—November of 1995
The Grace of Gratitude
According to a medieval legend, two angels were once sent down to earth, one to gather up petitions and the other to collect thanksgivings. The first angel found petitions everywhere. He soon returned to heaven with a huge load of them on his back and a bundle in each hand. The second angel had no such easy time. He had to search diligently to find even a mere handful to take back to heaven.
Admittedly, legends can be farfetched and unrealistic or they can be painfully accurate. This one, however, is much too accurate for comfort. We would all have to admit that the high stakes scramble for more of this world’s goods has robbed the church of her voice of thanksgiving. Our long period of materialistic comfort has made us easy in Zion and unaccustomed to the exercise of humble gratitude.
The Apostle Paul knew the importance of gratitude to the Christian as well as the subtle danger of ingratitude. Listen to the music of gratitude that plays through his epistle to the Colossians:
Chapter one, verse 3: “We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus.”
Chapter one, verse 12: “…giving thanks unto the Father.”
Chapter two, verse 7: “…abounding…with thanksgiving.”
Chapter three, verse 17: “…giving thanks unto God and the Father by Him.”
Chapter four, verse 17: “Continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
Paul’s hymnody of thanks seems to center in chapter three, verse 15 when he says, “and be ye thankful.”
Paul’s strong imperative to “wear a garment of gratitude” is anchored to three firm convictions in the Apostle’s life.
Paul saw gratitude as a required grace. Not a luxury but a necessity, not an option but a conviction. Paul placed it among the required rather than the elective classes in the school of Christian experience. I have a debt to be grateful!
I owe it to God to be grateful. He has given me life, eternal life and the opportunity to do something with it.
I owe it to others to be grateful. A sour, complaining spirit spreads gloom. However, a joyful, cheerful spirit brings sunshine and smiles wherever it goes.
I owe it to myself. Your physician will tell you that a mean, bitter, thankless spirit harms our health and robs us of life. But of greater concern is what ingratitude does to us spiritually. Of the thirteen plagues that came upon the children of Israel in their wilderness journey, eleven of those were punishment for murmuring against God. In Romans chapter one, Paul charts the awful journey from godliness to godlessness. He says in verse 21 that part of the root cause for such deviation is a spirit of ingratitude, “neither were they thankful.”
Gratitude is also a ripening grace. A more literal translation of Paul’s words would be, “and become ye thankful.” We must seek the grace of gratitude and cultivate the grace of gratitude until we are “abounding with thanksgiving.” This is not an easy task. None will ever overflow with thanksgiving until they see that gratitude is an inner disposition towards life that must be worked at. Life has its mix of good and bad—of the difficult and the delightful; but it’s up to us as to how we respond to that mix. Some people in examining a bush unhappily see only the thorns; others rejoice in the fragrance of its roses. The lens through which we view life is so important. Jacob saw his days as “few and evil.” He described the loss of Joseph and the famine that reunited them with these words, “all these things be against me.” However, Joseph looked at life through the lens of gratitude and described the same time period with a different set of words completely. Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” We see exactly what we discipline ourselves to see in life, and looking through the lens of thanksgiving will ripen us.
It is often said among Christians that our reward is in the world to come. However, gratitude is a rewarding grace. It has its own reward for us right now.
Gratitude exalts God. Very few things honor and glorify God more than the sweet fragrance of a thankful soul. It expels gloom and ushers in sweet peace and blessed hope. More than once the child of God has used thanksgiving to drive back the clouds of sorrow and gloom. Gratitude encourages graciousness. It gives us the politeness of soul and graciousness of spirit that can’t be purchased for any amount of money.
Let’s declare war on whimpering and complaining! Let’s put away from us forever the grumbling and fault-finding that is such a blight on the church today! Reach into the closet of God’s grace and adorn yourself with the garment of gratitude! It will make a difference!