The Spiritual Discipline of Gratitude  

There are many disciplines in the Christian life. When you start to quantify them you usually get into trouble. Of all the disciplines that can be practiced and demonstrated in the Christian life I believe Gratitude is the singe most important discipline. Gratitude is the byproduct of something we can’t produce ourselves. Gratitude is something we feel when we have been given what we don’t deserve. Gratitude happens when we experience grace and it happens with regularity when we understand grace. Gratitude strikes at the heart of the gospel. If you have ever been to a sporting even in the past 40 years you would have seen the large happy fan of any given team holding up a sign that says John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he Gave….” Gratitude is us understanding what we have been given and receiving it with joy.

There are few things as lovely as hearing Thank You. Saying Thank You is a very different thing however. Thank you requires us to recognize that someone did for us what we could not do on our own. Thank you is a humble admission that we need others. It comes from a place understanding grace. Saying thank you is more than a simple phrase we teach our kids as children it’s something we must practice on a daily basis.

German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about the contributions of others.

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Gratitude is an awakening of our sense of dependence on God and others. The idea of a self-made man is foolish and arrogant. We accomplish very little on our own. Every significant achievement of my life has been a team effort. Our need for the help of others is actually a means of God’s grace in our lives. The reality of life that we must fight for all we are worth is that we often slip from gratitude into selfish ambition or entitlement both are enemies of a grateful heart.

What gratitude looks like.

As a parent of four beautiful children. I have attended more children’s birthday parties than I care to remember the amount of presents kids get is literally overwhelming. I remember as a kids pastor before I had children of my own attending one of these parties. I walked into the house and there were kids, cupcakes and craziness everywhere. One of the parents time for presents! Everyone filed into the living room the pile of neatly wrapped presents was larger than the seated child was. What shocked me most is that this child unwrapped a present and didn’t even look at the gift but rather said “next” which was his mothers cue for another present. The child unwrapped and said next until all the gifts were successfully unwrapped. The child then said “is that it?” It was in that movement I became painfully aware of what gratitude did not look like. I left feeling the off. There was a sense of something I couldn’t shake. I started by thinking what was wrong with those parents. I then felt God speak asking me what was wrong with me.

You see as a pastor of kids and a parent of four I have come to the understanding that kids are concentrated versions of adults. They act how we think and how we would act if we didn’t learn know better. As adults we may not open a present and then yell next. But we do tread forcefully on the grace that is new for us each morning. We get overwhelmed by life and the cares it brings that we miss the forest for the trees. We wake up and look out the window at the world God has made for us and rather than stopping, taking a breath and simply say “Thank you.” We say “next” and move on without a moment of pause.

What looked to me as a young pastor to be poor parenting was not that at all. Watching that child say “next” I was seeing myself living a life that was based on what I had done and what I deserved rather than an overwhelming sense of gratitude for grace I didn’t deserve. Gratitude is broken, gratitude recognizes that you have been given something you don’t deserve. When you earn something you say “that’s mine” when you are given something you say “Thank you.” When we discipline our hearts and our lives to see that all is grace we are filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything.

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