by Chris Ritter

Growing up, there was always Aunt Lida. She was not really my aunt. Before I was born, Lida was a mentor to my mom during her first year of teaching. That formal relationship lasted only one year, but their friendship lasted for a lifetime. By our standards, Aunt Lida was wealthy. She and her husband owned a successful business and they had many interesting travels. We always had to dress up a little bit when we went to see them. I received a birthday card from her every year and it would be addressed: Master Christopher M. Ritter. Master?

Aunt Lida never bought me extravagant gifts. But they were significant gifts. When I was seven or eight she brought me a nicely wrapped present. I opened it to find a stationary set, paper and matching envelopes, with clowns on it. Stationary is not necessarily every boy’s dream gift. I smiled politely. When I got mom alone, I asked her what Aunt Lida possibly could have bene thinking. She said that Aunt Lida understood that I would need to start writing letters to people. The first one would be a letter of thanks to Aunt Lida.

Sometimes we think of gratitude as a spontaneous eruption of emotion that happens when something really good happens to us. Every time I used Aunt Lida’s stationary I was reminded that gratitude is more than that. It is a discipline… something you make yourself do to bend your life in the right direction. Disciplines save us from being human ping pong balls batted around by emotions, urges, circumstances, and desires.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

Be thankful in all circumstances. Don’t make the mistake of reserving gratitude for when you feel like it. It is God’s will that you give thanks. Today I want us to explore why… Why does God want our lives to be shaped by gratitude?

Does God like to be thanked? I imagine so, don’t you? Everyone likes to be thanked. I think about the story of Luke’s Gospel of the ten lepers that begged Jesus for healing. In Chapter 17, Jesus ordered them to show themselves to a priest so that their statuses as outcasts could be undone. As they went on their way, they were healed. Nine continued to the priest (like Jesus told them to do). The tenth, a Samaritan, came back praising God. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Jesus expressed surprise that only the non-Israelite thought to give thanks.

But I also think it is true that God wills us to be grateful because he loves us. Being thankful is the best way to live… and Jesus wants us to live abundant lives. Even secular psychology acknowledges the positive benefits of a grateful heart. There are volumes of books, research projects, and journal articles on this. Grateful people are more positive, mentally healthy, and emotionally balanced. I read some of this research recently. Some studies call gratitude “positive noticing.” Gratitude focuses our attention on the positive.

Let’s explore the Power of Gratitude.

Gratitude Anchors Us in the Now

By anyone’s standards, 2020 has been a difficult year. I participate in a lot of conversations where people are either looking backward or forward. Looking back, we really didn’t know how good we had it, did we? We took for granted a packed house for Easter Sunday, Graduation Ceremonies, a full table for Thanksgiving, dinner at a restaurant followed by a movie, and Christmas Candlelight Worship. It is tempting to look over our shoulder at the way we were.

But Ecclesiastes warns us:

10 Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
    For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Ecclesiastes 7:10

Another thing we do is look forward. We talk about what it will be like when all this is over. Where will we travel? What will we do? Who will we see? It seems positive to hope for good things. But it is even more powerful to give thanks for what we have today. We delay our own happiness by waiting for some future event. Gratitude brings happiness into the present.

Paul said to be thankful IN all circumstances. Not after. This is God’s will.

I asked members of our congregation at First Methodist to send me messages about how gratitude is working in their lives. Michelle Howlett wrote:

Gratitude in 2020 has become so very apparent for me. For MANY years, struggling as a single parent, struggling with many issues… Crying and praying to God for x, y, and z. Fast forward to 2012 and meeting my now husband through a “glitch” in, which brought me to Geneseo where I met my best spiritual girlfriend to share my faith (never had this happened before). This brought my daughter to Geneseo where she met her husband and I see the evidence of her growing faith and leadership. I have been blessed to witness the growth in the faith of the men in my family and friends around. Now to 2020 and Covid… Had this pandemic occurred ANY other time in my life, I would have lost everything (job, home, car….). I am so so so very aware and THANKFUL to God, who put His plan in place for me, for my Protection, for His Glory, starting at my initial tears years and years ago. He was answering my prayers as I was crying. I thank God every night for His love and faithfulness in my life.

COVID or no COVID, these are the days. Yesterday is a cancelled check and tomorrow is a promissory note. Life is too short to defer gratitude to another day.

These are the days.

Gratitude Re-orients Us Spiritually

Think about the story of Adam and Eve. God placed them in a garden filled with bounty. They had each other. They had fellowship with God. They had meaningful work to do. They had access to the Tree of Life that would keep them living forever. But in the Garden was also a tempter. He encouraged our first parents to get their eyes off what they had and onto what they didn’t.

When you are focused on the lack, Satan has you right where he wants you. But gratitude is a game-changer. It gets your eyes refocused on God’s blessings. James calls lack of gratitude a type of deception:

James 1:16, 17

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

James 1:16-17

Another member of our church, Barb Nelson, wrote:

Out here in the country our focus of gratitude centers around faith, family and farming.  A glorious Autumn harvest season is behind us.  We are blessed to have a richly connected family, all nearby, working together to help each other in any way.   The school situation can certainly cause frustration, but let’s be thankful that we have the technology to connect, and the teachers with impressive skills to continue to educate our children.  This time at home has presented an element of peace and closeness that eliminated being gone from home and on the run every moment.  That, in my mind, is priceless.  Our church has made extreme efforts to keep us connected and looking up. Among the dark clouds of worry, there are glimpses of a silver lining.   

