Gratitude is the natural by-product of grace. Yet, I know from experience how quickly I can forget God’s grace and start complaining. How easily my focus shifts from what I should be grateful for, to what I don’t have. Do you ever have to remind your kids about this? Have you ever had this conversation? “That room you live in is in a house that I own. You live here for free. It’s all grace. See that bed? Grace. Those clothes in your closet? Grace. That TV in your room? Grace. How about a little gratitude?” I wonder sometimes if God doesn’t look at us and say, “You know that job you have? That’s grace. Your health and all the years I’ve given you? It’s my gift to you. The house you live in? It’s all grace. So how about a little gratitude?”
Gratitude is so much more than just being polite. I think about the forced gratitude that we impose on our children at Christmas when they get a lousy present from Aunt Claire. We give that look that says, “You’d better say thank you even if you don’t know what it is!” Genuine gratitude isn’t forced; it’s the kind of gratitude that resides voluntarily deep within your soul. It’s gratitude that creates contentment and makes you less petty and critical.
Perspective is everything. True gratitude has nothing to do with what you have or don’t have. It has nothing to do with having a job or not having a job. It has nothing to do with having your health or not. It’s not dependent on circumstances. Listen to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “No matter what happens, always be thankful for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Back in 2003 a young 13 year old girl named Bethany Hamilton was laying on her surfboard off the coast of Hawaii when she was attacked by a tiger shark. She lost her arm and for the next several hours there was fear that she would actually bleed to death. She was a young surfer on her way to becoming pro, but that day her life was interrupted. Stories about her ran all over the news. Listen to her words just a few days after this attack that would forever change her life: “There’s no time machine. I can’t change what happened. This is God’s plan and I’m going to go with it.” She goes on to say, “I might not even be here if I hadn’t asked for God’s help. Who knows maybe it’s all so that I can tell others about God and help them get to heaven.” Remarkable… thirteen years old! Not focused on what she didn’t have (her arm), but grateful for what she did have (her life). It’s all about perspective.
Guarding your heart with gratitude is essential. In the Christian life there are many things which are like spiritual diseases. No matter what the symptoms are, I believe the prescription for healing is found in a large dose of gratitude.
Let’s say for example that you struggle with a critical spirit. That is symptomatic of an ungrateful heart. My advice to you would be, work on gratitude. Begin to look for those things which you appreciate. Maybe you struggle with bitterness in your marriage. When you and your spouse disagree you feel the resentment welling up inside of you. Stop, change your thinking. Look for ways to be grateful. Begin to express your appreciation and see what God does in your heart. Maybe the issue is one of pride. You find yourself thinking it’s all about you. Focus on gratitude; it helps you realize it’s not about you at all.
Gratitude leads to contentment… every time.
Practice staying in the moment. One of the lessons that I’m continuing to learn is that my gratitude is linked to my ability to stay in the moment. Life in our culture moves very fast. If I’m not careful I’ll blow right by all the opportunities that God wants to inject gratitude into my heart. We need to learn to linger long enough to be grateful.
Let’s practice this right now. Hold up your left hand, wiggle your fingers. If you have a left hand that works and moves, it’s something to be grateful for. In fact, your hand is a medical marvel. Some of you have a watch on your left arm. Every time that second hand ticks, it’s a gift. Not one of us ever created one minute of life. It’s a gift. On my left hand is a ring which symbolizes a gift of a relationship. It represents somebody who has shared their life with me for more than 25 years now. It’s a gift for which I am grateful. God gave you that left hand so that you could touch and be touched. Sometimes just the touch of a person’s hand communicates, “I’m grateful.” In fact, if you’re sitting by someone you might just reach over and pat them on the shoulder, put your arm around them, grab their hand. If you’re sitting next to a stranger, don’t do it… or at least ask them first.
The idea: Stay in the moment. Practice saying thanks for the little things. When we express gratitude, God changes the way we think. When we start thinking differently the way we perceive everything is filtered through the lens of gratitude.
Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made. We’ll rejoice and be glad in it.” This is the day. He doesn’t say “yesterday,” because you can’t change that. He doesn’t talk about “tomorrow,” because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But the one thing we own is what we do with this day, today, right now. When grace flows in, gratitude fills up.
(Sources: Max Lucado; NIV Application Commentary; Max Kennedy of Innovative Word; Holman NT Commentary)