Gratitude or Platitude?

Giving thanks sounds easy, but one aspect doesn’t come naturally.

Judging by the holiday’s name, the way to celebrate Thanksgiving seems pretty straightforward: What could be simpler than counting your blessings and saying a prayer of thanks for them?

But the beauty and simplicity of the day have, for many, become complicated by a host of things that divert attention from the object of our gratitude: the Lord. Expressing thanks can be difficult when our mind is preoccupied with expectations (our own as well as others’), a loved one isn’t there to celebrate with us, or hot-button issues aren’t given the day off. Add to that the strain of a heavy travel day and getting the jump on Christmas shopping, and no wonder it’s so common for Thanksgiving to be a high-stress occasion.

The truth is, on a day set aside for being grateful, many people feel miserable. In fact, Christians are no exception. Many of us experience the gloom that comes with the holiday season regardless of how cheerful we may be on any other given day. However, regardless of our feelings, the Bible tells us to constantly give thanks to the Lord.

Read Ps. 100:4; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:17; and 1 Thess. 5:18

Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from these passages. Then read the selections, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?

Reisenberg, The Mountains of the Giants, 1839, by Caspar David Friedrich

Two reasons many of us don’t get the principle of thanksgiving right are somewhat opposite to each other:

1. We give thanks only for the things we feel thankful for.

2. We speak words of thanksgiving out of habit without truly feeling grateful.

In the first case, we fall short of the goal laid out for us in God’s Word—namely, to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In the second case, we’re behaving religiously on the outside without being transformed on the inside. Instead of giving the Lord our gratitude, we are offering Him platitudes.

It’s easy to feel grateful when the circumstances in our life look sunny or when God answers a prayer with a clear “yes”—an ailing loved one is healed, a job opportunity becomes a sure thing, or your child decides to follow Christ. But the apostle Paul said “in everything.” That may not seem logical or even possible at first. How can you give thanks when your teenager is rebelling, when a co-worker constantly undermines you, or when you feel as if you’re drowning in debt?


Write your thoughts in a journal.

One of the wonderful mysteries about knowing Jesus is that we are able to do something the world would deem crazy or weak—to give thanks in difficult circumstances. We know that our hardships are great opportunities for reflecting God’s love and setting an example of humility and gratitude. And yet many of us still find it hard not to grumble over minor inconveniences. So what’s the problem?

It’s easy to feel grateful when circumstances look sunny. But the apostle Paul said “in everything.”

If we find ourselves complaining instead of recognizing God’s hand in any given situation, there may be a weak link in our connection with the Lord, such as:

1. Greed—We’re not satisfied with what we have and are unable to feel grateful until we have everything we want.

2. Lack of faith—We doubt that God is watching over us and fear our current situation will ultimately result in harm.

3. Entitlement—We feel that we have earned or deserved any good thing in our life and, therefore, don’t see the need to thank anyone for our blessings.

4. Pride—We believe we shouldn’t have to suffer, and we feel resentful when God lets us face trials.

5. Tunnel vision—We are blind to the suffering of those in worse circumstances than ours—people who’d be glad to have just a fraction of the privileges we enjoy.

• Can you think of some other reasons one might fail to feel gratitude toward the Lord in any given situation?


• Could you relate to one (or more) of the items listed? If so, what might you do to address that issue?

Through Jesus, we are able to do things the world would deem crazy or weak, such as giving thanks in difficult circumstances.

• In what way do Proverbs 11:28 and Jeremiah 9:23-24 relate to the list of weak links?

• What does Scripture suggest? (See Jer. 29:11-14; Col. 3:12-15; and James 1:17.)

• Ask the Lord to reveal anything that might be hindering you from recognizing all you should be thanking Him for. Confess any unwillingness to express gratitude for circumstances that seem unpleasant or unwelcome.


•Thomas à Kempis said, “Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will deserve to receive greater. Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as especial favours. If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.” How might his words apply to you?

• This week, take time to write a gratitude list, but compile one with a twist. Instead of making note of the obvious blessings in your life—the things you like and enjoy—write down all the things you are tempted to complain about. Each day, focus on one or two, pray about them, and ask God to help you be grateful even if you can’t immediately recognize the blessing in those situations.

• By the end of the week, try to come up with one reason that you can give thanks for each item on your list.

• Meditate on (and try to memorize) Psalm 95:1-7.


Related Topics:  Faithfulness

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4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

18 in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

28 He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.

23 Thus says the LORD, Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;

24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.

11 For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, `plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

14 I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, `and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, `and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;

13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

1 O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods,

4 In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also.

5 The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice,

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