|Depths of Gratitude|
By Dan Vis
November 26, 2018
Many celebrated Thanksgiving this past week--a warm time of fellowship with family and friends. And many of us are still finishing off leftovers from the meal! In this week's memo, I share a few lingering thoughts about gratitude...
Gratitude is an important part of life. A life full of gratitude is happier, more content, and more peaceful than a life without it. The word doesn't appear in the King James version of the Bible, but the concept is certainly there. Repeatedly, we're called to live our life with a spirit of thankfulness. In fact, I believe it's an essential part of the Christian walk.
To understand true biblical gratitude, however, it may help to consider what I call the three levels of gratitude.
Level 1. Customary Gratitude
The first level of gratitude involves those times we make some expression of gratitude out of habit. We don't even think about it.
Someone says bless you, when you sneeze. It just pops out: "thank you". Someone let's you cut in on a busy intersection, and you give a quick wave of appreciation to the driver. Someone gives an unexpected present, and you say, "wow, thanks" before you know what is inside, or if you are going to like it.
These are simple customary responses. There's no strong feeling involved, it's simple politeness, courtesy. These are pretty much automatic.
I have some of those Alexa devices in my home, and I find myself saying thank you to it, when it turns off a light or answers some question! It's a habit.
There's nothing wrong with this kind of gratitude. And in fact it can go a long way to improving the relationships in our life.
Taking the time to read the card on a birthday present before tearing into the wrapping paper--better still, sending a thank you card back. It helps the giver feels their gift was appreciated. Bringing a small gift for the hostess when invited to a meal. It makes the host feel special, and they may just invite you back again. Filling up the tank with gas before returning a car to someone kind enough to let you borrow it. It keeps them from grumbling about an empty tank the next day.
Learning these simple, customary, more or less automatic acts of gratitude can smooth a lot of social interactions. People notice politeness, and it opens up opportunities. Being rude, does the opposite. It closes doors.
So I'm all for basic common courtesy, general politeness, customary gratitude. And it's one thing I like about Thanksgiving--it's a custom that just automatically gets scheduled in every year.
Level 2. Emotional Gratitude
But there's more to gratitude than these simple habits, and customs. There's a level of gratitude where we actually feel a strong appreciation towards someone.
We've all felt this at times, haven't we? Someone gives an unexpected gift, performs a special act of service, says something really nice to us. It warms our heart. We feel happy. There's an emotional response. And if we express that gratitude, some of that warmth goes back to the person who blessed us.
Now typically, this kind of gratitude is linked most strongly to material things. If you ask a group of people sitting aroung the table to share what they are thankful for, you will get a variety of common answers: their family, the food, a warm house, a reliable car, our jobs, our toys, our pets. Invariably, the answers will tend toward physical, tangible, concrete kinds of things.
The problem with linking gratitude to possessions however is that our gratitude tends to go up or down depending on the thickness of our wallet. A financial setback, leaves us upset about what we've lost, rather than thankful for what we retain. Go without a raise for awhile, and we lose our appreciation for a steady salary. And even if you have quite a bit, there is always someone down the road with more (unless you are Jeff Bezos). Compare your possessions with theirs, and you will find yourself again, discontent. In other words, gratitude based on material prosperity is problematic at best.
I once did a brief study of Thanksgiving in Paul's writings. In particular, I looked up every verse I could find where God was thanked for something specific. I didn't find one example of something material. What I found instead was gratitude for spiritual blessings.
He expressed thankfulness for how different churches received his message (Romans 6:17But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.). He was thankful for how God gives us spiritual victories (I Corinthians 15:57But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.), and spiritual triumphs (II Corinthians 2:14Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.). He thanks God that he served God with a pure conscience (II Timothy 1:3I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;). That God had chosen those early believers to salvation (II Thessalonians 2:13But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:). That they were partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:). That their faith was growing exceedingly, and that their charity abounded (II Thessalonians 1:3We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;). Again and again, we see a clear focus on spiritual vs material blessings.
