Our key term today is “Cultivate Gratitude” and that’s important because cultivation indicates intentional effort. We all have blessings beyond measure to be grateful for. We all also have pain, distraction and fear that competes and at times demands more and more and more of our heart space until the blessings get pushed out of view.
Here’s the good news. It is possible to cultivate gratitude just by paying attention! Changing our heart’s focus to rest on Sovereign Love, Eternal Life and Place from Which All Blessings Flow is key. You can set boundaries for your thoughts and train your heart to pay attention. You are equipped to employ this discernment in your life!
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Exchange Worry for Gratitude
When we pray, we’re exhibiting faith in a God whom we fully believe in but cannot see. Scripture communicates, however, that God is revealed to us through creation and all things created (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), through Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10) and through flesh (John 1:14, Hebrews 1:3). We are also called to reflect God’s image and all the goodness that entails (1 Corinthians 15:49, 2 Corinthians 3:18).
But how often do we pray for something and continue to worry? We dutifully pray for God’s will but camp out under a banner of fear, scraping together Plans B through Z and acting from a sense of scarcity rather than abundance and rest.
There’s a fine line in making sensible decisions and problem solving, versus checking prayer off our To Do List and within the same breath frantically taking it upon ourselves to close the gap between “have” and “need”. As though God overlooked us in fulfilling the promise to recognize and meet every need!
It is clear we need help captivating our thoughts and trading worry for gratitude. There is a simple plan for accomplishing those things tucked within the book of Colossians. So simple I almost missed it! Which is why I want to share it with you.
Here it is. The simple plan to Cultivate Gratitude by Paying Attention.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. ~Colossians 4:2
The Plan, you ask?
- Devote Yourself to Prayer.
- Be Watchful.
- Be Thankful.
When we’re sticking to God like glue with our prayers and we’re paying attention, being alert to what God is doing, we give ourselves opportunity to be thankful. And that pretty much sums it up!
We could end this right here and now, but stick with me as we dig in a bit more and prep the soil of our hearts so that we effectively cultivate gratitude! I believe it will be time well spent.
Cultivate Gratitude by Paying Attention
1. Devote Yourself to Prayer and Cultivate Gratitude
God calls to us in many ways. Through the methods of revelation discussed in the opening paragraphs of this post, we see that God desires to be seen and be in union with us. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. It is the way we surrender and accept the invitation to be made new. Contemplative prayer offers a way to stay in communicative, listening posture with God, where we acknowledge and rejoice in his presence more than running through a script. There is no end to this sort of prayer. The idea is growing in popularity, but isn’t new. Here is a clip from Richard Rohr on the history of contemplative prayer in the church and why he believes it is so necessary.
You can find the book, Just This: Prompts and Practices for Contemplation here.
2. Be Watchful and Cultivate Gratitude
There are many verses that help us armor up and maintain a sense of protection through a stance of “Watch and Pray”.
- Watch and Pray to make wise decisions and avoid temptation (Matthew 26:40-41, Luke 21:34-36)
- Watch and Pray to know and be known to God at the time of Return (Matthew 24:42-44, Matthew 25:1-3)
- Watch and Pray so that life is well-lived and in the end, death does not come like a thief to snatch away what has not yet been completed (Revelation 3:2-3, 11 and 17-19, Revelation 16:15)
If we take any one of these Watch and Pray verses as standalone edicts, we may mislead ourselves. I’ve worded my summary sentences from a tendency to err on the side of love but out of context, these passages can feel overwhelming and heavy. Draping ourselves in alarm puts us under a yoke of slavery that we’ve already been freed from (Galatians 5:1).
But when we adopt Watch and Pray as a way to align our heart with God’s, we not only gain wisdom on how to live our life in freedom from temptation and regret, we also see blessings clearly! This paves the way for developing gratitude.
Because, in addition to the first 3 reasons listed above, we are also taught to:
- Watch and Pray so that we do not lose heart (Luke 18:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8)
- Watch and Pray so that we Cultivate Gratitude (Colossians 4:2)
In this way, we see and heed all the warnings about how to conduct ourselves, nestled right alongside God’s good and tender mercies. This big picture perspective empowers us with strength and righteousness granting us the much craved and often elusive, balance.
While we should remain sensibly cautious and practice discernment in all of our decisions, living life in fearful defense creates painful riffs in communities and families, and allows darkness to steal power in our thoughts. Instead, we must develop the spiritual discipline to look for things to rejoice over as a way to cultivate gratitude.
Watch for how God has begun to answer prayers! Rejoice in where you’ve come from and the future unfolding of God’s good plans. Intentionally move your focus off what is worrisome by affirming the good you see. God never rests so there is always one more thing to recognize and cling to as evidence of his faithfulness. These are the things that we watch for and put to use as we cultivate gratitude.
Some of us find this easier than others, but it doesn’t seem that gratitude is overtly instinctual. If so, there wouldn’t be countless resources for developing an attitude of gratitude or such a push to incorporate the practice into our lives.
3. Be Thankful and Cultivate Gratitude
I know. That sounds redundant. But similar to an affirmation, positive reinforces positive. The same is true when we cultivate gratitude by showing gratitude. The step to being thankful is held within itself. We must do whatever it takes to drill down to what lies beneath all the circumstances that tell us to worry and threaten that if we aren’t paying attention it can all be snatched away. Beneath all of that is your true self, the soul that God created in his image with a purpose. Resting in that truth gives us something to be grateful for every time!
Thankfully, as we devote ourselves to prayer and actively watch for things to be thankful for, we are supported in changing our thought patterns. The spiritual discipline of gratitude is a powerful tool for taking captive every thought. We can’t simply dismiss our worries. They are real. And more often than not, they’re based in reality. The problem arises when we focus on them and root them in our heart instead of acknowledging and releasing our feelings. Weeding out the worrisome thoughts is far easier when we have something far more fruitful to plant!
Affirmations of Gratitude
If we’re not careful, cultivating gratitude can become one more checkbox to complete in our day. By staying in communion with God through contemplative prayer our spirit stays open and we more easily perceive divine blessings. These blessings may be great spiritual wisdom and revelation or pausing to enjoy the dance of a leaf as it falls to the ground. Quite often, seeing God in all things encompasses both the big cosmic mystery and a gentle, personal nudge. This is God in all things!
Contemplative prayer is a lofty spiritual goal! Amidst the worry and distractions of life, affirmations of gratitude can provide instant redirection; a reset reminder that we can use on days contemplative prayer is out of reach.
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