Finding sincere gratitude amid a hard year

(Photo: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez)
(Photo: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez)

If you have been scrolling on social media lately, you have probably noticed a lot of posts about thankfulness. It’s November, after all, and this month is all about gratitude and generosity. There is a lot of positive peer pressure out there to practice gratitude this month, and this is for good reason. Gratitude is a catalyst for a flourishing life.

The Bible makes it really clear that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and generosity. Before Jesus fed the multitude, he gave thanks for the five loaves of bread and two fish that he had in his possession (John 6:11). He modeled what it looks like to give thanks to the Father and give generously from a place of faith.

In Acts 2:42-47, we read about a group of believers who didn’t have much but were committed to living out their faith in practical ways. They shared meals, devoted themselves to learning about God, and cared for the practical needs in their community. They even sold their property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Why were these believers able to live such generous lives? One of the reasons, if not the main reason, is because they had “glad and sincere hearts” and maintained a posture of gratitude (Acts 2:46).

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The last couple of years have been challenging, to say the least. I know that some of us have some very real scars that may make it hard for us to feel grateful. I’m not here to promote inauthentic gratitude or a "fake it until you make it" mantra. Instead, I want to encourage you to practice sincere gratitude. To spend time in prayer asking God “is there any area of my life for which I can be truly and sincerely grateful?”

If the answer is yes – if there is even one blessing that you can recognize in your life – you have the raw material necessary to cultivate gratitude. As we begin to meditate on and be sincerely grateful for the blessings we do have, we begin to see the very real ways that we can meet other people’s needs.

For example, many people reading this have more than enough resources to celebrate Christmas this year. But in my home city of San Diego, countless people are facing economic hardship and varying levels of poverty. In fact, according to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, over one million San Diegans are currently at risk of facing hunger, including more than 284,000 children  Additionally, nearly 19 percent of San Diego County's children are living in poverty. ( We could easily be blind to these needs because we don’t recognize what we truly have, but we know God invites us to ask him “Lord, help me to see.”

I am so proud of my church community for the ways they have walked this out. 25 years ago, a group of radically generous people rallied together to come up with a plan to help support people facing economic hardship during the Christmas season. The result was Toys for Joy.

Miles McPherson, Rock Church senior pastor, and Shelley Zimmerman, the Assistant Police Chief for San Diego, hand out toys in the toy room at Toys for Joy.
Miles McPherson, Rock Church senior pastor, and Shelley Zimmerman, the Assistant Police Chief for San Diego, hand out toys in the toy room at Toys for Joy. | (Photo: The Studios of Joseph Guidi Photo/ Joseph Guidi)

The first year of this event, we gathered in the parking lot of neighborhood churches and gave toys, hot chocolate, and Christmas trees away to the local community. It blows me away to see what it has grown into today, with locations spread out across San Diego County that serve thousands of children and their families.

Businesses and schools have also partnered with us to serve the community. Now, one of my favorite things to see is that many of the children we served in those first years have returned with their families to give back as volunteers. They are deeply grateful for the blessings they have received, and their gratitude has spilled over into generosity.

As Toys for Joy approaches its 25th anniversary, we are excited to celebrate all that God has done. Since its beginning, we have had the opportunity to share the hope of the Christmas season with 200,100 children and families in San Diego. On December 11, we will be hosting two drive-thru distributions in which families will receive a large box of groceries and a toy for each child (ages 0-11) present in the vehicle. From school beautification projects to feeding families in need, the Rock Church along with partners and sponsors will be participating in 25 acts of generosity leading up to the event all across San Diego county. Last year, we were able to support almost 18,000 children and individuals through Toys for Joy, and we are expecting to serve even more people as the years go on.

I can’t help but keep going back to the believers in Acts 2. Just as they gave generously from sincere hearts of gratitude, so do I see this happening with Toys for Joy. This all started with just a small group of people desiring to be generous with what God had given them. And the ripple effect has been great.

So, as November unfolds and we prepare for Thanksgiving, this is an invitation. We would certainly love for everyone to participate in Toys for Joy by donating, volunteering, or sponsoring, but the invitation I’m placing before you are bigger than that. How can you practice sincere gratitude by serving in your local community this holiday season? Ultimately, we all get to choose for ourselves if we are going to practice sincere gratitude. When we face moments this month that makes us feel depleted, let us turn our eyes upward to the God who has not exhausted his resources for us. Let’s accept the positive peer pressure to practice gratitude this month and let it transform us into generous people.

Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.


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