Training our eyes to perceive these blessings does a couple things. First, it puts us all on a level footing before God. Each of us have the exact same access to every spiritual blessing. They are all full and free. Second, no one can take them away. We have no reason to fear losing them because something goes wrong. And third, by focusing our attention on these sorts of blessings, our emotional gratitude becomes more focused on God as the source. Thankfulness wells up, and is directed toward Him!
The more we think about our spiritual blessings, the more clearly we will discern how good God is. And the more gratitude we will feel.
Thanksgiving is a great time of year to stop and reflect on our blessings, both material and spiritual, and turn our thoughts to God.
Level 3. Continual Gratitude
Now it is important to practice customary gratitude, those polite, little, habitual courtesies that help make everything go a bit better. It's also important to cultivate emotional gratitude, seeing the best in the good things people do for us, and expressing appreciation. Even more so if we can learn to shift our focus from material blessings to spiritual blessings. But there's another whole level of gratitude we haven't even looked at yet. And I believe this level is the highest and most important of the three.
Do a quick study on what the Bible says about giving thanks, and you can't help but notice verses like these:
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
I Thessalonians 5:18
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
These verses use strong words: Give thanks always. In all things. Whatever you do. In everything. It's describing a state of continual gratitude. And clearly, this kind of gratitude is God's Will for us!
But here's the problem: it's easy to give thanks when things are going well. But it's hard when things are going bad. It's easy to give thanks when we're enjoying health, love, and prosperity. It's hard when we're sick, lonely, and poor. It's easy to be thankful when someone helps us. But its hard when someone hurts us.
The kind of gratitude described in these verses appears to be completely disconnected from the circumstances of our life. Good or bad, rich or poor, healthy or sick--it doesn't matter. It's continual. We don't give thanks because of what is or is not happening in our life, we give thanks because of something much deeper.
Now sometimes we encourage people to "trick" themselves into being thankful by changing how they look at a negative event. We say something like this:
- Be thankful for things you don't have yet. It gives you something to look forward to.
- Be thankful for things you don't know. It gives you an opportunity to learn them.
- Be thankful for things you are not good at. It gives you room to improve.
- Be thankful for challenges. They give you opportunities to come up with creative solutions.
- Be thankful for mistakes. They can teach you important lessons.
- Be thankful you're exhausted. It probably means you accomplished something.
In other words, if we're clever, we can trick our self into feeling gratitude. By figuring out how a negative circumstance might end up being good for us, we may be able to start feeling positive about it.
But in my experience, this doesn't really help much. Nor does it bring comfort to someone going through a tough time. And besides, it misses the point, doesn't it? Once we see the benefit of something, then it just becomes plain old emotional gratitude. We figured out how it's good for us, and now we're happy!
What we really want is to be thankful in all circumstances, regardless. Continuously. Whether we see the positives connected with it or not. Where our gratitude is not tied to the situation, but tied to who WE are as believers. It's a subtle difference, but it's powerful.
I'm not talking about wishful thinking, sticking our head in the sand, building castles in the sky, or any other kind of fanciful thinking. I'm simply talking about having a mind that is trained to think in terms of gratitude. It has to do with character.
Pause for a moment to consider Paul's great chapter on love (I Corinthians 13:4-74 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.).
Here, Paul reminds us love "is not easily provoked". Why? Because it "thinketh no evil". Those kinds of thoughts never make it into the mind. Love "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth". There's plenty of evil in the world around us, but this mind stays focused on the good. Love "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things". Not just good or easy things--all things. Love "never faileth". It never gives up--no matter what. That's powerful.
What we're talking about at this level is a kind of gratitude that goes far beyond our customary, and habitual responses. Though true gratitude will certainly practice those. And it goes far beyond the normal emotional appreciation of material, and even spiritual blessings. Though true gratitude certainly experiences strong feelings. We're talking about something deeper and more profound than either of these.
In Philippians 4:11-1211 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need., Paul wrote:
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
He's basically saying, what happens around me doesn't matter. I've learned to live a different way. To be content, thankful, happy, and peaceful, independent of my circumstances. Clearly, Paul had discovered the key to a life of continual gratitude.
