by Major Cherri Hobbins, Territorial Secretary for Spiritual Life Development
Gratitude is a loving and thankful response toward God for his presence with us and within this world. Though ‘blessings’ can move us into gratitude, it is not at the root of a thankful heart. Delight in God and his good will is the heartbeat of thankfulness.” —Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 2015.
In November we turn our hearts toward gratitude with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching. Some, when gathering around the heavily laden Thanksgiving table, ask each person to name a person or event for which they are thankful. Young or old, gratitude can be shared. All seated around the table can join in celebration for the individual expression.
The Apostle Paul indicates thanksgiving or gratitude is a part of the life of all disciples of Jesus—not just one day or one month of the year, but continuously:
“Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (The Passion Translation)
The nuance of The Passion Translation is very helpful in unpacking Paul’s original instruction to us: “in the midst of everything be always giving thanks.”
There is a delicate balance to maintain the fulfillment of this biblical command. Some believe it requires us to thank God for everything. That can be difficult if not almost impossible as we at times face tremendous hardships. Thank God for cancer? I don’t think so! Thank God for broken relationships? Hardly.
Instead, out of our relationship with the living Lord, we can genuinely find our way to express gratitude in the midst of everything. Does God go with us to chemotherapy, helping us to endure and fight with bravery? Yes, I believe so. In the midst of a breaking heart, we can thank God that He remains closer to us than any earthly relationship. He has promised to never leave or forsake us, and He keeps his promises.
In practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude this year, begin to focus on thanking the Lord right in the middle of the messiness of life. He is with us. He is at work on our behalf. He is making a way through the situation even when all we perceive are closed doors and blocked paths. He is surrounding us with others who will support us and act as His physical hands and feet. We open ourselves to receive the assistance the Lord brings.
This year, begin to deepen your gratitude so that every part of you—heart, mind, soul and body—are involved. Selah. (Pause in His presence and think about these things.)