Growing Gratitude: Series Intro
Gratitude Changes Everything. It really does! Over the next few weeks we will explore Christian gratitude. What is it? How does it work? How do we not just feel it, but authentically practice it?
I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite holiday movies – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Maybe you remember the family meal scene when Clark asks Aunt Bethany to say grace:
I laugh every time I see this scene. It’s funny, but it’s also kinda sad. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Aunt Bethany confuses saying grace with a person named Grace. Maybe it’s no coincidence that she and the family say the Pledge of Allegiance instead of giving thanks to God for the food before them. Maybe it’s a metaphor for just how far our society and culture have fallen from an attitude of gratitude.
Scripture reminds us often about infusing our lives with gratitude. Take 1 Thessalonians 5:15-20 as an example:
Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always.Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.
Paul leads us to understand the importance of gratitude in this letter when considering how we are to treat one another. I imagine these few verses almost an an exchange with his Thessalonian audience:
Paul: Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else.
Thessalonians: Well, that sounds great, but it’s not so easy in practice. So, can you give us some practical advice?
Paul: Sure, start here: Rejoice always.
Thessalonians: Always?! Sometimes life throws some stuff that isn’t so joyful. How do we rejoice always?
Paul: Try this: Pray continually.
Thessalonians: Continually?! We pray, but constantly..continually? That doesn’t seem possible or practical!
Paul: You can cultivate continual prayer this way: Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Thessalonians: Give thanks! Yeah, we can do that. But we’re not sure there is something to be grateful for in EVERY situation.
Paul: You’ll find something worthy of thanks in every situation if you do this: Don’t suppress the Spirit.Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.
Maybe if we take Paul’s advice and examine everything carefully discerning what is good and clinging to it, then we will learn to give thanks in everything. And, as Paul says, that can lead to a life of prayer and rejoicing whereby we will do good towards everyone. In fact, an attitude and practice of gratitude might just be the key to doing good to everyone.
You see, as gratitude grows within us, it works good into us and others. Happiness does not just happen. Even though good things come to us everyday, so many of us aren’t happy. Think about all the good things around you. And yet, you and I still worry. We fret. We wonder and struggle. We seem to find a way to focus more on what we don’t have that what we do have.
In fact, research shows that our minds do have a built-in tendency to perceive an input as negative. In other words, our reactions to situations, to people around us, to the events of the day, what we notice and pay attention to more often than not will drift to what is going wrong rather than what is going right. (We will explore some of that research over the next few weeks.) As Dr. Rick Hanson has said, “Our minds are Velcro for negative information but Teflon for positive.”
And yet, there are thousands of good things happening all the time. Some people are in tune with this. You know some people like that. They make everything sound amazing. They are grateful for the sun the rain, they are grateful whether they are rich or poor, they are grateful when they win or lose. I mean it just doesn’t matter what happens to these kinds of people they find a way to be grateful. They lose a game and say, “I’m just so thankful to have been able to compete.” They lose a pet and say, “I’m just so thankful to have had so many years with little Spot.” They lose an argument with their spouse and say, “I’m just so grateful to be married and wake up everyday next to someone who is always right.” (Well, maybe no one ever said that! But you get the point.)
People like that can be really annoying. They make everything sound great. Some times call these kind of people Pollyannas. I don’t actually think we are annoyed by such people though. I think we are actually jealous.
You see, people like this have something that not all of us have. You know what that is? It’s not that good things happen to them. It’s not that they just miraculously find a way to be happy and excited about everything. It’s not that they are optimists.
It’s that they have gratitude. It’s that they practice gratitude. They understand that the work is not theirs, that no one owes them anything, that everything around them is a gift, and that they can do nothing without the help of someone else.
Think about this last one. Some of the best moments in life are those in which we sense we have been the beneficiary of goodness freely and generously bestowed on us.
- The moment a parent consoled you over some great hurt or loss.
- The moment our spouse said yes or I Do and gave us the gift of sharing their life together.
- The moment a child was born and you received the gift of that persons love in the most amazing tangible form.
- The moment a friend stood by your side during a difficult time when you know they didn’t have to.
- The moment you realized for the first time the truth that Jesus took those nails in his hands on that cross for you.
Folks, nothing you have nothing you experience is a product of you alone. Everything you have everything you experienced is a gift. It has been possible because of dozens of other people, people close to you and people you don’t even know and most importantly everything is a gift from God.
And when you realize this and began to cultivate the act of giving thanks you will harvest happiness in your life.
And this is what we will be talking about for the next few weeks. We are going to dig into what gratitude really is. We are going to learn how to cultivate our awareness of gratitude. Are going to learn how to express gratitude in practical and tangible forms.
Some people define gratitude as a sincere feeling of appreciation. I say no. And so does the Bible.
What does the Bible say over and over again about thanks? Does it say feel thanks? Does it say relish in the state of gratitude? Does it tell you to say thank you? Does it say to take thanks for yourself? No, no, no. The Bible says over and over again exactly what 1 Thessalonians says: Give Thanks!
Give thanks. Don’t feel thanks, or say thanks. Give thanks! As we grow gratitude in our lives over he next few weeks we are going to really learn how to give thanks to God and to others. You want to do good? Then Give thanks. You want to show someone that you love them? Give them thanks. You want to get close to God? Give God thanks. You want to be happy? Give thanks!