Decisions great and small fill our days and mark where our spiritual allegiance lies. There are only two invisible counselors we can listen to—God or the enemy. The one we obey determines the kingdom we live from.
Consider two people in Scripture who chose very differently:
Mary, through an angel, heard the voice of God inviting her to step out into the impossible with Him. She could have responded with fear and unbelief, rejecting a path that would undoubtedly involve danger and ridicule. Instead, she said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your world” (Luke 1:38 NKJV). She obeyed the voice of the King, and gave birth to the One who brought the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Cain heard the voice of God speaking a word of correction after he brought an unacceptable sacrifice: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 NKJV). Cain could have humbled himself and obeyed God by bringing him another, better sacrifice. Instead, he listened to the voice of the enemy and murdered his brother, unleashing guilt, shame, fear, slavery, and death—the kingdom of darkness.
The voice we choose to obey has everything to do with the state of our hearts. How can we ensure that our hearts, like Mary, are ready to listen and obey the voice of God?
The answer is that we must cultivate a heart of gratitude.
Gratitude Aligns Us with Heaven
The Oxford American Dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful: readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Where does this “quality of being thankful” come from? It comes from believing the truth about God—that He is good, and that every good gift comes from Him. Gratitude is the heart posture we build on the reality that all we are and all we have comes from a loving Father.
Because gratitude flows from believing the truth about God, gratitude aligns our hearts, minds, and behavior with heaven. A grateful heart keeps our focus on God and what He is doing, has done, and will do. In that place, we remain sensitive to His heart, aware of His presence, expectant for Him to move, and ready to obey when He asks us to do something.
Jesus lived in a posture of gratitude towards His Father. The Gospels give us multiple examples of Jesus directly expressing thanks to God. For example, when feeding the multitudes, Jesus gave thanks before breaking the bread. He made it a point to model how gratitude invites God to show up in our circumstances. And when God shows up, miracles happen.
Conversely, an ungrateful heart is the number-one sign that we don’t believe the truth about God. We doubt His goodness and don’t see our lives as good gifts to be enjoyed and stewarded well to honor Him. This unbelief and deception is the open door through which the enemy leads us to destruction.
In Romans, Paul lays out the pathway by which humanity progresses into the kingdom of darkness and depravity. That pathway begins here: “. . . although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful, but became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 NKJV). Ingratitude is a direct road to spiritual darkness.
The Practice of Gratitude
The best way to cultivate a grateful heart is to practice giving thanks!
This is why the apostle Paul exhorts us: “. . . In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV). Wherever we see “God’s will” in the Scriptures, we are reading about the way God designed us to live. He doesn’t need our thanks—but we need to give thanks in everything, because of what it does to the culture of our hearts.
The act of giving thanks obviously involves declaring who God is and what He has done and is doing in our lives. But like every spiritual practice, we don’t want to simply go through the motions of giving thanks. We need to get our hearts involved.
How do we know that we are truly giving thanks from our hearts? Here are three signs to look for:
1. Hope and Expectancy
When we thank God for what He has done, we are activating the testimony of Jesus in our lives, which is the spirit of prophecy (see Rev. 19:10) that declares: “Do it again, God!” Giving thanks creates hope and expectancy for God to do again what He has already done for us.
Giving thanks for the good things God has given us is actually one of the keys to us being able to enjoy them even more! I’ve experienced so many moments when I’m enjoying something good in my life—when I’m out grilling at my house, for example—and gratitude to God just bubbles up in me. As I give thanks, that joy will just start to overflow! Sometimes I am so overwhelmed with His goodness that there are not enough things I can do to express my gratitude and joy.
3. Awareness of His Presence
Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (NKJV). Giving thanks is the gateway to the presence of God. As we remember Him, we become aware that He is right here with us. As a result, our perception of Him shifts—He goes from being an anonymous benefactor in our lives to the loving Father who is so personal in His care for us. And this makes our belief in His goodness, and our response of gratitude, even deeper and more secure.
Right now, I encourage you to stop what you’re doing and think of ten things for which you are grateful. Count them on your hands and speak them aloud with your voice. Keep giving thanks until hope, joy, and the awareness of His presence begin to fill your heart.
Thank your Father for the trying circumstances that transform and build character. Thank Him for what He is doing in your marriage, your children, your relationships, and your job. Thank Him for His amazing grace, love, forgiveness, healing, and restoration in your life. Repent for any area of unbelief or ungratefulness in your heart. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you cultivate an undivided, loyal heart of gratitude that leans into the Father and lives from His kingdom no matter what.