Thankfulness Training: 7 Lessons in Gratitude

Is it a struggle for you to choose to be thankful? Thankfulness Training is a 7-part series that helps us (even us perfectionists) develop the practice of gratitude. The following are excerpts from this series:

  1. Thankfulness Training: Confessions of a Perfectionist
  2. The First Perfectionist and His Impact on Your Attitude of Gratitude
  3. Why Your Joy is Dependent Upon Giving Thanks
  4. The One Place Discouragement Won’t Sprout
  5. Eight Steps to Thankfulness, Part 1
  6. Eight Steps to Thankfulness, Part 2
  7. Scriptures About Giving Thanks


Confessions of a Perfectionist

thank you Lord in wood type

God has been convicting me about my lack of thankfulness. You see, I’m a perfectionist. And as such, I habitually focus on the elements of life that are less than perfect.

When I was a child, my mother was an art student. She would paint the most beautiful scenes—on canvas, on pottery, on things like coal buckets. Passing through the sun room that doubled as her art studio, I loved seeing her painted scenes take shape from day to day. But often, when a scene was completed and ready to be admired, the next day it would be completely painted over again as if she were beginning from scratch.

“Mom, it was beautiful. Why did you start over?” I would ask.

“I didn’t like it,” she would reply.

I didn’t understand that … until I grew up and my own perfectionism became glaringly obvious.

Laser Vision … for What’s Less Than Ideal

I’d love to paint but don’t have the time to learn how. However, as a creative, whether it’s a song I’ve written, a room I’ve decorated for a special event, or simply a present wrapped with creative charm, whatever it is, when it’s completed, it may be beautiful to others, but all I can see is the one place where an element still needs work—the chord that doesn’t quite match what I heard in my imagination, the corner of the room that still needs filling, or the bow that’s off center. Admire and appreciate what is? No, I look to what could be (and in my mind, should be). I focus on what is lacking.

I do this not just with creative works, but with just about everything in life. Give me any situation and I’ll automatically see what’s less than perfect about it. I have to fight not to.

The majority of a scene—99.99 percent—may be wonderful, but rather than focus on it and be thankful, all I seem to see is the .01 percent that needs improvement.

I’m not naturally a positive or thankful person. … I need work. It’s hard enough to be positive about inconsequential things, but give me tough, hard, day-after-day disappointing situations that have a major impact on my life, and I’m not just negative, I develop low-grade, dangerously disguised anger.

Yes, I seem to be a continual work in progress when it comes to gratitude.

The second work of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 is joy—gladness.

Joy doesn’t bubble up naturally from a negative, ungrateful, glass-half-empty pattern of thinking. I know this firsthand. That’s why I need constant conviction by the Holy Spirit. I need Him to shine a light on my ungratefulness and help me choose joy—choose to be thankful.

Thankful People Are Happy People

Recently, I was convicted about my lack of thankfulness as I read Thankful People Are Happy People by David Murray. David writes:

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a research professor of psychology, “The expression of gratitude is a kind of metastrategy for achieving happiness.” Some of the more detailed findings… are:

  • Consistently grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving, and less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely.
  • When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a period of a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep, and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.
  • By noticing more kindness you’ll experience more of it in your life. Counting kindness interventions involve taking daily tallies (mental or physical) of kind acts committed and witnessed, and have been shown to increase people’s levels of positivity.
  • Gratitude encourages moral behavior and helps people cope with stress, trauma, and adversity.
  • It also inhibits negative comparisons with others and pushes out and replaces negative emotions.
  • When we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.
  • Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives.
  • Thankful people feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising.

In Training

Did you notice the word “train” in the second bullet point above?

“When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful….”

This statement is encouraging to me for two reasons:

  1. They picked people randomly—not just the people with a natural propensity toward gratitude.
  2. They “trained” these random volunteers. In other words, anyone, even the most negative among us, can be trained to be more grateful….

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on Your Attitude of Gratitude

Perfectionist man cutting lawn with scissors

Are you bogged down trying to do everything flawlessly? Is your plate of responsibilities so loaded you feel like you’re drowning? Are you exhausted, drained, burned out?

Do you love to make lists? (Double ouch on this one! My lists are color coded—even the ink I use on my sticky notes!) Do you have so many things to do you can’t find time for a restroom break, let alone a pause to express thanks to God?

For us type A people, perfectionism—and the first perfectionist—is at the core of our ingratitude.

Perfectionism and Ingratitude at The Fall

Thankfulness was noticeably absent at the fall. Adam and Eve weren’t content with all that God had given them. They believed Satan’s lies and lusted after the single item God had forbidden—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were dissatisfied with the indescribable blessings God had given them. The indescribable splendor in which they lived wasn’t enough. They wanted more.

