Doesn’t it seem like thankful people are often happier people? When one is thankful there is often a sense of well-being and abundance. As Christians, we are not just generally thankful, we are thankful to God. And thankfulness is a way to connect with God. Psalm 100 gives us a glimpse of how we come before our gracious Father, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving...” (Psalm 100:4, ESV).
Benefits for leaders who are thankful:
1. Practicing thankfulness requires reflection on God’s faithfulness in the past and present, which helps cultivate expectation of a future where God will continue to be faithful.
2. Being grateful is by nature humbling, which is always helpful for leaders who may be tempted towards arrogance because of their position of influence.
Benefits for the community with thankful leaders:
1. Expressing thanksgiving for people on the team and the gifts they contribute is a powerful way to affirm others and build up a community.
2. Being thankful for collaboration invites more collaboration. When leaders recognize and affirm the perspectives, ideas and contributions of the team by showing gratitude, team members offer even more and the whole enterprise prospers.
Biblical inspiration and support:
In Colossians 3 the apostle Paul gives instructions on how Christians are to live. It’s striking how often he directs us to be thankful in this passage:
"15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:15–17, ESV, emphasis mine)
He begins, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts... And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, ESV). Here thankfulness is closely related to peace ruling our hearts, this is also seen in Philippians 4 with a bit more instruction:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV)
Here Christians are directed not to worry about their concerns, but to present them to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Why thanksgiving? Presumably because we know that the Lord hears us and answers us when we pray according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). This is all good news and reason to be thankful.
Recalling God’s faithfulness in the past can be helpful as we strive to be thankful. For example, the writers of the Psalms often recalled God’s deliverance from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea to bring to mind God’s great goodness, power and faithfulness. Following that model, we might ask ourselves, how have we experienced God’s faithfulness in our lives? We can express our thanks to God for His gifts and interventions. I have a friend who taught me that our anxieties grow when we imagine a future without God there. I think she is right. And the truth is, there is not a future where God will not be there! And God will be God in the future as He has been God in the past. He does not change. So, as we recall His faithful work and provision in our lives in the past, it helps us to imagine the future more accurately, with our faithful God there working to save, heal and restore.
Next, the passage speaks of supplication. As we ask for God’s help, we trust God for the timing and particulars of His answer. Trusting God with our concerns with thanksgiving seems to relate to experiencing the peace of God—a peace which is so amazing it does not even make sense to us. This peace is being described in this passage as being like a shield or guard against anxiety itself. This peace guards both our thoughts and our emotions. It would be unwise to try to make this passage into some kind of transactional equation—where if I do this I get that—but it does seem that asking God for what we need and being thankful are part of experiencing this peace. I wonder if that might be because both expressing our thankfulness and being vulnerable with God about our needs help us become conscious of God’s presence and open our hearts to experience the peace that God has given us. They both help us connect with God. And so, bringing us back to the idea of supplication, thanksgiving is part of our prayer life.
Thanksgiving is not just for moments of concentrated prayer though. In this passage we read that we are to be thankful as we sing songs of praise to God, as we study His word and as we teach and correct each other. In fact, “whatever we do” (Colossians 3:15) we are to be thankful. But this command is not burdensome. Being thankful is a blessed posture. When we are thankful, our hearts are full and overflowing. When we are thankful, we are more convinced of the abundance God provides and are therefore more generous people. There is a joy to discover in thankfulness!
One time I was angry at someone close to me. As I drove my car, I indulged in listing off all my complaints against this person. I felt more and more justified in my anger towards them and my heart burned within me. Then I realized (thank you God) how hard my heart was towards this person. So, I pivoted and started thanking God for this person. It was not easy at first, but I started listing off anything that came to mind I could be thankful for about them and our relationship. After a while, my heart started to melt. I started to gain connection with God and a sense of His love for this person who had hurt my feelings and angered me. I started realizing they were just a person like me, weak and flawed. I started having compassion. Turning my heart toward a posture of thankfulness helped me connect with God and moved more towards reconciliation with someone important in my life.
Thankful for the one who is disappointing or irritating you
When you find you have a complaint in your heart against someone on your team (or in your family or church community) start thanking God for them. Start listing off anything you can think of to be thankful for, and see how your attitude towards them changes.
Start with the obvious
There was a time I was so crabby, irritated and full of complaint I could not think of anything to be thankful for, so I thought “I’ll just thank God for what I can see.” I was driving so I saw a traffic light. So, I thanked God for the traffic light, which led to thanking God for the orderly way traffic flows so we don’t all get into car accidents. Then I thanked God for the colors red and green. That led to more thanksgiving and soon my icy heart was melting.
If you are having trouble getting the thanksgiving train started, consider starting with what you can see. Try starting with something that even seems silly. Just start, and the Lord’s grace will carry you. He empowers us to obey His commands, and one of those commands is to be thankful.
“18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18–21, ESV, emphasis mine)
Try giving thanks to God starting with what you can see, touch, smell, taste or hear right now.
Present your concerns to God with thanksgiving
Read Philippians 4:4-7 slowly and thoughtfully. Then try to follow its pattern. Here are some suggestions:
1. Rejoice in the Lord. Take a moment to praise God.
2. Present the things you are concerned about to the Lord in prayer.
3. Thank the Lord that He hears your prayers, that He is faithful to you, that He is good, that He will sustain you and help you. If you believe God has answered your prayers in the past, thank Him for those specific answers. Thank Him for His faithful love.
4. Ask the Lord to reveal to you anything you need to do related to your requests today, and trust the rest to Him.
5. If you notice you are losing that sense of peace as you go through your day, consider taking a moment to lift up that request to God again briefly and thank Him that He hears you, He is trustworthy and He is working…And trust Him with it again. In this way we can respond to that tug of anxiety by turning to God for a moment of connection as we put our concern back in His hands. I have an app on my phone that reminds me twice a day to pause and trust God with everyone and everything (One Minute Pause App) and I have found those reminders helpful.
A final word:
Thankfulness sparks connectedness with God and with each other.
How have you seen leaders express gratitude to their teams?
Hi! I'm Jeri Howe.
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