeks, the group making more statements about fewer blessings reported being happier, better rested, more alert, and more energetic than the other group.
It’s better to think deeply about one gift than to list many gifts in a shallow way.
Consider the Day of Your Death
One way to increase your gratitude is by imagining life without blessings you take for granted.
In gratitude studies, people who have lost limbs or suffered other tragic losses had the most emotional, heartfelt gratitude essays. Our minds make sense of things by comparisons. The clearer your view of life without a blessing, the easier it is to be grateful. Even watching a sad movie increases gratitude more than watching a comedy.
The most basic of all God’s gifts, and one of the easiest to take for granted, is life itself. To increase your gratitude, consider your mortality.
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
Go to a funeral, look at the casket, and remind yourself – “I am going to be in one of those.” Studies have shown that thinking about one’s own death or imagining a near-death experience increases feelings of happiness and gratitude.
When Your Mind Won’t Let Go of the Problem
Anxiety Glues Your Attention to the Problem
Every book on anxiety advises shifting your attention from the negative to the positive. But that’s difficult because the whole point of good anxiety is to keep your attention and energy fixed on the problem until you’ve done all you can do to solve it. So by design, anxiety glues your thinking to the issue at hand. Shifting your attention away feels next to impossible because it goes against the very design of the human soul.
It’s difficult, but it’s essential. When we blind ourselves to God’s kindness and love and stare intently at our problems, soon we become convinced that all we have are problems. That will so damage your affections that when you do finally acknowledge God’s love, you’ll accept it intellectually, but you won’t feel any joy or peace from it.
Cluster Gratitude Around the Anxiety
If your soul insists on obsessing about the problem, instead of fighting that, use it to your advantage. Use your thoughts about the problem to lead you into thanksgiving. Give thanks for everything you can think of that’s related to the problem.
In the next chapter, we’ll talk about giving thanks for the problem itself. But for now, give thanks to God for the pleasant blessings that surround the problem. Cluster your thanksgiving around your anxieties.
That way, you’re working with the natural flow of where your attention goes instead of against it. Your anxiety says, “I won’t let your attention drift from this issue.” So you say, “Fine. I’ll just cluster my thanksgiving around the issue.”
Your check engine light decides to make an appearance on your way to work. That needs attention, but you can’t do anything about it right now. You tell yourself that, but the anxiety won’t go away. What do you do?
Thank God for every blessing you can think of related to your car. That God gave you a car, the moments of pleasure you have enjoyed in that car, the sights you’ve seen while driving it, the ways you’ve been able to serve people with it, the warmth you’ve enjoyed from the heater, the music you’ve enjoyed from the radio, the shelter it has been from the rain. Anxiety won’t let you put the car out of your mind, so instead of trying to fight that, just turn your thoughts to car-related blessings.
And remember, it’s not enough to simply rattle off the blessings. Gratitude is more than a feeling, but it isn’t less than a feeling. No emotion, no gratitude. Go beyond listing the blessings to the love behind them. The reason God gave you all those gifts was to express his love for you. Open your heart to be receptive and responsive to that love. Enjoy being loved like that.
It might take the rest of your commute to get your heart there, but it will be worth it. Make sure by the time you arrive at work, you’re delighted by countless gestures of God’s love related to your car rather than being stressed over the maintenance issue (and all the other stressors your heart would attach to it if you let anxiety run).
Enjoy Completed Gifts
In her book, Choosing Gratitude, Nancy Leigh DeMoss relays the account of a man who suffered the worst of all losses—the death of his teenage daughter, Karen.
The Johnson family was spending the weekend at a vacation cottage in the southern California desert. Mr. Johnson saw a friend, accompanied by two other men, approaching the cottage and went outside to find out what they wanted. They broke the news to him that Karen’s car was hit by a drunk driver and she had not survived the accident.
The men went with Mr. Johnson into the house where he gathered his wife and four younger children together in the living room. He began by saying, “Before we ask God why He took Karen home in a head-on collision a few hours ago, let’s thank Him for the seventeen years we had her.”
All God’s gifts in this world are temporary. He blesses you with a steak dinner, it’s a wonderful gift, but it’s not forever. In a matter of minutes, it’s gone. The temporary nature of his gifts in this world usually doesn’t bother us until there’s a gift that lasts a shorter time than we expected.
But is our trust in our expectations? Or in God’s goodness and wisdom? Would we dictate to the Giver the proper duration of an unearned, undeserved gift?
Remember, gratitude submits to the giver’s way of expressing love. This includes both the gift and the timing.
The Best Time for Gratitude
The moment we are most tempted with ingratitude is when we suffer a loss. But that’s actually the best time for gratitude, because it’s when you have the clearest view of the gift God gave you.
God gave me the gift of single life for twenty-two years. Then that gift ended. He replaced it with the gift of married life. How long do I get that one? I don’t know. I haven’t received the full gift yet. Maybe it will last a couple more decades. Maybe only a couple more minutes. Only God knows what he has in mind. I can give God thanks for part of it. But until it ends, I won’t know the full extent of this gift. As of now, it keeps on giving.
When is the best time to give thanks for a gift? When can you most appreciate its value? Isn’t it the moment you lose it?
Karen’s father may not have fully appreciated the gift of a teenage daughter the day before when she was in a foul mood or acted irresponsibly. Maybe he had taken her for granted. But at the moment he learned he would never see her again—isn’t that when he grasped most clearly the preciousness of that gift? Your perspective on the value of a gift is clearest when it concludes.
Big Losses and Small Losses
This principle applies to big gifts and small gifts. For the seven years we have lived in our current home, we’ve had an incredible view of the Rocky Mountains out our back window. Recently, they built houses there. No more mountain view.
My natural inclination would have been to grumble. Especially since they told us it would always be open space. But I was just learning this principle, so I gave it a try. I sized up the gift we had been given. And instead of imagining a view-less future, I savored the beautiful seven years.
After just a few minutes, I was floored by what a wonderful gift it had been. I recalled dinners where we marveled at gorgeous sunsets. Conversations we had had about the mountains. Storms we had watched. Even the golf balls I hit out into that space. So much pleasure! Seven years worth. What kind of colossal ingratitude would it take for me to shake my fist at God and say, “Seven years is the wrong number God. It should have been more”?
Take advantage of every loss, big or small, to amplify your gratitude. It’s the perfect time.
Godliness Training Exercises
- When you are walking or driving, try the exercise of imagining creation unfolding just ahead of you. Consider how many gifts God placed in your path for your enjoyment and respond to those gestures of love.
- On two of the next seven days, write out your words of thanksgiving to God. Be specific and as detailed as possible. Attempt at least five sentences per blessing.
- Consider a few of the biggest blessings in your life. Think of how easily things could have been different, preventing those blessings. Imagine life without them.
- Each time you feel anxiety, cluster your expressions of thanks around the pleasant gifts related to that anxiety. Create some neural pathways that connect thoughts of the problem with related blessings.
- Each time you suffer a loss, no matter how small, thank God for the gift that was just brought to completion.
- Keep reviewing the verses you have memorized so far and add Matthew 6:32-34.
For the video of this session, click here.
 Cited by Robert A. Emmons, Gratitude Works! Audiobook, ch.2, Julian for Gratitude.
 Robert A. Emmons, Gratitude Works! Audiobook, ch.1, The Challenge of Gratitude.
 Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, 2011, 102.