Reflection by The Rev. Richard Hanna
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work. At the works of your hands I sing for joy.” – Psalm 92:1-4
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:12-17
Do you have a gratitude attitude? Do you have a thankful heart? Do you see all the things in life for which you need to be thankful? Do you wake up every day and say, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it?” Do you count your many blessings and name them one by one?
We are enjoying a season of Thanksgiving, a time when all of us are reminded to truly embrace a gratitude attitude – to focus on the things in life for which we are grateful – and to give God thanks for them.
The pilgrims who originated this American tradition of Thanksgiving certainly had a gratitude attitude. By any measure, their first year in the New World was a disaster. Of the original 102 pilgrims, half were dead. Of the18 women who landed at Plymouth Rock, only 5 survived. Disease infected those who were still alive with famine and harsh conditions on the horizon. But despite all of that, after a successful growing season in 1621, Governor William Bradford declared a day of Thanksgiving through worship and through sharing a grand meal with one another. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated, a tradition we continue to celebrate today – 402 years later!
Others throughout history and scriptures have had such an attitude of gratitude.
The one leper of the 10 healed who came back and “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks,” had this kind of attitude. (Lk. 17:11-19)
So did Job in the Old Testament, who, stripped of wealth and possessions, afflicted with disease and grieving the death of loved ones, nevertheless managed to proclaim, “For I know that my redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)
So did Daniel, who, even though he knew that the punishment for the crime of praying to his God was to be thrown into the lion’s den, “continued to go to his house . . . and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise Him, just as he had done before.” (Daniel 6:10)
So did the Apostle Paul who was able to write, even from prison shortly before his execution, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers . . . .” (Philemon 4)
And Paul tried to make sure that this gratitude attitude was the dominant spirit of the early church. As he wrote in our morning scripture passage, “And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
A gratitude attitude: I define it as an attitude in life which enables one to focus on the positive, not the negative, to see the blessing, despite the affliction, to see the glass as half full, not half empty, – and thus to be able to turn every circumstance into one of thanksgiving. As Paul put it, “to give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thess. 5:18)
A few years ago, one of our residents recently broke her hip. When I visited her at the hospital she smiled and said, “I’m so thankful.” When I looked surprised she said, “I’m so thankful I didn’t break my neck!” That’s a gratitude attitude!
One of my favorite stories is of the visiting preacher who was taking an offering to help cover his expenses. He passed his hat around – it came back empty. He passed it around again. It was still empty. He passed it around a third time. The same thing happened. He said, “Let us have a prayer of thanks.” One of the elders asked, “What in the world are you thankful for?” The preacher replied, “I’m thankful I got my hat back.”
Do you have a gratitude attitude?
A gratitude attitude is such a vital part of the Christian life. First of all, God commands it. Scripture is full of passages which command us to express our gratitude and thankfulness to God. “O come, let us sing unto the Lord!” commands the Psalmist, “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving!” (Psalm 95). “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances,” commands Paul, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 17). And Jesus throughout his ministry regularly expressed grateful thanks to his heavenly father for all the blessings of life. A gratitude attitude, you see, is commanded by God because our gratitude is pleasing to God. Our gratitude is one of the ways we express our love for Him and our devotion to Him. It is a reminder and an affirmation of our belief that God is the source of all good things. It reminds us of the greatness and goodness of God.
Secondly, we must have a gratitude attitude because good relationships require it. One of the greatest problems that exists in families and in human relationships is the lack of the expression of gratitude. Employees like “attaboys” from the boss from time to time. Bosses like to feel that employees appreciate their efforts for them. Children need parents to tell them they’ve done a good job. Parents need to hear appreciation from their kids, and most husbands and wives could do a whole lot better at expressing their gratitude to one another. Gratitude attitudes – and our expressing of that gratitude to those around us – helps to create good and healthy relationships that are a blessing to everyone.
Many years ago, the Senior High Sunday School teacher at the First Presbyterian Church of Winchester, KY, came up to me and said he was considering resigning from teaching the class. “I don’t think I’m getting through to the kids. They need someone who can really relate to them and help them grow,” he said. We didn’t make any decision on Bob’s concern, but a week later, he came up and said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided I want to continue teaching and working with the kids.” What made the difference? What caused Bob to change his mind? I found out later that one of the Senior High students had walked up to Bob and said, “I really enjoy our Sunday School class. Thanks for being our teacher.” That’s all it took. An expression of gratitude!
A story is told of Rudyard Kipling, a great writer who made a great deal of money from his writing. One day, a newspaper reporter came up to him and said, “Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over a hundred dollars a word.” Mr. Kipling raised his eyebrows and said, “Really, I certainly wasn’t aware of that.” The reporter cynically reached down into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, “Here’s a hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling. Now, you give me one of your hundred dollar words.” Mr. Kipling looked at that hundred dollar bill for a moment, took it and folded it up and put it in his pocket. And then he said, “Thanks.”
Indeed, “thanks” is a hundred dollar word. In fact, I would say it is more like a million dollar word that can enrich our relationships and help us to more fully experience joy in life as we interact with those around us. Let us make sure that each of us expresses often our thanks and deep gratitude to those who touch our lives and enrich our lives – a child, a parent, a sister, a brother, a husband, a wife, a teacher, a friend, a co-worker, a fellow resident or a staff member here at Kirkwood. We will bless their lives and our lives when we do.
A gratitude attitude. God commands it. Good relationships require it.
Finally, we must have a gratitude attitude because WE will be blessed by it. There is something, you see, about the grateful heart and the thankful spirit that blesses, not only the lives of those around us, but that enriches our lives as well. Cicero, the ancient philosopher said, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all other virtues.” And another said, “Gratitude is the soul’s best friend; it fills it with joy, multiplies its virtues and adds to its grace.” And Zig Ziglar, a modern day philosopher, one said, “The greatest source of happiness in life is the ability to be grateful at all times.” And as someone note: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.”
It is out of an attitude of gratitude that help us to experience happiness and joy as we make our journey of life. A few years ago, I read in Time Magazine, “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have a tremendous positive value in helping people to cope with daily problems, especially stress, and to achieve a positive sense of the self. People who describe themselves as being grateful to others and grateful to God for the gift of life, tend to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of depression than the population as a whole.”
You see, it’s clear that the Psalmist was right: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord!” (Ps. 92:1)
I would like to close with a formula for spiritual success:
If you want to be distressed, look within.
If you want to be defeated, look back.
If you want to be distracted, look around.
If you want to be dismayed, look ahead.
But if you want to be delivered, look up and give thanks to God for His every blessing!
Do you have a gratitude attitude? I hope so, because, that, dear friends, is the key to the abundant, joyful Christian life!
Let us pray: Almighty God, it is good to give You thanks – and to express our gratitude to those around us. Help us to do that in every moment, help us to regularly count our many blessings, so that we will truly live with thankful hearts and an attitude of gratitude that will be a blessing to You, to all around us and which will deeply enrich our own lives. Through Christ our Lord. Amen!