When It’s Hard to be Thankful

How can I be thankful for the things I don’t like?

Often it can be really hard to be thankful. Especially when life is handing us a dish we aren’t in the mood to eat. It’s hard to be thankful when we are wrongly accused, or criticized, or suffering. When prayers aren’t answered, when plans get changed, or when dreams take too long, the last thing we think about is thankfulness. How in the world can we be thankful for things we don’t like? We know God commands us to be thankful in ALL things, but sometimes it’s just hard.

Let’s start by being clear what we are talking about before we try to work on doing it well.

What is biblical thankfulness?

Thankfulness is a heart expression not a verbal expression. It’s not really what I say from my mouth as much as what is flowing from within.

What’s the difference between action and a heart attitude? Why isn’t it enough to just say “thank you?” We can see God’s view of this in Isaiah 29:13, “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me,…”

The difference is that  we thank with our lips but our hearts are not grateful. This is thankfulness done wrongly. When our hearts are not grateful but we state “thank you Lord,”we act like a Pharisee—a hypocrite!

Why is it hard to be thankful?

How can I be thankful for all things when the frustrations and difficulties of my life are sucking the breath out of me? Can I really mean it if I say I’m thankful? What keeps me from truly thanking God from my heart?

I hate to say it,but one of the biggest problems we all have and rarely see is pride. “I deserve better.” “I don’t deserve this.” “I don’t like it.” “I don’t want it.” “Why me, God?”

A lack of thankfulness is most often associated with a low view of God and high view of me. Or in other words, a low view of God’s holiness and a high view of my worthiness and what I deserve (in reality a low view of my sinfulness).

To be thankful always is to recognize God’s detailed control of my life. It is a humble acceptance that enables me to truly have a grateful heart and express that gratitude to him, confidently and willingly trusting in his sovereignty.

Why should we be thankful?

It is commanded

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;  make known his deeds among the peoples.” (1 Chronicles 16:8)

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name!” (Hebrews 13:15)

It is evidence of the believer—only a true believer will be able to have a thankful heart, but it will be a constant battle because thankfulness is unnatural to our sin nature.

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy.” (2 Timothy 3:2)

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

It reveals a proper reflection of God in your life (shows your view of God), because anything we have is better than what we deserve. A humble person thinks much of God and spends little time thinking of self.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 69:30)

“Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.” (Psalm 140:13)

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6,7)

How do I cultivate thankfulness for all things?

The Christian life requires a relentless pursuit of God and his truth and a constant bringing to mind in remembrance of who God is and what he has done for us. We will always be thankful  when we have a clear and accurate assessment of the character of our God and what God has done for us.

The Character of our God

Here are just a few examples from Scripture.

He is good and merciful to us:

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1)

He is holy:

“Sing praise to the LORD, You saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of his holy name.” (Psalms 30:4)

He is great and sovereign:

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,  who is and who was, for you have taken your great power  and begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:17)

What God has done for us

“Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Psalms 107:8)

“We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.” (Psalm 75:1)

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” (1 Chronicles 16:8)

Answered prayer:

“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:11)

His Protection:

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)

Willingness to use us:

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (1 Timothy 1:12)

His grace:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:4)

His Word:

“At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.” (Psalm 119:62)

His Son:

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Eternal Life:

“…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you  to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:12)

When am I to be thankful?

Whenever…In all we do:

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Always…For all we have:

“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)


“…that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm. 30:12)

Know that he is good—believe it.

Know that he really does care about you.

Know that he does all things perfectly.

Know that he knows better than we do.

Call to action

  1. List two things you are most thankful for.

  2. List two people you are most thankful for and why.

  3. List two people whose health is much worse than yours.

  4. List two people who have a more difficult life than you…why?

  5. List two reasons you are grateful for your (pick from: spouse, parents, children, friends).

  6. List five reasons you should be grateful to God (not including above).

  7. List two people who deserve an encouraging note of thanks from you (who probably don’t often receive thanks).

  8. What are some things you don’t usually think to be thankful for?

  9. What can you do to remember to be more thankful?

About the author

Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their yellow lab…and sushi too.

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