Paul seems to have been so completely connected with the eternal, that the things of this world, were of no real importance to him. All the ups and downs we experience had simply faded away into insignificance.
He could live a life of continual gratitude because his life had become so intertwined with the life of God, he had begun to partake of the divine character. The character of a God who always sees the best, the possibilities, the potential, who puts the absolute best construction on everything. A God who lives this way because of who He is. A God willing to share His character with us!
If Paul learned this secret, we can too. And if we do, we'll discover it's the secret to unwavering joy, contentment, and peace.
I don't profess to fully understand this kind of gratitude. But I think it is worth pursuing. If we can learn it, thanksgiving will no longer be just a day on the calendar. It will be our way of life!
How important are each of these level of gratitude? What can we do to cultivate more gratitude in our life? What impact can gratitude have on our life? Leave a note...
Posted by Dan Vis on 11/29/18
I was definitely thinking about II Peter 1:3-43 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust., but not so much Psalms 37:4Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.. Excellent addition to the study. Appreciate your input on the article!
Posted by David Grabe on 11/29/18
Thank you for this powerful post on the "3 Levels of Gratitude." I especially resonated with your statement, "if we're clever, we can trick our self into feeling gratitude. By figuring out how a negative circumstance might end up being good for us, we may be able to start feeling positive about it." It IS really missing the point, as you stated. I have caught myself doing this at times-both to myself and others! How disappointed I have been to have done that. This article truly opened "the eyes of my understanding"(Ephesians 1:18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,)to be enlightened, that I might know what is the hope of my calling." I'm called to give thanks in everything, as you said! "For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace, might through the thanksgiving of many redound(be to Someone's credit) to the glory of God." II Corinthians 4:15For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
I see what your saying as I consider what the Psalmist says, "Delight thyself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass." Psalms 37:4,5Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
|Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 11/28/18 |
I really like the delineation of levels of gratitude. We can go through life with a constant attitude of cheerfulness no matter what is happening around us. If someone tries to nail it down it usually sounds like thankfulness for "things" but in reality it is just a grateful heart for the goodness of God. Psalms 107:8,21,31Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! . . . Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/27/18 |
What a testimony Laurie. Sounds like these couple must have a close walk with God. :) Thanks for sharing this real life example. Thank you for doing your part to minister to them!
|Posted by Laurie Wissink on 11/27/18 |
I saw an example of the level 3 continual gratitude on Thanksgiving. I live near Paradise, Ca. The town that burned down recently. Our community is housing some of the evacuees at our fairgrounds. I invited two couples to my home for dinner on Thanksgiving. They freely shared theirs and others experiences, but they didn't dwell on them. Instead they expressed over and over simple thankfulness for simple things: a place to charge their phone, a shower, blankets, a cot, even the ability to move the cot a few feet when the roof leaked when it rained. (They were not complaining about the leak.) They were thankful for the volunteers that have come from all over the country to help them. They were thankful for a doctor who came in to see them and prescribe them their medications. They were thankful for the food that is prepared for them each day. They just lost everything, including their jobs and they were not complaining about anything, but only thankful for everything! What a blessing to me! It put flesh and blood on Philippians 4:10-1210 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. for me.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/27/18 |
Hard to imagine how we could feel anything but gratitude given all Jesus has done for us, don't you think Erica? Yes somehow we manage to find a way to grumble at times. :)
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/27/18 |
So true Margaret . Remembering these things can definitely help us through difficult times. :)
|Posted by Paul Carson on 11/26/18 |
As I boil down my understanding of gratitude, the word readiness comes to the fore. I Thessalonians 2:8So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. speaks of a readiness to share what God through Christ is doing in and for us: instilling a love for others that is unnatural to the unregenerate heart. Readiness, for me, conveys a first response character developing quality. The practice of gratitude in things of least significance, reveals the wellsprings of the heart sanctified to (and by) God.
|Posted by Nancy Welch on 11/26/18 |
Excellent! We should be praising God all the time. It is a powerful witness to hear spmeone praisimg God during tough times.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/26/18 |
Good thought Lynn. We do need God to open our eyes. And yes gratitude has a way of snowballing, doesn't it?
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