50 Ways to Be Thankful

Starters for the Hungry Heart

Why do we need suggestions on how to express gratitude? Shouldn’t a truly grateful heart just naturally overflow in expressing that gratefulness, without needing to be prompted by tips? Well, yes. But recall that while the Bible speaks of acts of love bubbling over from transformed and loving hearts, it nevertheless gives us lots of instruction in how love might behave, including exhortations and commands to do it this way or that. Similarly, the truly grateful heart may be increasingly open to counsel on how to go about showing thankfulness. To such a heart, suggestions don’t feel like a burden. Or like law.

Think of the young man in love with a woman. He wants to show love to her by showering her with gifts. So what does he do? He asks her sisters and roommates and mom what his heartthrob likes so that he can proceed to do those things for her. He wants suggestions!

Since gratitude isn’t merely a doctrine to learn but a spiritual mindset to experience, below are a hundred “starters” for the heart hungry for ideas on how to demonstrate gratitude. Each of the following suggestions is easily made God-centered. For example, when thanking the pastor for a good sermon, you can say something like “I thank God for your faithful preaching,” or some expression that places God in the center of the good being performed by that preacher.

Practicing Thankfulness

Sam Crabtree

Pastor Sam Crabtree surveys the Bible’s teaching on gratitude, demonstrating that every moment is an opportunity to observe, embrace, and appreciate with thankfulness the wondrous workings of God in ordinary life.

  1. In the checkout line, when retrieving my credit card from the credit card reader, I pretend the little screen says, “Be sure to thank helpful and intelligent [name of employee],” and so I “read” it out loud. Invariably I get a happy reaction from the store associate as well as from customers within earshot. Why not be energy-giving to public servants who experience their share of cranks?

  2. My church provides a worship folder or bulletin. I routinely jot notes to myself on it as the service moves along, reminding me to thank people such as the pastor for his faithful and timely word, or the musicians for their practice and execution, or the ushers for alertly welcoming newcomers, or the folks who keep the coffee urns refilled, and so on.

  3. During holidays, thank people for decorating. Decorations make a difference, don’t they? Thank the decorators for making a difference.

  4. Thank people for gifts you receive from them.

  5. Express thanks up and down the chain of command— thank your supervisor, those you oversee, and your peers. (While there’s a proactive aspect of leadership—initiating action and pulling the team forward—there’s also a vitally important reactive aspect. In a job I held for fifteen years, I was responsible for more than 250 employees on the pay roll. I invested significant time and attention thanking and commending people for what they were doing. It’s good for morale, it highlights what’s valued, and it rewards good behaviors and patterns. Behaviors rewarded tend to recur.)

  6. Say aloud, “I don’t want to take [the act, the person] for granted.” Then act.

  7. Write your city’s mayor, thanking him or her for public service in general, or for a specific action.

  8. Thank God for something specific you’ve never thanked him for before. (I try to make this a regular practice.) A subcellular component, a body part, a product on the market, a relative’s middle name, an element, a promise, a verse, a word—get specific.

  9. When saying a table grace before a meal, with open eyes look at the food items and thank God for them specifically and by name—the potatoes with skins, the asparagus tips, the tomatoes that went into the French dressing, and so on.

  10. Contact a civic leader and thank him or her for something specific—the recent pothole repairs, the training for the police officers, or the new street sign.

  11. Ask God to make you increasingly grateful. Ask him now— before moving on to the next tip.

  12. Write a prayer that is only thanks and praise—no requests.

  13. Say to your children or grandchildren, “I want to be a thankful person. Tell me, who do you think I should thank for something?” Ask them to be specific. Then follow through.

  14. The next time you go to church, be on the lookout for someone to thank for something.

  15. Identify one of your pet peeves. Then identify something good God produces through it. Thank him for the peeve and the fruit in your life that comes from it.

  16. Thank God for including in the Bible the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Reread it.

  17. Write a fictional short story told either through the eyes of the one grateful leper or through the eyes of one of the other (ungrateful) lepers.

  18. Thank God for preserving the Bible for you from centuries of banning, burning, and abridging.

  19. Name the most painful experience in your life, whether the pain was physical or emotional. Then read passages such as James 1:2–4, Romans 5:3–5, or 2 Corinthians 4:17–18. Thank God for the productivity in your life that he’s accomplishing through the pain you’ve experienced.

  20. Express your gratefulness for how Jesus endured such deep suffering.

  21. Thank God that he uses all things to conform you to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:28–29). Specifically think of one of the most difficult things he has allowed in your life. Thank God for how he has used that difficulty to help you become more like Jesus in some specific way (such as gentleness, endurance, compassion, courage, or wisdom.)

  22. Write a new verse to a Thanksgiving hymn.

  23. The next time you encounter a police officer, thank him or her for routinely facing dangerous situations in order to preserve your safety. If you encounter law enforcement officers at a gas station or convenience store or similar place, offer to buy them coffee.

