The Gift of Gratitude
This time of year, naturally turns the focus of many to thoughts of gratitude. Several of my friends have taken this month to post daily on social media some of the reasons they are thankful. It is a wonderful exercise, and one each of us would benefit from all year round. While we often legitimately look at gratitude as an obligation that we dependent humans owe a gracious and generous God, we may miss the truth that gratitude is actually another one of the gifts God holds out to us, because partaking in gratitude is full of its own benefits.
The first gift of gratitude is that of perspective. A grateful person sees the world from a totally different point of view from an ungrateful person. As we look at society around us breaking down and polarizing, we can also note there is a corresponding lack of gratitude. Currently, it seems that everyone is very aware of what they believe they are owed, where life has cheated them, and what they don’t have (especially if they feel someone else has something they believe they are entitled to). They feel America hasn’t given them ____ (fill in the blank), but they fail to acknowledge all of the ways they have benefitted from the advantages afforded them in a country in which, up till now, they have been free—even free to protest for their views.
When I was a child I became bonded with a missionary who had come to our church, Ioleta McElhaney Tiger. She was a Native American from the Kiowa Tribe. In fact, she was the granddaughter of their famous (she would say “infamous”) chief, Sitting Bear. Although Ioleta was old enough to be my grandmother, we kept up with correspondence and visits for more than 20 years until her death. During our friendship she told me, “I could be bitter because of all the White man did to my people, and to me (she had been sent east to boarding school, away from her family), but if they had not come, I would never have known my Savior. For that reason, I can forgive all, and be grateful.” Ioleta had found the perspective that gratitude brings, and it was a gift that freed her from the trap of bitterness.
A second gift of gratitude is that of peace. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart, because it has ceased from grasping; it has found contentment. A heart devoid or deficient in gratitude becomes absorbed in what it doesn’t yet have, or what it has lost. It is like a yawning, bottomless pit. The truth is that without a grateful heart, even abundance feels like emptiness. Contentment doesn’t come from having more, but from being grateful and satisfied with what we have already. We often find impoverished people who are more joyful and more generous than rich people, and it is because they are grateful and content. This makes them willing to be open-handed, instead of grasping, generous instead of greedy. Even without the luxuries, they have discovered that gratitude leads to peace.
The third gift of gratitude is that of position. Gratitude only comes to someone who realized that they have received something to which they are entitled. We aren’t grateful for what we feel owed. Grateful people realize that they are beneficiaries of someone else’s largess, especially God’s. Such an acknowledgement is humbling, and this position of humility actually is not one of abasement, but one of glory. This is because those who are humble are those that the Lord chooses to draw near, whereas those who are proud He keeps far from Him. A grateful heart is a humble heart; a complaining heart is entitled and prideful. We cannot grumble and be grateful at the same time.
This leads me to the fourth and final gift of gratitude we’ll look at today—the gift of Presence. Because gratitude is humbling, and humility draws us to God, the most precious of the gifts of gratitude is that is draws us into the very presence of God. The psalmist says that we “enter His gates with thanksgiving.” When we think about it, when we give a gift to someone, don’t we enjoy seeing their pleasure in receiving it? It draws us close to them, and them to us in the enjoyment of not only the gift but the moment. God delights in giving good gifts to His children, because He is a generous God. But when we turn our delight from the gift to the Giver, our grateful hearts fellowship with Him. When we acknowledge His goodnesses, we not only get to relish the blessing, but to revel in the relationship, sensing both His pleasure and His presence.
With all of these benefits overflowing from the gift of gratitude, we would do ourselves good by cultivating a lifestyle of thanksgiving, beginning with gratitude for these four gifts.