This Thanksgiving, how can we prepare to be thankful? As a writer, journaling is a mindful practice that can help to bring one’s head and heart together. It can help us to recognize things we couldn’t see clearly before, both internally and externally. Journaling as an act of gratitude helps us to truly take the time to thank God for all He has given us, and to see the blessings of our lives in a new light.
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
In the following 15 prompts, try asking God to open your heart and mind. Ask Him to restore your generous spirit and redefine the holidays the right way.
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Describe what gratitude means or feels like.
Look to Scripture and meditate on what it says about a grateful heart. Being more aware of your spiritual blessings and the gifts you have in Christ is nourishment for the soul.
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
Does being happy make you grateful, or does being grateful make you happy?
When asking what makes us happy, we put into perspective the priorities that shape our lives and life experiences.
Ephesians 5:18-20 reminds us that Christ alone satisfies, but while we're here on earth, we're to enjoy the life He's given us.
"Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart" (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Describe someone you know who appears very fortunate and seems to have every reason in the world to be happy, but isn’t. Why do you think this is?
Beyond the physical objects God has given us, people are one of the best gifts in life. Taking the time to think of those who are richly blessed without monetary riches encourages us to rejoice for what we do have. Matthew 5:3 of the King James Version speaks this truth boldly: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).
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Describe someone you know who has experienced a great deal of misfortune but is still happy despite unfortunate circumstances. Why do you think this is?
Thinking about those who have endured grave suffering yet still held onto their faith makes us more aware of how blessed we are. Despite unfortunate circumstances, Job is one of the greatest Biblical examples who can inspire us today. "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth. God gives, God takes. God’s name be ever blessed" (Job 1:21, The Message).
Describe a time when someone thanked you for something and it genuinely positively affected you. How did you feel, and what did you learn or gain from this experience?
Similar to prompt number 4, reflecting on times that your past thankfulness has impacted others inspires us to continue acting in love. By taking the time to journal how you felt and what you learned from the experience not only places an emphasis on others' needs, but exemplifies the principle of Christ becoming more and more fragrant in our lives. As John 3:30 of the KJV reminds us, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
Describe a time when you felt like you should have been shown gratitude but weren’t. How did you feel, and what did you learn or gain from this experience?
Unlike prompt number 5, thinking about a time you should have been shown gratitude but weren't may be a bit painful, but it will reap great rewards. When we take the time and make the effort to investigate our feelings, we are inspired to treat others better than we were in that given moment.
As Philippians 2:3-7 of the New American Standard Bible notes, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:3-7).
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Open your phone or photo album and find a photo that you like. Why are you grateful for this photo? What are you grateful for in the photo?
Especially when I am feeling down, I love pulling out my phone and looking at old happy memories. Scrolling through past photographs makes us grateful for those experiences and the opportunity to reflect on how we can recreate moments like that in the future.
1 Thessalonians 1:2 of the ESV encourages us to pray for others at all times: "We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers" (1 Thessalonians 11:2).
Describe your happiest childhood memory.
If I had to choose one favorite journaling prompt out of this list, number eight would be my favorite. As a young adult that never wants to grow old at heart, I love the idea of reflecting on our happiest childhood memories and writing them down because someday those memories will be forgotten.
Far too many moments are lost when a loved one passes away. By investing in writing about these moments now, we create heirlooms for generations to come. Proverbs 22:6 of the New International Version remarks, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Proverbs 22:6).
Who is a teacher or mentor that has made an impact on your life and how did they help you?
While I may be biased as a fellow English teacher, I have had many wonderful teachers that impacted me over my years of schooling. Asking yourself which teacher or mentor made an impact on your life encourages us to be self-aware of habits and qualities we would like to integrate into our daily tasks. In a sense, we are all teachers and imitators of Christ.
As Titus 2:7-8 of the ESV urges us, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us" (Titus 2:7-8).
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What is one thing you’ve learned this week that you're thankful for?
Since I started counseling a few years ago, one habit I have invested in that has transformed my life is reflecting on three things each day that went well. Zoning in on our particular week and being thankful for those small moments instills what 1 Thessalonians 5:18 of the New Living Translation teaches. "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What is the biggest lesson you learned in childhood?
Similar to prompt number 8, this gratitude question challenges us to tap into our inner child. Thinking about the biggest lesson we learned as children inspires us to possess the childlike faith that must never leave us. As Luke 18:17 of the ESV notes, maintaining the heart of a child keeps us open to rebuke, teaching, and correction, but also love, joy, and growth. "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:17).
Write a prayer to God expressing your thanks for salvation.
More important than any other item on this list is being grateful for the salvation that Christ has given us. Without this free and eternal gift, we would not be able to have the other blessings that we do. Christ deserves our praise every moment of every day. Let us sing and shout our praises to Him.
Psalm 28:7 of the New English Translation urges, "The Lord strengthens and protects me; I trust in him with all my heart. I am rescued and my heart is full of joy; I will sing to him in gratitude" (Psalm 28:7).
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Write about a recent obstacle you faced and how you overcame it.
While many of us do not enjoy trials, difficulties in this life do help shape us to become more like Jesus. Writing about a recent obstacle we've been able to overcome reframes our perspectives and places them on Christ.
James 1:2-4 of the Easy Read Version reminds us: "My brothers and sisters, you will have many kinds of trouble. But this gives you a reason to be very happy. You know that when your faith is tested, you learn to be patient in suffering. If you let that patience work in you, the end result will be good. You will be mature and complete. You will be all that God wants you to be" (James 1:2-4, ERV).
What is your favorite food you love to indulge in?
Over the past two years, eating has been a challenge for me. Diagnosed with incurable stomach issues, I am learning to manage my symptoms. Over time, I have learned the value of being thankful for what I can eat, rather than ungrateful for what I can't. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 of the ESV prompts, even eating and drinking are things to be thankful for and enjoy while here on this earth! "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Describe a weird family tradition that you love.
Finally, as we reflect on gratitude, it is crucial to give thanks for what we do have, even if it includes our crazy family. As John 15:12-13 of the KJV summarizes, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13).
No matter how you choose to give thanks today, remember that in all circumstances, this is God's will for you. Maintain a thankful heart, and let me know how trying these journaling prompts works for you!
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Originally published Monday, 18 October 2021.