By Danielle Voisin
I stepped in the elevator in my building lobby today with one of my neighbors. The door didn’t close at first, and when it eventually did and we started our ascent, my neighbor proceeded to spend our ride together grumbling about how he hated our elevators. This caught my attention and made me laugh, because in my own head I was thinking, “I’m glad I don’t have to walk up 33 floors!” That we could be in the same circumstance with such a wildly different perspective made me smile. I was mostly amused because a few years ago, I would have been that guy.
I know now, on this side of finding Jesus, that expressing gratitude consistently, from the heart, is difficult if we don’t have an eternal perspective. Small troubles usurp current victories, worry clouds our awareness of our present health, and complaining becomes our way of relating with others. Something similar happened before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. After God brought them out of Egypt with providing food for them in the wilderness, He also swallowed up their pursuers in the Red Sea. Yet, they forgot His great miracles which they themselves had seen. The Israelites became impatient; they tested God; they grew envious; they exchanged their glorious God for a false idol; they despised his gifts; they grumbled and did not obey Him.
Despite all of this, God was willing to give them the full abundance of the land of Canaan. But of the 12 leaders sent out to explore the land, only Caleb and Joshua had a perspective that allowed them to appreciate both the immediate provision of their needs, and the long-term protection of their people God was planning to provide for them in Canaan. Of the 12, only they survived to see God’s goodness in the Promised Land. (See Numbers 14 and Psalm 106)
ECONOMICS OF GRATITUDE
So how do we foster a grateful heart? I have found that the best way to develop deep-rooted gratitude in my heart is to train my mind to find and record all the things for which I am thankful. For the better part of three years now, at the end of each day, I write a Thank You list to God. My lists vary depending on the day and my circumstances, but I write down everything that comes to mind, from small happenstances to profound wonders. Nothing is too small to record, and nothing is too big, as long as I genuinely feel grateful for it.
Within a month or two of starting, I began to realize that a gratitude-focused mind had developed a grateful heart. From there, I didn’t want to stop recording all the gifts He had for me, because with a new perspective came new life, creativity, and possibilities. I no longer focused on what was without, because I started to see provision. Everything in my life did not magically become perfect: it was that my perspective on my circumstances changed. Within a year of starting my gratitude lists, and for the first time ever, I could identify with Paul when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…”, (Philippians 4:12, NIV). I had stopped looking at the lack and started looking at the abundance.
In reflecting today on my gratitude practice, and the perspective of Scripture, I realized that gratitude can be in our hearts on an economical scale: macro and micro. We can be grateful at a macro (large scale), level when we focus on the joy of our salvation – what we have been saved form, and become heirs to. As Christians, we have been given the greatest gift of all time. We didn’t earn it, we didn’t deserve it, and yet we can claim it. We can also be grateful at a micro level (small scale), when we take the time to say thank you for Pumpkin Spice Lattes (my favorite), or a husband who takes out the trash, or dry shampoo. We can give thanks to a God who has numbered all the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30).
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
So gratitude can change our perspectives and make us content, but does it have a larger place in our faithful lives? I believe that thankfulness can produce more eternal victories than just a right attitude in our own hearts. In 2 Corinthians 4:15-17, we are reminded that grace, gratitude and glory are connected. Depending on the recipient, grace (unmerited favor) doesn’t always land the way it was intended. Grace could lead to shame, feeling indebted, taking advantage of the gracious…but grace can also lead to overflowing thankfulness. And when it does, that overflow brings glory (praise) to God. If grace leads to thankfulness which leads to glorifying God, then our investment of thanks has an infinite return.
I love that before breaking bread Jesus would give thanks, and that with our families we are reminded to do the same, not just on holidays but every day of the year. I love how the simple act of being thankful has transformed my thoughts and the way I treat others, and that it can be an everyday mindset rather than just a once a year feast. I’m sure many of us are planning special New Years Eve celebrations this weekend, and I’d like to encourage us that this same spirit of gratitude can set us up for 2018. Before we get too busy planning festivities, let’s remember that saying, “Thank You, Lord” can transform our lives, and in the process glorify God.