How Am I Supposed to Pray When I Don’t Feel Grateful?

Feelings of ingratitude are bound to trap us at some point during this holiday season. An unpleasant memory, another snow storm, the stress of holiday shopping, the pressure of preparing the perfect holiday meal, tensions between family members, bickering between siblings, an undercooked or overcooked turkey, pies eaten by a mischievous puppy, or any other of a cornucopia of reasons—these all can leave us feeling cranky, irritable, and certainly not very grateful. Of course, we know that God has commanded us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), but that’s much easier said than done. Not much is more difficult than praying when your heart is stuck in the morass of ingratitude. Yet, Scripture also commands us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Maybe that leaves you wondering, “Sure, but how?”

Here are three simple ideas of how you can come honestly and humbly before God’s throne even when you’re grappling with the attitude of ingratitude.

#1: Confess Your Attitude

We’re born hiders. Since Adam and Eve first ducked behind Edenic shrubbery, humans have been hiding from God. Of course, when we stop and think about it, we realize how ridiculous this idea is. After all, David tells us in Psalm 139 that it doesn’t matter where we go—the depths of the grave or the heights of the heavens–God is there (vv. 8-12).

But absurdity hardly stops us.

Though Adam and Eve taught us how to do it, we humans have learned a thing or two about hiding since the Garden. Now we tend to hide in plain sight. We’ll still attend church, but we slowly back away from ministry. Or we’ll continue in ministry while never opening God’s Word between Sundays. Our prayers get fewer, father between, and much less intimate. These can all be ways that we try to hide from God. We have other ways as well, such as hiding behind a vice like shopping or ice cream; or escaping to an alternate reality via our favorite streaming service or genre of fiction.

If you’re feeling ungrateful, your first instinct may well be to hide. After all, we parents often tell our children to change their attitude before speaking to us. Doesn’t God do the same? The short answer is no. We have the hope of Romans 8:1 to remind us that there is nothing—not a bad attitude, not a cranky heart, not lips that chewed someone out—nothing that condemns the person who is in Christ Jesus. He took upon Himself all the condemnation that we will ever deserve.

You won’t be condemned or shunned, so come out of hiding. Confess your sin of ingratitude to God and find forgiveness:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9)

How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
 whose sin is covered! 
How joyful is a person whom the LORD does not charge with iniquity
and in whose spirit is no deceit!  (Psa 32:1-2)

Pray…

Father,
I confess to You that I’m feeling anything but grateful right now. My heart is filled with anger and entitlement, not gratitude for the countless blessings you’ve given me. Please forgive me for my angry and stubborn heart.

Ask for Help.

While we’re discussing preposterous ideas, we might as well acknowledge another one. Not only do we think that we can hide from God, but we can easily convince ourselves that He doesn’t really want to hear from us. While it’s true that He doesn’t hear our prayers when we “cherish iniquity” in our hearts (Ps. 66:18), that doesn’t mean that He won’t listen to us on our bad days. In fact, He gives us another wonderful promise to combat this very lie:

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.  (Heb 4:16)

If we approached God on our own merit, we wouldn’t have a chance. We’d never make it in the door, let alone anywhere near His holy throne. However, we have a Great High Priest who intercedes on our behalf, transferring His righteousness and holiness to our account. Therefore, because we are united to Christ, we can—and must!—come boldly and confidently into the throne room, knowing that because our High Priest is there, we cannot be thrown out. Not only that, we have the confidence that we will find what we’re looking for before the throne—mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

You and I won’t manufacture grateful hearts out of thin air. We’re hardwired for grumpy ingratitude, not humble thanksgiving. Without bowing our knees before the Father, we won’t intrinsically have the grace we need to offer even a simple prayer of thanks. My friend, we really don’t have a choice. We must come to throne, pleading for grace.

He’ll give it. Every time.

Pray…

O God in Heaven,
I need your help right now. My heart is overwhelmed with all the chaos around me. I feel anxious and angry. Please give me your grace to find your kindness in my circumstances right now. Without Your help, I will only grow bitter. In Your mercy and because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, melt my hard heart and replace it with a tender heart of thanksgiving.

Let Scripture Give You the Words.

If you’ve confessed your heart of ingratitude and asked for help to change it, and still the prayers of thanksgiving can’t find their way to your tongue, open your Bible and let the Words of God Himself become your prayer back to Him. Though you can pray any passage back to God, here are a few ideas of where to turn if you’re just feeling stymied.

  • Psalm 103: This is a prayer with no petitions. From the first verse, the psalmist counsels his soul to “bless the LORD” and to “forget none of His benefits.” Turn here to see just some of the countless blessings God has bestowed on His fragile children.
  • Psalm 34: “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.” As David invites you into his time of worship, you’ll find many reasons to be thankful in this psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance.
  • Psalm 23: You may not even need to open your Bible to find the words of this familiar psalm. But don’t get lost in their familiarity. Park in the Psalm of the Shepherd and bask in the provisions He makes for His sheep, taking time to praise God for each.
  • Psalm 121: This short psalm reminds us that the LORD is our protector and guardian. He is our help and our stronghold. Use these short six verses to tune your heart to sing of the kindness of our God.
  • Isaiah 40:18-31: If your circumstances seem big, and God seems small, turn to Isaiah 40 and be reminded of the immensity of the true God of heaven. Praise Him for His transcendence.
  • Luke 1:46-56: The prayer of God’s humble maidservant Mary, teems with reasons to praise the Lord. Perhaps during the Advent season, you can pray this along with the mother of the Savior, lifting your heart in praise to God.
  • Ephesians 1: Paul begins his letter to the church in Ephesus by reminding them that they’ve been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Then he goes on to list a sampling of those blessings. Let their rich Gospel truth give your heart a renewed taste of the lavish gifts we have received in Christ.

The question is not really if you’ll feel ungrateful at some point in the next several weeks, but when. But when that moment comes and ingratitude strikes your heart, don’t hide. Pray.

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