Couple of months back we celebrated our daughter’s first birthday in the presence of family, friends and our Church community. Many people helped us in organizing the events for the day and many more gave gifts. We thanked some in person, some through emails and some through a card. When people thank us we feel appreciated, don’t we? And so we thank someone who has given a gift or offered a helping hand so that they feel appreciated.
Throughout the Scriptures we see that practicing gratitude is a central and fitting response to who God is and what he does. The Psalmist says give thanks to God. Why? Because “the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5). The Apostle Paul urges us to give thanks to God “for everything” and “in all circumstances.” Why? Because this is God’s will for followers of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Jesus embodied gratitude and invited his followers to practice it in remembrance of him. In other words, we practice gratitude, lest we forget the source of life and all its goodness.
What About The Nine?
In the Gospel of Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals ten people who had leprosy and only one returns to thank him. Jesus asks the disciples: Didn’t you see me cleanse ten people? What happened to the nine?
Maybe the nine were so excited about being restored back to their family and friends and community after being marginalized for so long as a leper that they didn’t even think about finding Jesus to thank him. Maybe they wanted to go and thank Jesus, but the thought of going back to the borders of Galilee and Samaria and being exposed again to the realities of life in the margins stopped them from doing it. Maybe they did what Jesus had told them to do. That is to go and show the priest and didn’t think it was important to come and thank Jesus.
We could think of a 1000 reasons as to why they did not come back to thank Jesus. And yet Jesus commends the practice of gratitude in the one who returned. Why? Is it because Jesus is low on self-esteem and needs our appreciation to be God? Is it because we are obligated to repay him with our appreciation?
All Sin Is Ingratitude
One would think that having experienced God and his gifts, especially the breath we have, the gift of family and friends and community, the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation, the freedom of worship, every bite of food we take, the roof over our head, the clean water we drink, every note of music we hear, the breathtaking creation we get to experience and the ability to work and serve and receive would make us practice gratitude in a heartbeat. Yet for many, practicing gratitude has become: a chore ; an obligation; a weekly duty; a yearly event.
In the words of German theologian Karl Barth, “All sin is simply ingratitude.” Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden is a reflection of their ingratitude to all that God had already blessed them with.
I think some of us don’t practice gratitude because we have a tendency to get lost in the gift more than the giver. We don’t practice gratitude because we feel entitled and believe our gifts rightfully belong to us. We don’t practice gratitude because we are not content with what we already have. We don’t practice gratitude because we focus on comparing with what others have.
The Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude
The story of Jesus healing the ten people with leprosy ends with the one who practices gratitude receiving a blessing. Jesus says, “Rise and go, your faith has made you well.” A grateful heart is an expression of an authentic faith in God and his goodness. No wonder a Samaritan leper who was hostile to a Jew and his God is able to come back and give thanks to Jesus, a Jew and his God. Practicing gratitude only keeps our heart healthy in relationship to God, self, others and creation. As much as God delights in our appreciation of Him and His gifts, he doesn’t need it from us to be God. We are the ultimate beneficiaries. It is we who benefit with a soul that is made well when we practice gratitude.
Austrian-Canadian Researcher Hans Selyn’s book the “Stress of Life” is widely considered a classic work in the field of stress research. In his research he found that physical and emotional stress is reduced most effectively not by success, pleasure or love but when we feel grateful. In recent years, Dr. Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability expert and whose TED talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed millions of times, concluded in her research that its not joyful people who are grateful people, rather it is grateful people who are joyful people. All the research that is being done in relation to wellness and gratitude only continue to confirm the benefits of gratitude that the Scriptures already attest to.
How Then Shall We Live?
All of life is a gift. I like how Gordon T. Smith puts it: “Tourists demand. Pilgrims give thanks.” Until you and I center ourselves in what we already have, we will remain restless and lost in the details of what we don’t have.
So here is a benediction to close off with. Some good words. A sort of prayer for us.
May we move from a culture of just being obsessed with gifts.
May we move from a culture of entitlement.
May we move from a culture of complaining and grumbling.
May we move from a culture of mere consumption.
May we move from a culture of constant comparing.
And, may we move.
May we move to a culture of being present in the moment with God, self and others.
May we move to a culture that treasures relationships over gifts.
May we, in the name of the living Christ Jesus, practice gratitude.
And may we be found practicing gratitude.