The Practice of Gratitude
Next week is Thanksgiving, that gentle yearly reminder to practice gratitude. All of us have moments that we feel grateful. But how do we consistently weave thankfulness into our lives?
Looking back at my past, I see God's hand of blessing clearly. I have received so much more than I have ever given. There were forks in the road that could have been disastrous. There are moments of miraculous protection. There are foundational blessings such as Christian parents who loved each other and loved me well. In a world where there can be places filled with scarcity, I grew up in relative prosperity. One way to practice looking back is to write thank you notes or simply share verbally with those who have made an impact on our lives. I suspect there are some in both my life and yours that have no idea how meaningful their kindness, generosity and encouraging words have been. Let them know.
Sometimes I am surprised by the power of ingratitude in our hearts. We even see it in the beginning of humanity. Eve lived in a perfect place called Eden with the best man on the planet (ok, the only man on the planet). She lived in a garden filled with nourishment and beauty. Yet when the Serpent tempted her with ingratitude for what she had and tempted her with the one fruit that was off limits she reached for it greedily (Genesis 3) . Stop and think. All her needs were met. She experienced healthy relationships, the perfect heavenly parent, and a beautiful environment. She failed to look around and be grateful for what she had. I try to look around often. I have a remarkable wife and delightful children. I love my job and feel like I make a difference. I have deep friendships and mentors. The list goes on and on. Practice looking around; your list will be unique to you, but meaningful none the less. I once heard a speaker say that she writes 5 things she is thankful for every day in a gratitude journal. I have done that for different seasons of my life; it's powerful. Author Ann Voskamp says, "Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large."(One Thousand Gifts, 48) Try it.
No matter what is happening in our lives we can always look up at the character of God. He is holy, loving, just, all powerful and all knowing. In exercising gratitude we tend to focus on the blessings or gifts from God when the greatest gift is God Himself. Just as a child can focus on their beloved parent in a tense or scary moment, we can focus on our trustworthy, Heavenly father. God is faithful. God is fun. God loves us no matter what (Romans 8:38, 39). One practice that I do is go through the alphabet and think of attributes of God for each letter (Yes, x and z are rough, let me know if you come up with some). It's a simple exercise but it raises my eyes to focus above the earthly and onto the eternal. Like any parent God appreciates our thankfulness towards him. I think of author John Piper who said, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." As a regular part of worship Christians around the world celebrate the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. At our church we weekly remember through this simple ritual and thank God for the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that makes salvation possible for all who are willing.
Life is heavy for many right now. A heated election, an advancing pandemic, it can be challenging to practice gratitude. It is always important to look hard for how to be grateful. I think of Jesus at the last supper with his good friends, the disciples. They don't quite understand what is coming next, but Jesus sees the cross clearly: a scourging, mockery, spitting in his face, spikes in his wrists and feet. And yet at the last supper we are told he looks at the bread and he "gives thanks." He sees through the pain to the plan and purpose of God. He sees our redemption made possible through the cross. When when look into the agony of life, we have to look hard to be grateful but do it we must. Reflect on your failures, often they were your gateway to later success. Look at the betrayals, often they pushed you into new, better relationships where you could flourish. Losing your job may be the push you needed to answer the call of God on your life. Illness may have taught you that dependance on God is greater than independence from Him. The abuse you suffered may open a door for you to help others who have experienced similar torment. God is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Notice that it says in all things which includes good and bad. He brings purpose and power out of our pain. Again author Ann Voskamp offers this thought, "lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty." (One Thousand Gifts, 100). Look hard into life with the lens of gratitude; it's an entirely different view.
Thanksgiving is more than a holiday it's a holy way of life. I invite you to walk in the way of gratitude.
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church
Note: This article was published in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner the Friday before Thanksgiving.