In the last post I wrote about my perfectionism and how it causes me to have tunnel vision for what’s wrong with a scenario—even when what’s wrong is microscopic compared to all that’s good and wonderful. I don’t just see the flaw … the flaw is all that I see.

The First Perfectionist

When Lucifer said, “I will be like the Most High,” he didn’t just commit the first recorded offense against God. He became the first perfectionist.

In Martha to the Max, Debi Stack writes:

I didn’t think perfectionism was that bad, but then I guess I never thought about from whence it came.

Still if we agree that a perfectionist is someone who wants perfection, then Lucifer qualifies as the first one. Perfection, with all its power and glory is precisely what he craved most. He saw it firsthand, too. Authentic, immaculate, glorious, pure perfection—and every bit of it was God’s alone….

Lucifer observed perfection long enough to know this: It couldn’t be stolen. It couldn’t be created. But it could be faked.

Counterfeits only “work” when they look like the real thing….The trouble is, most of what we crave—believing it to be perfect—is imperfect…..All those things we’re maxed out for—the perfect job, perfect mate, perfect children, perfect appearance, perfect house—are inherently and terminally imperfect.

Part of the reason we hound this illusion is because, quite simply, it looks so good! Dr. David Stoop, a psychologist, put it this way: “The lie [of perfection] is based on the fact that when people are faced with the choice between what is possible and what is desirable, they usually choose what is desirable, whether it is possible or not.” ….

Doubt and Desire

Lucifer began his deception through Eve’s thoughts. He began by instilling doubt about God’s word:

“Did God really say you shouldn’t eat from every tree in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1).

Next he created an illusion of wonderful things that would happen if she ate of the forbidden tree.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 4-5).

He painted an illusion of perfection … and enticed Eve to desire it.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (v. 6-7, emphasis added).

They bought the deception, ate of the tree … and their eyes were opened. They saw the illusion for what it was—a lie.

Perfection: A Deception

Perfectionism enslaves us and puts us in bondage to a lie. When we view anything through the perfectionism lens, it’s a dead give away that we’ve been deceived. That’s right—deceived. Perfection is an illusion. A counterfeit. A lie. Deception.

There are more verses in the New Testament warning us against deception than against temptation. Why is this? It’s because much of our behavior stems from…

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Upon Giving Thanks

JOY Spelled Out in Colorful Alphabet Building Blocks

Do you wish you had more joy in life? Are you a glass-half-empty person who can’t help but find a reason to be ungrateful in every circumstance?

The Relationship Between Thanksgiving and Joy

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp describes her route through pain and loss—her route to joy through thanksgiving. She gives insight into Jesus’ sacrifice of thanksgiving at the last supper:

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them …” (Luke 22:19)….

In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”

The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks….

Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy”….

Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo—the table of thanksgiving. [i]

Ann states that chara joy is a result of eucharisteo thanks.

Thanksgiving and Joy in Any Circumstance

Jesus took the bread and gave thanks … even as He was moments away from the incomprehensible suffering of the cross.

Eucharisteo—it’s the word Jesus whispered when death prowled close and His anguish trickled down bloody. He took the bread, even the bread of death, and gave thanks.

We tend to make gratitude and joy conditional events, attaching the word “when” to feelings of thankfulness and joy. “When everything in life comes together the way we want it to,” we rationalize, “then we’ll be grateful and joyful.”

  • When I finally have sufficient income, I’ll be joyful.
  • When my stress on the job improves, I’ll be happy.
  • When my health is great, I’ll be joyful.
  • When I’m not stretched in a thousand directions, I’ll have time to be grateful and joyful.
  • When my children straighten their lives out, I’ll be happy.
  • When my spouse and I are in perfect unity, then I’ll be joyful.

We are to give thanks in all things at all times—even in the midst of imperfect circumstances. When we do, we’ll have joy. Not just in ideal situations but joy in affliction and difficult days, too.

Because this is the route to joy: Enter His courts with thanksgiving. … In His presence is fullness of joy.

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The One Place Discouragement Won’t Sprout

A sprout

Perhaps you’ve thought of the act of giving thanks as being God’s will and a blessing to Him. But have you thought about how beneficial it is to you when you’re thankful? I mentioned one benefit in the last post. Here’s another.

Discouragement: An Open Door in the Heart
of the Ungrateful

Discouragement can stem from ingratitude—and it leaves you vulnerable to oppression and attack in other areas. The following story about the devil’s seed barn illustrates this:

Did you hear about the man who found the devil’s seed barn? It’s where the devil keeps the seeds he sows in the hearts and lives of human beings. The man noticed there was a super abundance of one kind of seed. It was the seed of discouragement. When he asked the devil why he had so many of those, the devil said, “Well, if I can sow discouragement into a person’s life, then I can get almost anything else I want into his life. The seeds of discouragement will sprout almost anywhere except in the heart of a grateful person. (Click to Tweet)  [1]

Have you been discouraged? Ungrateful? Unaware of the door ungratefulness and discouragement open for the devil?

