You Can’t Photoshop Gratitude: 4 Ways to Exude Thankfulness


The funny thing about gratitude is that it means very little to others until it is expressed.

On November 2, 2015, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron found himself the latest victim in the merciless world of memes.

It all started when an observant Twitter user noticed something awkward about the oversized red poppy on Cameron’s Facebook profile picture. It’s not that having a flower pinned to his lapel was abnormal – poppies are often worn during November in remembrance of fallen soldiers. But it was little too big, too vibrant to be genuine. Someone from his office had taken a previously posted image of the leader and digitally enhanced it with the symbol of gratitude.

Mocking the obvious misuse of Photoshop, #poppygate quickly took over social media as a trending topic, and one embarrassing (albeit amusing) meme after another sprouted up to to showcase Cameron in exaggerated poppy-themed apparel. The original image was almost immediately pulled from Facebook – but the damage was already done.

Half-hearted gratitude

It’s easy to point fingers or mock other leaders for phony displays of gratitude. But at one time or another, haven’t we all been guilty of less-than-genuine thankfulness?

  • We thank our employees for their feedback, but don’t really “hear” their concerns or suggestions for improvement.
  • We tell our spouses we’re grateful for them, but put spending time with them at the bottom of our priorities.
  • We give thanks for extended family at the Thanksgiving dinner table, secretly wondering how much longer before we can go our separate ways. 
  • We praise our Heavenly Father for His goodness, then ask “Where’s God in all of this?!” at the first sign of hardship.

Being thankful is more than smooth talk, trite gestures, or skilled Photoshopping. True gratitude starts in the heart.

One thankful man

In Luke 17, we read an example of what true gratitude looks like.   

As Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee, 10 lepers called persistently and loudly to him from a distance. (Jewish law prohibited these terminal outcasts from getting too close to anyone.)  They yelled, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” and He responded in compassion.

Jesus told the men to go show themselves to the priests. As they went, they were suddenly and miraculously healed of their lifelong plague. Clearly, this was a life-altering event for all 10 of these men – yet only one of them showed any evidence of gratitude.

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:15-19, NIV)

Jesus recognized that this man’s gratitude was more than lip service. His heartfelt thanks was displayed in his:

  • Acknowledgement that he was unworthy, as he kneeled at Jesus’ feet,
  • Recognition that he couldn’t have achieved this miracle on his own,
  • Purposeful expression of gratitude,
  • Willingness to go and be changed.

4 ways to experience and express gratitude

Like the 10 lepers, we have each been repeatedly blessed – both by God the Father, and by the people He has placed in our lives.  Regardless of our circumstances, there are ALWAYS plenty of reasons for which we can be grateful.

So how do we learn to experience and express true gratitude in our lives?

1. Acknowledge that you are unworthy of the gifts you have been given.

It’s tremendously tempting to slip into an entitlement mindset, viewing all of our life circumstances as the product of intellect and hard work. While our efforts certainly have consequences, both good and bad, we are no more or less “deserving” of God’s blessings than anyone else. In fact, if we each got everything we “deserved,” we’d all be in a heap of trouble.  Psalms 103:10 reminds us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

Remember, every good and perfect thing – our health, possessions, talent, position, influence – is a gift on loan from the Father above. (See James 1:17) We are merely stewards of these gifts. 

2. Recognize that you are incapable of doing this all on your own.

Here’s an unsurprising fact: Leadership is hard. Thankfully, God never intended for us to do this alone. He is there to help you and to guide you as you navigate this difficult journey. Stop looking down at the troubles at your feet, and start looking up to the One who can help you through them!

What’s more, God has surrounded you with other people who can help you along the way. We are designed to live, grow, worship and thrive in community! Take stock: Who has God put in your life to challenge you, encourage you, complement your skills or help manage your inadequacies?  Thank God – and then thank them!

3. Be purposeful in expressing your gratitude.

It’s not about empty flattery or the rote verbalizations of “thank you” that have been engrained in us since pre-school. Take time to really communicate how genuinely grateful you are for the people and blessings in your life.  Don’t just think it; say it!

Be purposeful, specific, personal and genuine.  Look people in the eye. Praise others in front of their peers or supervisors. Consider putting your gratitude in writing, through a handwritten card or letter. 

4. Receive and be changed.

Because we know we are unworthy of our blessings and incapable of doing this on our own, we value any feedback and time we are given as precious gifts.  We express this gratitude by soliciting – and acting upon – the input of others and purposefully carving out time in our schedule to be with them.  We view every interaction as an opportunity to receive another blessing.

Total transformation

For the Jesus-led leader, thanksgiving is more than an annual holiday on the calendar. Gratitude should fill our hearts, consume our minds, guide our steps, move our hands and flow from our lips – every single day of the year.  

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read, Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that? “Always.” “Continually.” “In all circumstances.”

You can’t fake or Photoshop that level of gratitude.  It’s a total and perpetual transformation that should permeate every aspect of our leadership.

So let’s get to it. How will you choose to experience and express genuine gratitude today?


By Heather Day


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