The Value and Power of Gratitude
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Wow, what a concept: Gratitude in EVERYTHING! Have you seen what’s going on in our major cities? As of this writing, protests, sometimes becoming violent, have occupied the streets Portland, OR for over 80 straight days: almost three solid months. Unrest reigns, without signs of ebbing. How does that conduce to gratitude?
First, please note that the verse did not say be grateful FOR everything. That just isn’t possible. What it does direct is for us to have gratitude IN everything. In every circumstance or situation several options open to us. We can focus on any one of them, or several. It’s always our choice. Choose to focus on gratitude.
What if I purposely look for something in the situation that evokes gratitude, even if just a little? Isn’t it your experience that seeing the good in a situation makes your heart a little less heavy?
But, if I were to focus on ugliness in the streets, or on how my friends were mistreated, or on victim-oriented miscarriages, I will fill my mind with bitterness, rage, or even revenge. Life will seem bitter and unfair. I might fight and struggle for revenge. My life would be driven by that bitterness until neither I nor the ones around me had real peace.
I recently read an amazing book by Ann Voskamp. It’s titled, “1000 Gifts.” I highly recommend it, a true story that traces Voskamp’s melancholy and depression from a childhood tragedy up to the point where she was a young wife and mother. Seeing her despondency, a friend suggested that for the next 100 days Voskamp find something each day to be thankful for and express that thanks. It was just one thing, but it had to be a new thing, never listed before. This worked. Within three years her depression had waned.
One critical point resonated with me, and still does. Voskamp noted the relationship of three words: Grace, Gratitude, and Joy. Each is from the same root (char-) in the Koine Greek: charis (grace), eucharistia (gratitude, thanksgiving) and chara (joy). The flow of thought is clear and potent: The gifts (grace) in our life evoke responses and demonstrations of gratitude; gratitude floods the heart with joy.
God gives many gifts. Every day is filled with His “grace.” As we look with intent to find them AND respond with gratitude, then our lives are also filled with joy. One value of gratitude is that it has the power to change one’s outlook from dark and gloomy or angry and vengeful to calm and joy-filled.
The flip side is what happens in our hearts and pours over into our society when we choose to look at the negatives. Without doubt, negative events invade everyone’s lives. These do not evoke gratitude, do they? Aren’t they more likely to produce dark, brooding emotions, or even anger? When anger boils over and pours out into the streets we see Portland, or any other major US city. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t even productive. It ruins lives, relationships, even livelihoods, and it disrupts social interactions and destroys peace.
Choosing to find the “gift” in any circumstance will change your heart. Individually it quiets one’s heart into peace. Collectively it fosters an environment—far calmer than otherwise—in which progress toward resolving differences can prosper.
When Paul said: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” he implied that some circumstances might cause us to be anxious. But even then, his solution included gratitude.
We live in a richly blessed nation. It is easy to find gratitude. It might be the most powerful tool you have to promote peaceful living and effect real societal change. Please use it.