  24. Stock up on thank-you note cards and envelopes. Don’t put them all away; keep at least one of them out to immediately write and send a thank-you.

  25. Thank God for someone you’ve never met—perhaps someone who brought the gospel to your part of the world, or the lab technician who helped develop the drug in your prescription, or the assembly line worker who assembled your car, or the sanitation department worker who processes the sewage from your home.

  26. Thank God for an invention you may have taken for granted—door hinges, paper, circuit breakers, staples, Velcro, or adhesive tape. Then thank God for the inventor.

  27. Are you satisfied with a consumer product? Let the manufacturer know. (Companies are more likely to hear from disgruntled customers than satisfied customers.) Brighten their day.

  28. At the restaurant, don’t just leave a tip for the table server. Speak your appreciation to him or her and perhaps to the management.

  29. When spotting workers cleaning public restrooms, or picking up litter in or near a store, or emptying the garbage receptacles at the park, thank them for keeping the place shipshape.

  30. Start early to plan a short speech of gratitude for your family gathering at Thanksgiving. Perhaps thank God for something unique about each family member.

  31. Thank God for “common graces,” the provisions he gives alike to all people: the sunrise, rain, air, chirping songbirds, the passing of the seasons, tides that circulate the oceans, gravity, and so on.

  32. Thank God for “particular graces,” which he gives only to believers: election, predestination to justification, calling, regeneration, propitiation, adoption, repentance, sanctification, and glorification.

  33. Read Ephesians 2:8, then thank God for your faith.

  34. Thank God that you have face recognition and can recognize your friends. (Neuroscientists have identified something called “face blindness,” which renders its victims unable to distinguish one face from another. The afflicted are unable to recognize their parents, spouses, children, or anyone.) Then thank God for specific friends by name. Thank him for childhood friends you can recall.

  35. When I walk to our downtown Minneapolis office, I walk past the residence of a man with crippled legs; on one of his feet, he wears a shoe with a sole perhaps eight inches thick. He walks with a profound limp and sway. Never in his life has he run. Thank God for your feet and legs, and for the privilege of feeling the wind in your face when running. Thank God for shoes. Thank God for the beautiful feet that brought you good news (Isa. 52:7).

  36. Thank God for your eyes that can read. Read about the wondrous complexity of your eyes, and thank God for each part of your eye and its wonderful function.

  37. When one of my grandsons was born, he was in intensive care for several days. When Caleb had dampened his diaper, I volunteered to change it. While his mother and I navigated the tubes and wires to change the diaper, he began to do something the doctors had been waiting for. He passed his very first bowel movement—meconium. Tears ran down my face. I was joyful, for it was evidence that everything was working after all. Thank God for the wondrous “routine” operation of your bowels, without which you would die.

  38. Look around to identify something specific nearby. Then look more closely at it. Thank God for the details related to something right in front of you right now. (In my case, I look up and I see a wooden cupboard door. Looking more closely I see wood grain. Back when the board was a tree, sap was coursing through that wood grain—more in the summer, less in the winter. That tree stood outdoors naked for years and decades, sometimes through subzero winters, sometimes through blistering hot summer spells. God sustained it, and now I have a cupboard door. He superintended every aspect of it: winters, summers, rains, roots, photosynthesis, sunlight, carbon—all of it.)

  39. Make a list of favorite things—chocolate, donuts, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4, your dog—and take delight in thanking God for them.

  40. I receive numerous update letters from missionaries around the world. I often scribble comments on them and mail them back, so that we’re having a conversation. I’m especially grateful for photographs they include, so I say so. Consider what expressions of thankfulness you might extend to a missionary, and to God for that missionary.

  41. When eating fruit, think of the person who planted the tree, or picked the fruit, or boxed it, or shipped it.

  42. Take a lined sheet of paper and write the letters of the alphabet vertically down the left margin. Then list things that begin with each letter of the alphabet and thank God for each of them. This is a simple exercise to do with children.

  43. Thank God for something you benefit from that didn’t exist at the time you were born.

  44. Thank God for something that no longer exists (Alexander the Great’s empire, the cross of Jesus, the Mayflower, etc.).

  45. Learn how to say thank you in a handful of other languages. Then put it to use in conversations.

  46. What if the world were black and white and gray? Thank God for colors. Thank him for the cones in the retina of your eyes that let you see these colors.

  47. Thank God for a bad habit he has enabled you to overcome.

  48. Thank God for a good habit he has established in your life.

  49. Thank an influencer in your life who helped you address a habit—a coach who helped you with your swing of the bat at the plate, a physician who helped you quit smoking, a mentor who encouraged your pattern of Bible reading, a counselor who helped you improve your relationships or self-acceptance, and so on.

  50. Look at one of your body parts, and thank God for it. Look more closely—perhaps with a magnifying glass—and thank God for the component parts. What lies beneath the skin? Thank God for those parts too. Thank God for things like digestion, respiration, and circulation that keep that body part alive and functioning.

This article is adapted from Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances by Sam Crabtree.

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