The Discipline Of Gratitude
So are you all ready for your Thanksgiving? Just in case any of you experience a place in the meal where the conversation runs dry, here are a few of the worst Thanksgiving jokes ever that you can use to get people talking again.
- Why did the turkey cross the road twice? To prove he wasn’t chicken.
- Why did the police arrest the turkey? They suspected fowl play.
- If your great-grandmother saw you making boxed mashed potatoes, she’d turn over in her grav…y.
Truthfully though, learning to live thankfully isn’t a joke. It’s maybe one of the most important disciplines that you can master with the Lord’s help if you want to live life well.
Maybe it seems a bit odd to speak of being thankful as a discipline. Maybe your reflex is to think of thankfulness as an attitude. Like happiness or sadness, it chooses you. But how then can King David tell us, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” (1 Chron.16:24). Truth be told, gratitude is more than a passive attitude; it’s very much a discipline of grace we can choose to practice.
Here are three reasons to practice the discipline of gratitude.
Reason #1: Practicing Gratitude Improves Your Health & Relationships
Proverbs 17:22 – “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” If you want your computer to just light up sometime, type in to your search engine “Health Benefits of Thankfulness” then duck, because article after article is going to spit out at you.
There’s not an area of your life that is not impacted for the better by being thankful.
Do you want to be less sick and sleep better at night? Be thankful. Do you want to improve your networking, and motivate your employees and co-workers better? Be thankful. How about improving your marriage and having more friends? Be thankful.
Take marriage for example. Married couples fall into ruts and time-loops of negativity with each other. Simply inserting the slightest variable into the equation – Thank you for how you care for the kids / Thank you for working so hard for our family / Thank you for dinner – jams a spoke in the wheel of all that negativity.
Reason #2: Practicing Gratitude Helps You Face & Overcome Hardship
It’s a major tenet of our faith, that followers of Christ are called to face tough times with joy.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” James writes. “We rejoice in our sufferings,” Paul chimes in.
It’s not the fact of suffering that should cause joy. “Yes! – the car’s broken down!” “I’m sick! Woo-hoo! Lucky me.” Suffering stinks. But there are reasons why suffering should lead to joy.
We can rejoice because the suffering can lead to growth, if we have faith to meet it head-on. Truly, like the saying goes, “The same fire that melts butter hardens steel.” But the Bible said it first.
“We rejoice in our sufferings,” Paul writes, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character…because God’s love has been poured in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:3-5).
The ultimate reason for grabbing on to joy in our suffering is that for a follower of Christ, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:37-38.) And when all is said and done, Team Jesus wins.
You say, How can we talk about thankfulness and gratitude at a time when there’s so much pain in the world around us? You want me just to bury my head in the sand, Pastor Bear, and say, “Oh thank you Jesus.”
That’s not what we’re saying at all, because that’s not what the Bible teaches at all. A follower of Christ understands full-well what this world is like. The Bible tells us that the whole earth is groaning under the weight of sin, waiting for its redemption. And we’re groaning too. The earth is a ruined splendor. Truth be told, this life is actually is a prep school for eternity.
And so Scripture teaches us this. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Not, “give thanks for all circumstances.” Get your preposition right, and you’ll get your position right.
We thank God in the storm. Not for it. So we can say, “God I am shattered and crushed by what has just happened. It takes the very life out of me. I don’t know how I can go forward from this. But I choose right now to thank you that you are sovereign, that you are my Lord, and though I don’t understand how, I thank you that from this, even this, you can bring good. That your kingdom is coming one day, when you will wipe away every tear and make all things new. And in that hope, I step forward into the future that you have for me.”
Reason #3: Practicing Gratitude Helps You Avoid The Death Spiral Of Bitterness
Hebrews 12:15 warns us: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
What’s especially dangerous about not practicing the discipline of gratitude is where it will take you as a person. To feel grief or anger or anxiety when misfortune or evil strikes us is what you should feel. It means you’re human. It means you have a beating heart. Jesus felt all the emotions that we do. David in the psalms lets his emotional life all hang out.
What’s slippery though, even pernicious, is when we allow a dark emotion to linger, or overstay its welcome.
I am jarred by the word the author of Hebrews uses. The root of bitterness. Because that’s exactly what it is. I move from feeling bitterness because of what I’ve suffered to becoming bitter. It’s like a massive vine that worms its way so completely around a tree that you can’t tell one from the other.
What can snap us out of this death spiral? Only gratitude. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” The Greek word for grace in the Bible is charis. Interestingly, the primary Greek word used for the word “thankfulness” is “eucharistia”. The word “grace” is imbedded within it. To be thankful is to choose to see signs and evidence of the goodness of God at work around you.
And when you make that choice to see the good – and here’s where discipline comes in – then grace comes and anoints you, like a warm spring rain. Thanksgiving is a radical choice that I make to inhabit, to bathe in, to leap in to the pools of the grace of God. It’s shouting out, Wahoo-Doree, to all the Grinches trying to ruin my Christmas.
Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the holocaust, who became a famous teacher and writer, said, “Right after the war, I went around telling people, ‘Thank you just for living, for being human.’ And to this day, the words that come most frequently from my lips are, ‘Thank you.’ When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity…For me, every hour is grace.”
“All that we behold is full of blessings,” William Wordsworth said.
You have enough things in just your kitchen to thank God for an hour. Go on a walk around your neighborhood. You will pass by hundreds of things for which to give thanks. Look up all the Bible verses you can find on thanks and study them for a week. Write a letter of thanks this week to one person who has made a difference in your life. When you send out your Christmas cards (if you still do that), don’t just sign your name. Thank the person you’re sending the card to for one reason you’re glad they’re in your life. Husbands and wives, put a moratorium on complaining in the house for one week.
So go, worship, and choose to make this the best Thanksgiving ever.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.