Back in my seminary days, a seasons Old Testament and Hebrew professor stood before our class of students and shared this nugget with us:
“Remember, students – seminary is really just the process of moving from unconscious to conscious ignorance.”
It wasn’t particularly encouraging, but it was very wise. And very true. I left those days of schooling more aware than I’d ever been about just how much I didn’t know. And the pattern has continued not just intellectually, but emotionally for me. It’s astounding to me at least that I am the age I am and yet still can still be so easily deceived and swayed by my emotions. Mercifully, as we grow in Christ, our feelings actually become more and more sanctified as well, but we have a mighty long way to go, don’t we?
We know we shouldn’t get angry at this thing, or be happy about that thing, or be frustrated about this occurrence – but we just can’t help ourselves. Many times – maybe even most times – our emotions conflict with our faith. It’s in those moments when we have to choose to act contrary to what we feel. We do this in faith, believing that we are doing what God desires even though we might not feel it in the moment. But this becomes particularly difficult when it comes to things that we know we should feel. Things like gratitude, for example.
We don’t always feel thankful. But here is where we must remember that gratitude is not a so much an issue of emotion as much as it is an issue of obedience. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”, says the apostle (Phil. 4:4). This is not a suggestion; it’s not a helpful hint for happiness. This is a command. Similar commands can be found throughout the Bible, each one telling us, not suggesting to us, that we give thanks.
For the Christian, then, thanksgiving becomes a discipline to practice on those days and during those seasons when we don’t feel particularly grateful for anything that’s happening at the present. When we choose to obey the command not just once but over and over again, we will find that our souls will be lifted and our emotions will follow. Gratitude is very good for our souls. It is so for at least these four reasons:
1. Gratitude is an active way of pursuing humility.
Humility is an elusive thing. The moment you consider yourself humble, you have begun to take pride in your humility. So how can we pursue a characteristic like this? We do it through active means like gratitude. When we start expressing our gratitude both to God to others, humility rises inside us because we are recognizing someone else as a provider for something we needed or wanted. We are honoring the one who has given to us, and therefore are putting ourselves in a second position.
2. Gratitude reminds you of the good character of God.
Our lack of gratitude is not because of lack of reason; it’s only because of lack of awareness. The sun came up this morning. Our hearts are still beating. We are still in the faith. This is all because of our good Father who, in His grace, sustains us and everything else. When we start to actively practice gratitude, we are reminded to look beyond what present circumstance might be making us feel ungrateful and are reminded of God’s good character.
3. Gratitude guards against materialism.
Everywhere you turn you will see someone who has something that you do not have. And many times, our hearts will tell us that we are entitled to that same thing. This sense of entitlement is one of the roots that bears the fruit of materialism. If we don’t want to drift this way, one of the most practical safeguards we can put in place is a commitment to giving thanks for who God is, what He has done, and how He has chosen to provide particularly for us.
4. Gratitude refocuses your gaze appropriately.
To revisit where we started, we often can’t control how we feel. But we can control where we look. And very often our hearts will follow our gaze. Maybe this is why there are so many biblical exhortations to focus our eyes, to look, to behold – when we look to the right place we will begin to feel the right things. Practicing gratitude forces our eyes off of what we perceive we are lacking and onto the goodness of God most clearly displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Gratitude is good for our souls. Ironically, God’s command for us to “give thanks” is not just about giving Him the honor He is due; it’s about His commitment for us to live in the fullness of His joy. Our gratitude is as much for our sake as it is for His.