I’m giving the message tomorrow night at our Thanksgiving service. I thought about giving a 12-part dissertation on the dispensational reading of Romans, with annotated commentary from the Darby Bible. Doug thought it might be better to focus on gratitude.
First, a little music to set the mood.
Be Grateful by The Hawkins Family (not OUR Hawkins, different Hawkins)
I think gratitude is a powerful antidote for some of the diseases of the heart. Not actual heart disease – the cure for that is to quit smoking and lay off the television. But for the pervasive ills of the soul, gratitude is a strong prescriptive. If we choose to practice gratitude, there are some things that come along with it, some benefits that accrue to the grateful heart.
A Grateful Heart is Humble
It is impossible to be grateful and self-satisfied at the same time. It is impossible to be grateful and also arrogant. Gratitude takes humility as a prerequisite, because gratitude admits that we have been the recipients of generosity, have been given something we had no claim over. It acknowledges that we have relied on others to extend to us the benefit of their free will, used on our behalf. It recognizes the freedom and dignity of someone other than us, and places us in their debt.
When Paul builds his case against natural righteousness in Romans 1, he says that the cardinal failure of those outside of the covenant is not that they were ignorant of God; how could they be, with such manifest evidence poured out around them? He says that the cardinal failure is the failure to give thanks to the God that they know must exist. Failure to admit humility before him. Failure to praise. And, out of that failure, Paul gives a litany of crimes against humanity that pour out of the ungrateful heart:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things with are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, unloving, unmerciful …” Romans 1:28-31
Those of us spending time with family and in-laws this Thanksgiving might take pause for a moment to see that “disobedience to parents” was included in such august company with the other mortal sins.
I’m going to hell.
A Grateful Heart is Content
This was one of the 16 points in my epic 96-minute sermon from earlier in the year. The short version, which was definitely NOT the version I used during that sermon, is that gratitude shakes us free from focusing on what we lack, and refocuses us on what we have been given. “Things We Lack” is an infinite category, and like all good infinite sets, no matter how many things we take out of the set and add to the category “Things We Have”, the infinite set is still infinitely vast. (In my previous message, I skipped the whole 20-minute side lecture on number theory and the irrationality of actual infinites. Looking back on it now, that’s probably why so many people complained. Note to self: next time I preach on contentment, include more math-based proofs.)
Gratitude is incompatible with the twin symptoms of discontentment: greed and envy (both make an appearance in Paul’s notorious list in Romans 1). Greed feeds on our fixation with the future, and envy makes us competitors to those around us. Gratitude wrenches us away from the future and places us in the present. Gratitude restores our unity with those around us. Both are the hallmarks of contentment.
A Grateful Heart is Joyful
Gratitude often travels hand-in-hand with joy. The Psalmist knew it. Check out Psalm 100:
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his ;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
A Grateful Heart is Generous
I grew up in a strand of Protestantism that valued states of mind. Faith was a certain way of thinking about things, salvation was a certain state of belief about God, redemption was the renewing of the mind. The purpose of the church was to impart, defend, and celebrate certain states of mind. It was never articulated in quite that way, and if you stopped to talk to the teaching leadership in the church, they would likely protest. But the force of expectation and participation was all intently focused on that one aspect of being: the ideas and perspectives that we held in mind.
In coming to possess my own faith, I see the poverty of that perspective. Ideas, at least the kind of cherished by people of faith, are not static, and cannot be contained by the mind alone. They are ideas that compel, they are states of mind that pour out into actions. Gratitude that begins and ends with a state of mind is not worth celebrating.
Real gratitude expresses itself. It responds. If someone is generous to me, my gratitude provokes me to be generous with others. As God has been supremely generous to me, and if by faith I am filled with unspeakable gratitude toward Him, I will respond. My posture toward those around me will be generosity.
It will be a generosity propelled by humility, contentment, and joy.