There is a sense in which our basic human flesh rebels against gratefulness. Yet gratefulness is one of the most important character traits for an individual, family, church or culture to learn.
Let’s begin with a definition. There is the common definition: “warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.” The Encyclopedia of Ethics defines gratefulness as “the heart’s internal indicator on which the tally of gifts outweighs exchanges.” Some of us were taught that “gratefulness is recognizing what others have done for you and then showing your appreciation.”
Consider these verses: “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1). “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
Sadly, gratefulness is not always expressed in the context of some families, churches or culture. One of the reasons is the pandemic of discontentment and self-centeredness that infects our culture. As a result, when some people don’t get their way, they are inclined to throw a fit, or organize a demonstration, or bully people into submission. What is needed is a BIG over-abundance of the words, “thank you.”
One way to learn gratefulness is to rehearse our history with one another and express appreciation for our shared experiences.
We have forgotten how good we have it in the United States. Our kids roll their eyes when they hear how in the “good old days” we had so much less. Each generation tends to take for granted things the generation before them only dreamed of having. This may surprise some Pathway readers. There is a generation that did not have a single smart phone, iPad or big screen in the worship center.
Many of us at one time or another struggled with the necessities of life. There were days when we wondered where the next meal would come from. Or if we had a car, how could we afford to put $5 of gas in the tank to make it to class. Some have forgotten what it was like to be without electronic gadgets.
One of the great miracles of life occurs when generations are changed because a person is radically saved from sin and empowered to live a holy life. The trajectory of that person’s life, and generations to follow, is changed by the power of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such a life creates a principle: Gospel transformation has a way of raising the education and economic conditions of generations. But we must never forget what it was like before Christ’s redemptive work in us so that we can be grateful people of faith today.
When we begin to understand how blessed we are, gratefulness rolls out of our hearts and onto our lips. We begin to say “thank you” more frequently. Or how about, “I appreciate you for teaching me how to love God or to love my family.”
Here are some good things to do to help us be more grateful:
- Do your best to make irritations opportunities. When things happen – like a cross word or someone treats you with disrespect – instead of blowing up, quietly rehearse in your heart all the good things this person has meant to you. Then tell them how grateful you are for them.
- Before you pray over your family meal, have each member share a word of appreciation for the person on their left or right.
- Wake up each morning and, before the feet hit the floor, name seven people or things for which you are grateful.
- Have a “Grateful Pumpkin.” Sharon puts a pumpkin out in the kitchen with a Sharpie pen. We start at the top and write in a circle around the pumpkin all the things and people we are grateful for. When our family visits, they are welcome to write on it, too.
- How about making a list of 30 things/people you are grateful for, such as home, food, health, a person in your family, or someone in authority. Put them on a calendar from Thanksgiving Day all the way to Christmas Eve. Focus on one thing/person per day. This exercise would be a good idea for a church family or a Sunday School class, too.
- Find someone who is active or retired military, look them in the eyes and say “thank you” for their service.
We can all learn to be more grateful. Gratefulness has a way of honoring the Lord, honoring those we know, and honoring our lives. Gratefulness is a choice we make.
Sharon and I are very grateful for the opportunity to serve Missouri Baptists. Thank you for allowing us to serve you at this moment in history. Happy Thanksgiving!