Blessings Never Cease; Therefore, Thanksgiving Should Never Cease

  • “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, The God of our salvation! Selah” (Psalm 68:19, NKJ). (Click to Tweet)
  • “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23, ESV).

God has loaded you with benefits. He’s been faithful to you with immeasurable faithfulness. Therefore, every day ought to contain a large measure of thanksgiving. And every prayer ought to include thanksgiving….

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Eight Steps to Thankfulness, Part 1

Close up of pinecone with tag that has the word "THANKFUL" tied with a string.

There are eight steps we can take that will lead us to a thankful attitude. The following are the first four steps.

1. Determine to Give Thanks in All Things

Thank God for the simple things.

Thank Him for clean water. For your sense of touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste. For legs that walk and arms that move. For hands to feed yourself. For the beautiful and awe-inspiring creation He has given you to enjoy. For the roof over your head. For food in the pantry. Even for dirty dishes, which symbolize the fact food has filled your stomach.

Thank Him for the sorrowful things.

Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. Unfairly accused of starting a riot, he was in prison encouraging believers (in word and in example) to “give thanks to God always for everything” (v. 20).

How is it possible to give thanks for all things? Because God rules over all things.

Thank Him for seemingly insufficient things.

Perhaps you feel you have insufficient health, or talents, or opportunities, or close friends, or material possessions. What seems insufficient to you might seem superabundant to someone else.

For example, you may feel you don’t enough money. Did you know that:

  • 925 million people do not have enough to eat—more than the combined populations of USA, Canada and the European Union.
  • Nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day
  • About 20 percent of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day

What you may spend during two or three trips to Starbucks is all that someone else has to live on for an entire week.

Thank Him for the superb things.

This goes without saying. Thank God for the obvious blessings—the job promotion, the excellent grades in school, the sale of your home at the desired time, the health improvement, the word of encouragement at the precise time it was desperately needed.

2. Give God Praise

Acts 16 gives the account of when Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. They could have complained and been angry and ungrateful. But instead, they praised God….

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Eight Steps to Thankfulness, Part 2

Close up of pinecone with tag that has the word "THANKFUL" tied with a string.

In part one of this post, I listed the first four of eight steps we can take that will lead us to a thankful attitude. This is the continuation of that list, beginning with step number five:

5. Help others.

Give your life away. Stop focusing on your puny problems and discontentment. Start focusing on helping others. Jesus said the more you give your life away, the more you find it. The more unselfish you become, the more thankful and joyful you’re going to be. When we help others, we receive far more than we could ever give … and our lives become full to the brim with deep satisfaction and contentment.

What are you doing to help others? How are you giving your life away?

6. Learn to be content.

While imprisoned in Rome, Paul received gifts from Philippian friends. “I rejoice greatly,” he said, but quickly added, “I am not saying this because I am in need…”

Seriously? Not in need? Paul was in jail. Yet he told his friends, “I am amply supplied.”

Paul exercised his spiritual arithmetic skills. He took the equation of suffering (having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have) and adjusted his desires in light of Christ’s sufficiency. Christ was more than enough whether Paul was “well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12).

Possessing contentment and a grateful heart doesn’t mean we no longer feel discomfort or misery. It means that in spite of our feelings, in spite of what our natural man wants, we choose to give up temporal longings. We choose to align our desires with our citizenship in Heaven. Our circumstances are very much of this earth, but our longings, our cravings, our values become heavenly oriented.

7. Recount what God has done. Remember

past troubles—and God’s deliverance.

“I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us– yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses” (Psalm 63:7).

Time and again in the Bible God’s people recount the past. They tell of God’s faithful activity in their lives and the lives of their ancestors. This builds gratitude and faith, reminding God’s people that He will be faithful; He will fulfill His promises….

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Scriptures About Giving Thanks

Bible open to Colossians 3:17

Below are thirty-one passages of scripture about giving God thanks — that’s one for every day of the month! I challenge you to take one passage a day, personalize it, and turn it into a prayer.

For example:

  • 1 Chronicles 16:34 could be prayed: “I give You thanks, Lord, for You are good; Your steadfast love endures forever!”
  • Psalm 9:1-2 could be prayed: “I give thanks to You, Lord, with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds [name a few deeds: “You’ve forgiven me, redeemed me, given me food to eat, a roof over my head,” etc…]. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”

1 Chronicles 16:34

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Tweet This)

Psalm 9:1-2

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”

Psalm 28:7

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”

Psalm 30:1, 4-5, 11-12

“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me…. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

Psalm 34:1

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Tweet This)

Psalm 40:9-10

“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”

Psalm 50:23

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

Psalm 69:30

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (Tweet This)

Psalm 95:1-4

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.”

Psalm 100:4-5

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 103:2

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

. . . .

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