Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

A Letter to Ourselves on How to Be Grateful

A Letter to Ourselves on How to Be Grateful

Note: This article was originally conceived as a sermon for someone else but … as I was writing, it became quickly apparent I was the one who needed to learn something. So, rather than assume this should be for you or her or “everyone else,” I’ve decided to write it as a letter to myself. (God knows, I need it). 

You are free to listen in.

Dear Mikey:

In recent years I’ve come to believe that all of the Christian life is an expression of gratitude. Or to say it in a more theologically expansive way:

All of the authentically good and holy things that you think, and do, in your Christian life are your living expressions of gratitude for what Christ has done for you.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-35? That’s our model here, though it’s seen in the negative rather than the positive.

A man owes his master an obscene amount of money—more than could ever be paid in a single lifetime. When the debt becomes due, the master shows unthinkable mercy and forgives the entire amount. The debtor is free and clear! The slate is clean! Life is new and sweet again … or at least it should be.

The natural response to that kind of ridiculous generosity should be reckless gratitude. It should spark a pay-it-forward style of generosity, simply because we are instinctively delighted to share that which we have also received. But this unmerciful servant feels no such gratitude; he feels only greed for more. Soo…

He tracks down another who owes him a pittance. He violently demands immediate payment of the pitiful debt. When no cash is forthcoming, he throws the other man into prison. The sin here is not just greed, but deliberate ingratitude. He who has been given much thinks so little of his wondrous prize that all he wants now is more, more, more. It’s a tragic picture of how friendship with God is NOT supposed to work.

The Apostle Paul taught us a better way.

“Give Thanks in All Circumstances …”

“Give thanks in all circumstances;” Paul wrote, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV). Why is gratefulness in all circumstances so important—so much so that Paul said it’s actually grounded in God’s specific will for your life?

Because apparently, that old Apostle knew that gratitude motivates and empowers you to live a holy, authentic Christian life. In fact, the Greek word he used for “give thanks” is eucharisteó—a word that connotes an active, ongoing physical expression, not simply a passive feeling.

There’s more to that, sure, but for our purposes here, suffice it to say that you and I must finally accept that Paul’s Thessalonian exhortation is right and good. And in the biblical context, we must acknowledge the facts that Jesus and John taught us as well.


1. Matthew 22:35-40 speaks true that all of God’s expectations for you hang on the commands to love God and love others, and

2. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV).

This is why gratitude is so necessary for your Christian soul: you cannot love others authentically until you gratefully experience his love first. With that in mind, how can you cultivate a habit of gratitude in the midst of your daily pressures and the unrelenting hardships of your life?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Don’t Force It

13th-century theologian and mystic, Meister Eckhart is attributed to saying, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. But learning to say “thank you” authentically is more than just a rote act of the will; it’s a true response of the heart.

Understand that gratitude is always a reaction, never the initial action. By definition, it’s a return of appreciation and/or kindness, not the originator of it. So get over the idea that you can manufacture gratitude when you just don’t feel like it. Don’t buy the lie that you can “fake it ‘til you make it.”

Yes, you can cultivate habits that prompt gratefulness, but no, you can’t force yourself to feel grateful—that response must spring naturally from within. So please, right here at the start, get it into your head that “acting grateful” isn’t the same as “being grateful.” The first is just hypocrisy (“play-acting”); the second is a natural byproduct of increasing mindfulness of Christ’s love.

2. Be More Aware of Your Need

Look, in order to be grateful, you must first have need.

When you think you have need of nothing, then you have no appreciation for anything. It’s the principle Jesus spoke of in Luke 7:36-47 when the sinful woman poured perfume on his feet. The one who is forgiven much, loves much, “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

So make it a point to be aware of your great need each day—the need for hope, for forgiveness, for access to God, for breath and peace and kindness and health and comfort and friendship and rest and resources and intellectual ability and time and—well, you get the idea.

When you understand the vastness of your constant need, you’ll begin to understand how generous God’s many loving gifts are to you in each moment of every day. And frequently coming to grips with his ridiculous generosity, new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), will birth renewed thankfulness in you that’s fresh every day.

3. Look Up

Remember that movie, Galaxy Quest? Deep in the bowels of the spaceship, running from danger, panicked about enemies on board, all Commander Taggart could do was feel fear and frustration. Then he looked up … and saw, in swirling geometric beauty the Quantum Flux Drive—the miraculous power source that kept them all alive and thriving in the absolute nothingness of space.

It was awe-inspiring, wasn’t it?

Likewise, when your daily obligations and frustrations chase after you like genocidal Fatu-Krey aliens, just pause long enough to look up at Jesus, to contemplate his beauty and lovingkindness—to remember the ways he’s proven himself faithful to you. Because he loves you, you can love. Because he is generous with you, you can be generous toward your family and friends and neighbors and coworkers (and even that jerk who insulted your favorite politician).

So remember to look heavenward every once in a while and reflect: Because he is kind, you can be grateful—authentically, peacefully, joyfully.

4. Now, Try This Tomorrow

Last but not least, I want you to try this tomorrow:

First, when you wake up, give yourself permission NOT to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Be who you really are, and feel what you authentically feel, without judging yourself for it.

Second, identify the needs you have for the day—the things you know you can never do for yourself—that which only Jesus can do in, with, and through you. Ask Christ to help you, and make a list.

Third, live tomorrow with your eyes raised up. Keep a lookout for those moments when God’s lovingkindness to you is obvious, when you can honestly acknowledge that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” (James 1:17, NIV). When you inevitably feel grateful in those moments, go ahead and share that gratitude with others, in expressions of your genuine Christian life.

And hey, let me know how it goes, OK?

Affectionately yours, Mike

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Negative Space 

Mike Nappa is a practical theologian known for writing Bible-Smart: Matthew and “coffee-shop theology” books. He’s a bestselling and award-winning author with millions of copies of his works sold worldwide. An Arab-American, Mike is proud to be a person of color (BIPOC) active in Christian publishing. Visit Mike’s Bible-Smart blog at Bible-Smart.com.