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Happy Thanksgiving! Here's a treat about gratitude to whet your appetite!
Practice thirty days of gratitude. It is the popular refrain for November, but it is not a practice that should be confined only to November. Did you know that gratitude is an important Christian value all of the time? It can be found in both the Old and New Testaments. Although not directly listed as a fruit of the spirit in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, gratitude relates to joy (Galatians 5). It is one of the things that sets Jesus' followers apart from the rest of the world, and it is more important now than ever. We live in a world inundated with social media portrayals of perfection, a culture dedicated to consumerism, and a general societal habit of grumbling about everything (remember the lessons from Exodus!). For humans, enough is never enough. Despite this, we know we should practice gratitude, but we consistently don't, and when we justify why we don’t, it’s rooted in our pride. Luckily God graciously provided us with a tool to help us flourish, maintain better relationships, and most importantly to have a humble heart toward God and others. Gratitude is an important practice in God’s kingdom.

The story of gratitude begins when God created the world and chose a people to be his representatives. The Old Testament contains many beautiful examples of these chosen people showing heartfelt gratitude in prayer and confession:
  • Noah came off the ark after many dreary days and made an offering to God (Genesis 8:20).
  • Abraham remained faithful and gave God glory amidst a yet-to-be-fulfilled promise (Genesis 12:7).
  • Hannah's heartfelt poem thanked the Father when her desire to bear a child was fulfilled (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
  • David, the author of dozens of psalms, expressed gratitude to God during long periods of persecution (Psalms).
  • Solomon's poem thanked God for allowing him to finish the temple dreamed of by his father, David (1 Kings 8:12-21).
  • Mary called herself blessed to carry baby Jesus despite the less than desirable circumstances of doing so (Luke 1:46-56), and many, many more examples too numerous to cite.
While the more modern word "gratitude" does not appear in the Hebrew scriptures, it shares a common root with "confession" and "praise". Gratitude is an important refrain in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus is our perfect example of the wisdom of God in these writings and he is the model we follow for gratitude. In Matthew, Jesus says,
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Part of the yoke that he offers which relieves us from the trials of the human experience is the practice of gratitude. When he did miracles, he gave thanks. When he broke bread, he gave thanks (Mark 8:6, Matt. 14:19; 15:36). When he taught us how to pray, he practiced gratitude by acknowledging God our Father and our reliance on him for everything—our daily bread (Matt 6:9-13). When he raised Lazarus, he gave thanks (John 11:41-42). After Jesus was resurrected, he ate with his disciples and he gave thanks (Luke 24:30). At the final supper he gave us the most tangible symbols of gratitude turned into a tradition: he took a Jewish feast and told us that bread represented his body (that was broken for us) and wine his blood (poured out to reconcile us back to God) (Matt. 26:26-27, Luke 22:14-19). By practicing these acts, we are remembering him. Even "Eucharist" (receiving it is the act that we call "Communion") comes from a  Greek word meaning gratitude or thanksgiving. We are exhorted by Luke to practice Holy Communion as often as we gather to share a meal (Acts 2:42). There is an important relationship between gathering together, sharing food, and giving thanks.

To go further, Paul, the writer of the majority of the new testament letters, spells out the necessity of gratitude for followers of Jesus. In his letter to the Ephesians, he reminds Jesus' followers of the importance of imitating God through their relationships, reminding them to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:18-20). The Apostle Paul had this to say about the persecution Christ's followers experienced in Philippi, “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” (Phil 4:6-7). For the church in Colossae, Paul wrote a letter reminding them of Christ’s supremacy. He warned them of false doctrine and encouraged them on seven, separate occasions to practice gratitude. All of which was to show the world that Christ dwells in them (Colossians 2:6-7, 3:15-17, 4:2). Paul celebrated the flourishing church of the Thessalonians, and encouraged them to continue to pursue Christ-likeness amidst persecution, saying, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Each one of his 13 letters contains a call to thanksgiving.

So we see that God honored gratitude from the people of old, Jesus fulfilled and demonstrated the importance of thanksgiving, and Paul doubled down on the practice in his letters to the early churches. Just one reason for this is the relationship between gratitude and praise. Translated as both in Hebrew, such an act displaces dissatisfaction and fear in our lives. Paul said as much in his letter to the Philippians when he connected practicing gratitude to attaining inner peace (Phil 4:6-7); it helps us position our hearts in submission to God. We remove ourselves from the thrones of our lives and recognize the gifts that come from outside ourselves; gifts we did not earn. Jesus alluded to it in the Lord’s Prayer when he taught us to thank God for our daily bread. God loves a heart humble in posture toward him (Psalms 51:17, 149:4, Matt. 5:5, James 4:6).

There are many practical ways to practice gratitude toward God: prayer, praise, fasting, and pausing to notice the things he has placed in our lives that are a blessing. A perhaps surprising way includes expressing gratitude toward others because loving our neighbor can show our love for God (Matt. 22:37-40, 1 John 4:7, 12-11, 21). God is trying to teach us that to be in right relationship with him means to also be in right relationship with all his image bearers (humanity). Remember, too, that God is in the business of restoring broken relationships among people. Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church stresses that it’s important to express gratitude to others because neglecting to do so is experienced as ingratitude. That, he says, alienates us from others and results in strife.

Let’s not forget to practice the vertical and lateral ways of right posture with God. Make it a family rhythm to pick something to be grateful for each morning and meditate on it, giving thanks in prayer for it, and encouraging gratitude in general around the dinner table. Jesus surrounded himself with gratitude to God, meals, and time spent with others. Giving corporate thanks at the table was such an important aspect of Jesus’ ministry that he centered the new covenant relationship on that practice in Communion. This is something we should do as often as we think of it (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)!

If you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, then start with the tangible demonstrated by Jesus - sharing a meal with others, breaking bread, and remembering Jesus. We can be thankful for his love, our redemption, his creating this world, and his sharing it with us. We can be thankful for the people in our lives and his promise to be near when we call (Psalm 145:18). Let the rhythm of a shared meal with others be the start of your rhythm of gratitude, but don’t stop after this season. See if you can make it all year long. When thankfulness overflows, the peace of Christ follows. This is the wisdom we can glean: He is teaching us that gratitude will help us flourish and we will reflect his kingdom. A kingdom of love, justice, grace, and peace.

In gratitude,