In all things: The practice of giving thanks

Sometimes practicing gratitude is more of a discipline than a feeling. We teach toddlers and young children to say “Thank you,” but we struggle in our own daily rhythms to cultivate gratitude. Difficult church situations, coworkers, home life, and world events war against our soul’s endeavor to make thankfulness a way of life instead of a seasonal activity. Whether you’re a pastor, stay-at-home parent, engineer, or shift worker, gratitude is a discipline worth cultivating in the Christian life. Our work — and lives — are shaped by our approach to God, which can begin with thankfulness.

Gratitude in and outside of our work

Gratitude has never come easy to me, especially at work. I have a tendency to focus on what’s going wrong, and if nothing’s going wrong right now, I can easily get caught up in thoughts of what might go wrong in the future.

“There’s no way I’m going to hit my goals by the end of the year.”

“My coworkers are going to hate me.”

And, for pastors or church leaders, questions loom about expenses and budgets, health of congregations, and community engagement success or failures.

This kind of thinking doesn’t leave much room for a grateful experience in our work.

Gratitude is like a muscle that needs flexing to make it stronger. And in the realm of gratitude, I was a lazy couch potato. So I decided to start a daily regimen to strengthen my gratitude muscle.

Here are three exercises that worked for me to strengthen my gratitude at work and in general.

Make a gratitude list

Creating a gratitude list is a simple way to start noticing what’s good in our lives.

This practice goes back to the first chapter of the Bible, when God sees each thing that is good in his creation (Gen 1:12).

To begin my gratitude list practice, I began noting at least five things I felt grateful for at the end of each day.

In her book, How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb summarizes the behavioral science on best practices for gratitude journaling. According to Webb, the best way to reap the benefits of a gratitude list is to be as specific as possible.

Writing “I’m grateful I had two hours today to write about a topic I’m passionate about” inspires more feelings of gratitude than simply “I’m grateful for my job.”

At first it can be hard to start thinking of things to write down. As I began this practice, I found myself tapping the pen against my chin, wondering what I could be grateful for.

In the first week, my journal often looked like a laundry list of office perks. “I’m grateful for my comfortable chair, for a car that gets me to and from work, for enough money to buy things like this nice journal.”

But as I practiced this exercise, I improved at remembering things from my day that gave me a deeper sense of gratitude. I found myself thanking God for my boss — for how well he steers the organization. For my coworkers and their commitment to excellence.

Before I knew it, my head hit my pillow gratefully.

Thank other people

When some of my coworkers started showing up on my nightly gratitude lists, I realized it might be a good thing to thank them in person. That felt awkward.

A casual “Thank you” is no big deal — we do that everyday.

“Thanks for responding to this email.”

“Thank you for setting aside the time to meet with me.”

While these polite gestures grease the works of daily interaction, deeper expressions of gratitude feel tricky. They go against the norm of regular superficial conversation. It’s not often you hear things like this at the office:

“Thank you for challenging me to make sure our work for the client is excellent.”

“Thank you for taking care of me and my family with this comprehensive health insurance policy.”

It takes real humility to admit my dependence on someone else, and to tell them how much I appreciate it. That’s scary. But these deep expressions of gratitude lead to deep connections.

The writer of the letter to the Philippians modeled how to express humble gratitude to other people.

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you” (Phil 1:3–4).

I found that every time I got over my own awkwardness and said a sincere “Thank you” to my boss or coworker, we both felt good. I walked away with a greater sense of gratitude for my relationships at work. And I went about the rest of my day feeling excited about the work we were doing together.

Practice gratitude in hardship

It’s easy to notice the good in the world around me when things are going well. It can be harder to practice gratitude when things feel overwhelming and difficult.

And yet, that’s exactly when I need to connect with God. When the project is behind schedule, when I’m working late into the night, when kids are sick and won’t sleep, when I’m not sure of the five-year-plan, it’s then that I need to rely on God’s grace more than ever.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says that Christ’s will for Christians is to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

When things don’t go as we plan, it’s difficult to practice gratitude. I often need an extra step of venting my frustration to God.

I added this as a practice to the beginning of my nightly journaling. Once I grew comfortable listing positive things, I decided to add a “Dear God” letter to my routine.

Now when I take the notebook off my nightstand, I start with “Dear God” and write down everything that’s troubling me.

“Dear God, I don’t know how I’m going to make this project work.”

“Dear God, I’m scared I might need to change careers.”

“Dear God, I can’t stand how my coworker does this…”

For some reason, once my hardships are on paper, I feel they’re off my plate. This frees me to write down my gratitude list and feel the positive effects of gratefulness.

Practicing gratitude brings peace

The Bible promises that seeing the good in daily life leads to peace.

“If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:8–9).

I can attest to the truth of this cause-and-effect from my own experience. After a month of daily gratitude practice, I found myself going to work with a spring in my step. Those worries I obsessed about were starting to fade into the background. Instead, I felt gratitude and peace.

If you want to deepen your level of peace and improve your experience both at work and in your everyday life, practices like writing a daily gratitude list, thanking the people you are around, and giving God your hardships are a great place to start.

Topics: Christian Life, Issues Facing Workers

About the Author

Leah Archibald is content development specialist at the Theology of Work Project (TOW). Her devotionals on topics such as "How to Make the Right Decision" and "When to Speak Up at Work" have been completed by more than 500,000 people. Leah takes inspiration from her previous career in marketing for Fortune 500 software companies.  She is the co-host of Making It Work, a podcast from the Theology of Work Project and Fuller De Pree Center.