Gratitude: chosen attitude, not just temporary emotion

Posted Mar 12, 2019

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Daily Scripture

1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

15 Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. 16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Reflection Questions

We often think gratitude is purely a feeling, a reaction to something outside of us. That makes “give thanks in every situation” puzzling—some situations do not trigger positive feelings. But psychology researcher Robert Emmons wrote, “It is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful…. [B]eing grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives.”*

  • A recurring theme in gratitude research is that choosing to be a grateful person does not mean you become blind to the bad things in life, or the sad or angry feelings you may have about them. It does mean, however, that we also choose not to let the bad things blind us to the things for which we are grateful. What way(s) have you found to remember the things for which you are grateful when your life takes a difficult turn?
  • Scholar William Barclay wrote, “There is always something for which to give thanks; even on the darkest day there are blessings to count. We must remember that if we face the sun the shadows will fall behind us but if we turn our backs on the sun all the shadows will be in front.”** As you reflect on gratitude’s benefits, are you finding yourself more inclined to resist changing the direction your life faces, or to seek to increasingly “face the sun”?


Observe. There is so much beauty all around us, so much to be grateful for, but we often fail to recognize it. Walk outside and pick up a rock and place it in your pocket. Use it as a reminder to give thanks throughout the day. Write down instances when this rock was a reminder to give thanks.


O God, you are like the sun, always shining your love and mercy into my life, whatever may happen in my family, my workplace or my health. Help me learn how to keep my focus on you every day. Amen.

* Robert Emmons, “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times,” syndicated from Greater Good, Sep 12, 2013 at

** William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 207.

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Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

The times we think most about changing our lives are usually the times when we need it the most: desperate times, times of great turmoil or sorrow, and the times we find ourselves the lowest. But positive change, like a healthy body, requires discipline. It’s one of life’s greatest ironies that the best time to think about change and start laying that groundwork is actually when we need it least, when our lives are most stable, because that’s when we’ll really be able to focus on the discipline of change rather than be overwhelmed by the necessity of it.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is all about this. Paul had spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three months starting a new church in Thessalonica, but found himself pulled away before he could finish what he started. When things had calmed down, he sent Timothy to check on them, worried that false teachers may have stepped in and turned the young congregation down the wrong path. Thankfully, Timothy’s report was positive: the new church was doing great! That’s the situation Paul was addressing when he wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians. He wasn’t trying to fix a major problem, as he was with many of his letters; he was mostly just showing these young faithful Christians how to take their faith to the next level. In short, things were good and stable, so Paul was giving them instructions on how to adopt behaviors and disciplines that would get them through the rough times in their lives, which he knew would be coming.

Today’s passage (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18) is at the end of Paul’s letter, as he throws in random advice that he knew they needed that didn’t require a major explanation. And here, we find some of the shortest verses in the Bible as he gives some very simple guidelines: Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation.

Why are these things mentioned so briefly, almost in passing? Because, for people going through a good season, these are easy things—so easy that we often don’t see the value in them. When things are going well, it’s easy to rejoice, pray, and give thanks, because those are natural reactions to what’s going on in our lives. The spiritual discipline that Paul wanted to teach them was to learn to do this in every situation, even when it wasn’t a natural thing. The life-changing part of gratitude is never a single act, but a discipline of thinking about it daily, and that’s something that takes practice.

Some of us may be in terrible times right now, and some of us may be living in a great time of life. No matter where you are, learning to practice gratitude will benefit you; but for those of you in that second group, it will be far easier for you to learn that discipline now so that it will serve you well when you need it. Gratitude will take your faith to the next level, so to speak, but only when it’s a discipline and not a feeling. How do you do that? Practice. Practice gratitude every day. This is spiritual exercise that can keep your soul in tip-top shape.

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