Spiritual Disciplines // GRATITUDE & SERVICE
By Andrea Larson
The word “gratitude” always reminds me of Thanksgiving and it probably reminds you of that too. We can just imagine the warm fuzzy feelings that envelop us as family gathers around the dinner table. Often, we take turns, one by one, going around our respective tables to recall and speak out loud the blessings for which we are thankful. It is for the most part a pleasant activity that demands very little of us.
Gratitude is also recognized as that sensation we automatically experience when good things happen to us; the thoughtfulness expressed in a lovely gift, the relief that comes with a negative medical test result or the joy we feel in welcoming a newborn child can all bring us to spontaneously express thankfulness. The discipline of gratitude is something very different than all of these.
“While basic gratitude is passively evoked by external events of the exclusively positive variety, the spiritual discipline of gratitude is intentionally chosen, deliberately trained, and exercised in all circumstances. It is not dependent on changing conditions, but on mindset. It is not waited for, but pursued.” (Brett and Kate McKay – “The Spiritual Disciplines”)
Consider Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonian church:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”I Thessalonians 5: 16-18
This sort of gratitude sounds quite a bit tougher. Now, we are out of the realm of fleeting feelings and definitely into the territory of chosen attitudes and deliberate decisions. On Sunday, Pastor Donia spoke about the hits that kept coming Nehemiah’s way and those that keep coming our way. For Nehemiah, it was criticisms, distractions, personal attacks and more. For us, it has been a seemingly endless array of challenges including a worldwide pandemic, crazy wildfires, festering political strife and most recently, a devastating ice storm. We should give thanks for these things??
Well, no, of course not. It doesn’t say to give thanks for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. And that’s where the discipline comes into play. Gratitude involves minimizing distractions so that we can increase our level of awareness and expand our field of vision to see beyond the ugly scenes that dominate the evening news into the wider world where the Kingdom of God is most definitely advancing. Paul gives further instruction to us as to HOW to accomplish this, in his letter to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4: 4-7
The companion activities of gratitude are rejoicing and praying. They all go together. Charles Spurgeon, an influential 19th century preacher, said that “When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.” And clearly, the outcome of these choices is PEACE. Doesn’t that sound good?
- Find a spot to pray that has a minimum of distractions. Keep a piece of paper and a pen near you so that if necessary, you can jot down thoughts that intrude into your quiet time. (Writing down things that really are important items for later frees your mind from the job of remembering them and allows you to concentrate on talking to the Lord.)
- PRAY and ask the Lord to increase your awareness and expand your vision as you recall some of the good things that have come out of this past year of difficulty. Perhaps you are having more quality family time, perhaps you actually like working from home, perhaps you are praying more because things are hard, etc. THANK the Lord for these things!
Now take some time to REJOICE – sing a song of thanksgiving or put on some worship music. Sit quietly for five minutes in the PEACE that will follow.