Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his Son.
It’s November and Thanksgiving is almost upon us. On Facebook, 30 Days of Thankfulness is in full swing. Each day, participants in the 30 Day Challenge use their status to record something in their life for which they are grateful. From the enormity of faith, family and friendships to the simplicity of a free latte at your coffee joint or a friendly smile from a sales clerk, folks publicly share their litany of thanks for the joys and blessings of their lives.
Of course, being thankful for something is not limited to a 30-day time span that only rolls around each autumn. Nor is it required to use social media to proclaim the things that make your day brighter. After all, considering the ways in which the love and goodness of God fills our lives is nothing trendy or avant-garde but is a deliberate spiritual exercise reaches back into the Psalms of the Old Testament. There, again and again, in numerous songs, often composed in the face hardship, trial, and even persecution, the tenor of the Psalmist is to turn to God and offer praise, prayer and thanksgiving (Psalm 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 18, 20, 22, 23, 37, 61, 62, 64, just to name a few!).
Certainly the Psalmist is not grateful for the trauma and setbacks he experiences. Rather, there is a conscious decision to find a way to be grateful for God’s presence in his life amidst the hardship. To sing of God’s praises helps disappointment from becoming despair, concern from becoming anxiety and fear, or dislike becoming bitterness and hatred. It’s a gratefulness that does not depend upon external circumstances, but on an inner faith and confidence that helps form a person’s identity.
This kind of deep, soul-searching thankfulness and gratitude is not relegated to faceless biblical heroes of bygone days, but occurs in the here and now. I am sure each of us have known or know someone—a relative, a friend, a neighbor or a co-worker—who has faced extreme pain, anguish or loss; a cancer diagnosis, the catastrophic loss of home and property, or discovering terminal illness which now means hospice care. Despite their dire circumstances, they still manage to find the good happening and focus on that instead of their misfortune. We marvel at their resilience, their positive attitude, and the gratitude that pervades their perspective and we hope that we might respond with half the grace, dignity, humor, and gratitude as they do for the blessings they count in their lives.
Gratitude is not simply an emotional response to circumstances. Yes, we are thankful when we are the beneficiaries of some good or perceived blessing. We seek out the benefactor, the one who has bestowed us with good and express our thanks. But having gratitude that transcends circumstances, having the ability to find the good that persists in life is a virtue. It is an interior quality that helps define a person’s character. More than a personality trait, virtue is something to be cultivated, practiced until it become a habit that so shapes our identity it becomes something by which we are known to others.
Gratitude as a virtue is a deliberate choice made in our ordinary, everyday lives as we see goodness with humility and graciousness, regardless of circumstances. Gratitude is a decision; it is, as Paul wrote—from the confines of prison—to think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Gratitude is, for the Christian, to realize we are dependent upon God for our lives, our redemption and our salvation. Gratitude and thankfulness in all things does not mean to be grateful for all circumstances, but to be thankful for the presence of the crucified and risen Christ in and throughout all circumstances, just as the lyricist wrote,
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.”
Facebook’s 30 Days of Thankfulness is not a requirement for people who want to become more grateful. But it is one way to cultivate and practice thankfulness if you are committed to making gratitude a habitual part of your life. Other ways include keeping a blessing journal, living out Philippians 4:8, looking for the good in daily life, and offering praise and thanksgiving in your prayers. Regardless of how you choose to practice gratitude, choosing to spend some time with it makes it far easier to sing,
Come, ye thankful people, come;
Raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin.
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied.
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home.