Gratitude Changes Everything
Spiritual Habits: The Power of Gratitude

Engage Art | Faith, Reflection & Growth | November 2, 2021

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)

We’ve started a new series here on the Engage Art Blog discussing different spiritual habits practiced by Creatives around the world. Last month, we explored the habit of Contemplation. As the seasons change and the crops are ready for the harvest, our minds turn to gratitude for all God provides. 

The concept of thanking God is so ubiquitous that the phrase “Thank God!” is a common saying of relief and appreciation even among those who have forgotten its meaning. How much more powerful is it when said with intention?

In a way, thanking God for his loving kindness is the beginning of all Christian prayer. Expressing our gratitude for everything God provides—from those who love us to a new opportunity to the feeling of the sun on our skin—is a spiritual practice that can deepen our connection with God and cultivate a positive outlook on life.

Goodness Everywhere

Be thankful in everything, in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Sometimes it may seem like daily life offers little to be grateful for, but we can always thank God for His constant presence and for creating a place for us in His kingdom. Are any of these blessings in your life right now?

  • Changing seasons, each full of beauty
  • Food in your kitchen and water piped right into your house
  • A roof over your head and a safe place to sleep at night
  • Something that made you chuckle—even if it was just a post as you scrolled through your phone
  • A phone or computer for connecting with others and discovering new food for thought (like this blog!)
  • A friend or loved one who supports you and believes in you
  • The hope that tomorrow brings
  • God’s faithfulness and his promise that he is always working for the good (Romans 8:28)

Once you start looking, you will begin to notice little moments of grace, tenderness, promise, and pleasantness throughout your day. You can thank God for them right then—a quick message sent with a glad heart! Or you can save them up for an evening reflection and conversation with God.

“The 1der” by Anomalous Day, an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Engage Art Contest

In your prayers of thanksgiving, do you include everyday things that God reliably provides?

Gratitude Goes Deeper

Giving thanks isn’t just about being polite or demonstrating awareness of your privilege or good fortune. It is an important part of connecting with God’s love and presence in our lives. 

Writing for InterVarsity’s The Well, Jay Sivits describes gratitude as a spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God. Jay writes: “In realizing that God showers us with gifts, we also recognize our dependence on God.” By giving thanks, we remind ourselves that God is generous and trustworthy. This can deepen our trust in God, and make it easier to share deeper needs—which God can then meet, prompting more gratitude and trust on a yet deeper level. 

“grace.” by Christine Armfield, a Semi-finalist in the 2020 Engage Art Contest

Gratitude also pushes against a culture characterized by constant consumption and competition. Writing for the United Methodist Insight, Amanda Holmes says to “see gratitude as a sort of mini-Sabbath. Every time we engage in a practice of gratitude, we are taking time to resist the culture of ‘ok, ok, what’s next?’ by celebrating and appreciating the progress we have made.” Gratitude reminds us that we have much of what we want and all of what we need, and we can trust tomorrow to take care of itself. 

Whatever your relationship with God, studies show that expressing gratitude measurably improves our mental health. Next time you’re having a down day, take five minutes for a prayer of gratitude and see if it provides a pick-me-up. 

Practicing Gratitude

Many of us find joy in setting aside certain moments in our day and week to thank God formally. Choosing to be intentional doesn’t mean you have to be stiff or unnatural. Your gratitude practice can take place:

  • As you brush your teeth in the morning
  • On your daily commute 
  • At the dinner table, before eating
  • During a stroll around the block
  • After you climb into bed

As thanksgiving becomes an anticipated part of your daily or weekly rhythm, you might find yourself paying more attention to gifts and blessings as they appear. Michael Hidalgo describes this process for Relevant magazine as sharpening three tools: “So, what are these things we ought to observe and practice ? Awareness, memory and grace.” 

There are many ways you can cultivate “awareness, memory and grace,” so feel free to experiment and find a habit that works for you. For example, some people carry a small notebook in their pocket. When something praise-worthy happens, it only takes a moment to jot it down. Then you can refer to your notes when you’re ready to spend a few moments praising God and thinking about how His blessings permeate your life. 

Singing songs of thanksgiving, whether in a worship service or while taking a weekend walk, can create a weekly space to observe the larger patterns of God’s provision. One beloved song of thanksgiving is the Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow; 

Praise him, all creatures here below; 

Praise him above, ye heavenly host: 

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

While the Doxology was originally composed for the Anglican church in the late 17th century, this hymn is beloved today by Christians of many backgrounds. The Mennonites, for example, sing it often and have dubbed it “606,” in honor of its hymn number in The Mennonite Hymnal

If you are drawn to language, ancient prayers have a wonderful way of expressing the heart. Here is one prayer of the Eastern Orthodox church that’s meant to be prayed as the day begins:

We give thee hearty thanks for the rest of the past night, and for the gift of a new day, with its opportunities of pleasing thee. Grant that we may so pass its hours in the perfect freedom of thy service, that at eventide we may again give thanks unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Looking for more ideas? Here are 6 ways Creatives can practice gratitude: 

  • Take at least one picture a day of something that makes you grateful. Save them in an album and revisit it periodically. 
  • Curate a thankfulness playlist on your music player. Listen to these songs while you do housework or run errands. Does it change your mood? 
  • If you live with others, try this thankfulness practice together. When setting the table for dinner, place an empty bowl in the middle of the table and put a small handful of dried beans at each seat. Throughout the meal, whenever someone thinks of something they are grateful for, they throw a bean in the common bowl. The gentle *pings* throughout the meal will invite everyone to smile and hear what it sounds like to “Rejoice always, pray continually, [and] give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • Draw or sketch the first 5 things that come to mind that you are grateful for (courtesy of AIGA Los Angeles via Medium)
  • Create a Thanksgiving mandala, gratitude grid, or design your own symbol of gratitude (courtesy of Mindful Art Studio)
  • Compose your own Psalm. Need inspiration? Start here: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:9-10).

How do you like to practice gratitude? 

However you practice gratitude, we hope you make time today to engage culture, engage Scripture, and engage art. 

This post was inspired by the Gratitude prayers in our App. You can find regular prompts for prayers of thanksgiving, along with many other kinds of prayer, over in our App Prayer Track. For more thought on gratitude, you might want to explore our past gratitude posts: “Why Is Gratitude Important?”, Three Powerful Ways to Increase Gratitude in Your Life, 29 More Ideas to Inspire More Gratitude in the World and Ways to Bring Gratitude to Your Art Practice

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