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What Does an Attitude of Gratitude Look Like?

journal with the words "today I am grateful"

"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."  

Ephesians 2:10

I don’t know about you, but for me I often find that with the onset of the holiday season comes a season of reflection over the past year – especially when it comes to Thanksgiving. 

Time and again we’re encouraged – and rightly so - to reflect over the things we’re thankful for over the last year.  We’re exhorted to have an “attitude of gratitude” for the blessings God has given us.

But recently, I have begun to turn that question around. Instead of reflecting on what I am thankful for, I’ve been reflecting on the question, "Am I the kind of supervisor my co-workers would be thankful for?” “Am I the kind of daughter my folks would be thankful for?”

“Am I someone that my family would be thankful for?"

Is that you?

For instance, have you ever asked yourself the following question: “What would it be like to be married to me?” or, “What would it be like to have me for a mom?” or a dad, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a co-worker, a neighbor?

It’s an interesting question to ask yourself, isn’t it?  

There are several people I know who could answer these questions with a resounding positive response, but they probably don’t for a variety of reasons.

Some of these people have an honest humility that genuinely wants to do better and be better. While grateful for the redeeming work God has done in them, they always see room for improvement in their thoughts, their attitudes and their actions. These people have a healthy self-awareness of who they are and who God wants them to be, and are willing to cooperate with His Spirit to enact the transformation He desires to accomplish in them from the inside out.

Perhaps that is you?

Others of them could and should respond positively, but they don’t - not because of a proper sense of humility, but rather out of an inappropriate sense of false guilt. They constantly beat themselves up because they can see no good in themselves, not even the good that God’s Spirit is cultivating and bringing forth. No matter what they say or do, there remains a still small voice in the back of their mind, insidiously whispering,

“You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never measure up. You’re such a fake, and someday everyone will see who you really are. A nothing, a no one, and a phony.”

These are the people who do the right things for the wrong reasons. They often strive to earn God’s and other’s approval and affection. They believe if they can just do enough good things, God will love them more, accept them more. They’ll have more friends. People will look up to them and admire them. But it seems that they can never quite do enough. These are the people that are always doing, doing, doing …

Ever wonder if that is you?

I also know several people who should respond to those questions with some conviction and repentance, but they probably don’t.

They’ve grown oblivious to their own flaws and faults, and instead they are quick to point them out in others. They’ve grown so unaware of how they sound and what they do to others that their hearts have become hardened, critical and harsh. Their predominant thoughts are, “I wouldn’t be this way if so-and-so didn’t do such-and-such.” They constantly blame and point a finger at someone else, and yet fail to see their own responsibility. They no longer hear the voice of God in regard to their own shortcomings or His desire to bring about growth in them.

Hopefully that is not you.

I’ve never really been very good at introspection, but I am getting better at it. While I might realize that something is not setting well with me (an argument with my husband, a discipline issue with my kids, a critical attitude), sometimes I have a hard time identifying what that something is. 

And even if I do eventually figure it out, sometimes it can be hard for me to own it in a way that is spiritually appropriate and emotionally healthy.

A few years ago I learned that a great example of that kind of healthy introspection is recorded in Psalm 139. This is a very familiar psalm for many Christians. The first 80 percent of the chapter involves King David exploring all the various ways that God knows him so well. In some translations he uses the phrase, “(You are) intimately acquainted with all my ways.” (v.3)

"O Lord, you have examined my heart
 and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.” – (vv.1-4)

I find it very interesting that after spending 18 verses recounting just how well God knows him, that in the final two verses David says this:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” – (vv. 23-24)

What? Didn’t David just say how well God already knew him? Why does God need to search his heart? I think David knew he needed some appropriate self-awareness. He needed to own his own stuff, sit with it, and then allow God speak to his heart and do His refining work in David’s life.

This can be a difficult process. It can be really painful, too – especially if we bear misplaced, false guilt or discover that we’ve been so busy judging, criticizing and correcting other people’s flaws that we’ve neglected to deal with our own, resulting in hurting those we love the most. That’s a realization that hits hard and cuts us to the quick. 

Is that you?

If you find that you identify with any of these scenarios, I just have one thing to say to you: Welcome to life!

Everyone finds themselves in one or the other of these places multiple times throughout their lives. 

You are not unique in that. You are not alone. But that is no excuse to remain there either!

And here’s the good news: We are not without help! God does not require holy, righteous living without giving us what we need to do it. He never leaves us without a way to accomplish His will and His transformation in us!

In Philippians 2:13, Paul gives us this tremendous insight:

For God is working in you, giving you the desire to do His will and the power to do what pleases him.”

Are you seeing what I’m seeing in that verse? Whatever change in attitude, thoughts, or behaviors God brings to light during your time of self-reflection (Ps. 139:23-24), whatever change He’s asking you to make, He will do the work in you and through you and for you!

The only question is, “Will you choose to cooperate with His Holy Spirit?”

I’ll close with a paraphrase of a beautiful quote by the greek philosopher, Plontius:

“Withdraw into yourself and look.  And if you do not find yourself beautiful
 as yet, do as the Creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful; the Sculptor (i.e., the Holy Spirit)
 cuts away here, smoothes there, makes this line lighter, this other purer, 
until He has shown a beautiful face (and heart) upon the statue.”

Is that you?

If not, then I encourage you to do this self-reflection exercise and allow God to do His refining, transformative work in your heart before Thanksgiving arrives. Learn to do the right things for the right reasons. And with God’s help, you just may be one of the first things that comes to mind when your family and friends are asked what they are most thankful for this holiday season.