I really believe that gratitude invites the presence of the Holy Spirit into our lives. He highlights what God is doing to meet our needs. He confirms to our Spirit that Jesus is enough and God’s provision is perfect.

Gratitude Imparts Peace

In Philippians, Paul highlights the powerful connection between gratitude and peace:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:

Giving thanks, even as we bring our requests to God, shows us that we don’t need one more thing in order to be thankful. We just need to recognize God’s presence in our lives. God’s peace transcends our understanding and guards our hearts and minds. I love what Lisa Apello says: “When you can’t sleep, don’t count sheep. Count your blessings.”

God’s grace might work in our lives to reveal that even some of our biggest struggles are actually gifts from him, something he can use for our good and his glory. Gratitude transforms our perceptions and helps us see the promise in each situation.

Gratitude Fosters Contentment

Related to peace is contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

1 Timothy 6:6-8

Gratitude guards against envy. Envy calls us to compare ourselves with others. And comparison is the thief of joy.

Envy makes us want what someone else has. “Gratitude makes us realize God has given us far more than we deserve. Because there’s enough for everyone, we can cheer rather than compare. A heart wholly grateful has no room left for envy.” (Lisa Apello)

Boyd Bailey wrote:

Gratitude and contentment go together like turkey and dressing. They feed each other, and are both fostered by faith. When I remember how God has so richly blessed me, I am overwhelmed by His generosity. Contentment is to rest in Christ, trusting He is in control. Circumstances, good or bad, are an opportunity for Him to show Himself faithful. So, once you go to God in gratitude, you can live life in contentment knowing Christ is in control. Contentment is not passive and uninformed, but rather engaged and educated. It is not anxious. It replaces worry with work, pity with prayer, pride with humility, and grumbling with gratitude. Your peace and stability is the fruit of contentment, which grows out of the ground of gratitude. Seed this soil in prayer, and you will see abundance abound. You are able to accommodate in adversity, because the Almighty has gone before you. You are able to bridle wants in prosperity, because gratitude to God and contentment in Christ govern your generosity. Thank God often, and trust Him to cultivate your contentment.

Gratitude Builds Our Faith

Keeping a record of God’s past faithfulness boosts my faith when I am facing my next difficulty. God’s record of faithfulness is 100%. That’s why God commanded Israel to remember His great deeds:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

David Berry, a member of our church, shared the following with me:

It’s funny when I think about it.  Unusually people think of gratitude as something you express after you are given something.  Maybe that is right.  I am so grateful for everything God has done for my family and I, for all the blessings He has given us, but it doesn’t seem to stop there for me.  As I express my gratitude it increases my ability to trust in the Lord and let Him lead me more and more.  I guess, in short, as I realize that I have a lot to be grateful for, and those blessings come from God, I am able to trust in him more and more.

Gratitude Invites Joy

Brene Brown writes from twelve years of research on the connection between joy and gratitude. She quotes a Jesuit Priest who says “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that brings us joy.” She says the important thing is not just an “attitude of gratitude” but practices of gratitude… like saying grace before we eat.

Joy is something we need for our journey. Psalm 126 talks about the journey of the exiles back to the Promised Land. Even before they arrived, they were filled with joy and gratitude.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 

Psalm 126:1-3

Joy is not a destination, it is a journey. Nehemiah reminded the people that the joy of the Lord is their strength. If you want more joy, build gratitude into your life in tangible ways. Tell people when they bless you. Talk about your blessings with others. Pause to pray and name God’s blessings in your life.

Gratitude is our Testimony

Psalm 105:1

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.

Psalm 105:1

Lisa Apello: “When we thank God openly and acknowledge what He’s done for us, we proclaim a personal, caring God to the world around us. We show that contentment and peace come not from what we have but Who we know.”

Perhaps the most important thing we can say about gratitude is that it glorifies God. There is a cycle of blessings that starts when we give thanks. In 2 Corinthians 4:15, Paul talks about the power of the Gospel to transform lives. God’s grace reaches more and more people which causes more and more thanksgiving to overflow. And this wave of thanksgiving glorifies God.

A Christian is someone who has decided to accept the gift of salvation, offered to us through Christ Jesus, and to live evermore not for our glory but the glory of God. The best way we can bring glory to our Creator is simply to give him thanks…

  • at all times
  • in all circumstances
  • for all his blessings
  • to all who will listen.

Special thanks to these additional sources:

Scripture References: Bible Gateway

Fourteen Benefits of Practicing Gratitude According to Science” by Kori D. Miller

Gratitude Comes from Noticing Your Life, Not from Thinking About It” via Raptitude.

Gratitude: Noticing the Good Things in Your Life” via Red Rabbit

The Power of Gratitude: Twelve Benefits of Giving God Thanks” by Lisa Apello.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.