At the beginning of Thanksgiving week my thoughts turned to gratitude. The first words of thanksgiving were the usual ones: for family and friends, for love and relationships. The blessings of a comfortable home, abundant food, the material goods that I enjoy, and the privilege of living in a safe and secure place in this world were high on the list, too.
More reflection brought me to expression of thanks for God’s love and the faith that secures my hope of life eternal. Thankfulness is not difficult on the sunny days, is it? But, what about those times of hardship, of pain, of disappointment, of struggle, of lack?
The wisdom of the Word calls us to this constant choice: “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT) Wait, don’t just nod in agreement or say, ‘that’s right, Jerry.’ Think about it.
Does an attitude of gratitude
shape your thoughts, your words,
your interaction with others?
Do your prayers include
sincerely worshipful praise all of the time?
Gratitude that is real, constant, and soul-deep is rooted in humility. In a society that values the individual, where we are trained to cherish our rights, we can quickly step over the line of healthy self-esteem into self-love and a general feeling of entitlement that says to God and others – “You owe me.”
When someone appears to disrespect the self-entitled person even in the simplest way, the response is angry and quick, a snarl, a complaint, or in the extreme – an act of violence. That ‘me first’ person prays ‘bless me’ prayers incessantly and complains when God does not answer every plea with the ‘right’ answer. If we want to become truly grateful, the place to start with our heart. “God, dethrone Self and be lifted up in my thoughts.” When we find critical or angry words flowing out of our mouth, we need to check our heart and ask ourselves why we need to be right, to be served.
I know this for a fact – our Ego will devour as much attention as we are willing to give to it. When life becomes difficult, when people disappoint us, when things do not turn out as we had planned, when friends forsake us, when health fails, when loneliness surrounds us *(misery can make a long list!) pride will tell us ‘you deserve better’ and the temptation to shrink into a little ball of self-pity and to marinate in the sauce of ‘poor me’ will be strong.
Then, we are open to the deception that tells that gratitude is impossible, something that only someone else can know. If we wait to feel thankful, we will not be thankful often, if ever. So the Spirit whispers to us this direction shared a moment ago- “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
Henri Nouwen, a man who knew deep inner conflict, reflects on his own journey writing that “In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” Re-read that line. It is powerfully true!
Some suggestions that can help us to move into the discipline of gratitude are these.
- Begin the day with thanks to God. Do not let it be a perfunctory, “Thank you, Lord, for all You have done.”
Make it personal, from the heart, authentic. Speak it.
- That first person you encounter in the morning – let your first words be thankful and again, make it real!
- When irritation stirs in you, meet it with prayer and the choice to “Let go and let God.”
- Change the channel (literally!) and figuratively. “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—” (Psalm 103:1-2, NIV)
Like all disciplines, gratitude will grow with practice, becoming a habit, a true value with life enhancing gains. The more thankful we choose to be, the more natural it becomes to respond to life and others with gratitude. Yes, we can, through Christ Jesus learn to accept life, not as we wish it might be, but as it is.
Here is the word from the Word. Let’s live it!
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.” (Psalm 107:1-2, NLT)
Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given
Jesus Christ His Son
And now let the weak say I am strong
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us
Henry Smith© 1978 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Integrity Music)