You can hardly find a planner these days that doesn’t direct you to write down three things you’re grateful for every day. Does a gratitude list actually make anyone more productive?
I’ve written before that gratitude makes us more productive, but it’s not universally true.
Your gratitude list only makes a difference if it’s true gratitude.
The dictionary definition of both gratitude and thanks confirms it: Thanksgiving must be directed to a person. If it’s not addressed to someone, it isn’t thanks.
The universe does not receive thanks and takes no notice. There is no karma or other impersonal spiritual force recognizing and rewarding your positive vibes.
Thanksgiving is valuable, inspiring, and required only because there is a God who deserves and demands our gratitude.
Ingratitude is disobedience. Gratitude is obedience to our Creator. He also does not accept vague or general positive vibes, but personal prayers that acknowledge Him as our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
When we make gratitude lists for ourselves, we are not actually being grateful.
Unless we are directly and intentionally offering thanks to the One who is responsible for what we appreciate, it’s not gratitude and it’s worthless waste of time. Yet, when offered as praise to God, it pleases Him and we, in turn, rejoice the offering and its acceptance.
Moreover, most of the time when we make gratitude lists, we end up simply listing things we like – another clue that it isn’t true thanksgiving. We’re only focusing on ourselves and what we like when our gratitude lists are so shortsighted and shallow. It’s not helpful. It’s not gratitude at all.
Gratitude is the most potent motivator of love and good works, but gratitude isn’t listing things you like.
Gratitude is thanking God for His care and provision in the hard things, in real life, in all circumstances.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:18
Giving thanks is God’s will for us. It is important. It is something we should be doing every day. But not all that is currently called gratitude truly is gratitude.
True gratitude isn’t a list of things on your planner.
True gratitude is prayer.
The Heidelberg catechism, teaching Protestant orthodoxy since 1563, says that “prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”
Thankfulness, according to even the dictionary, is something given to a person. God is a person, to whom we respond in thanksgiving through prayer.
We can write prayers and we can pray while we write lists, but making a gratitude list alone is not being thankful.
It is only when we offer it up in grateful prayer to our good and gracious Lord that it becomes thanksgiving.
True gratitude is good works.
The Heidelberg also teaches that the whole reason we do any good work at all is as a grateful response for our salvation: “Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, to be his image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits and that he may be praised through us.”
Gratitude is not merely a feeling.
Gratitude works itself out in our lives. It is demonstrated by action. Gratitude motivates and brings about action.
We will know we are truly thankful as we love and obey our Lord more and more.
This week in our member-only mentor session, I explained this as “Gratitude Is Personal.” I’ve made an excerpt of the replay available for you here: