One of the distinctions of the Christian life should be the inclination towards an ongoing process of self-evaluation for the sake of our betterment for the purposes of God’s glory. While having the privilege of serving the Lord as an ambassador for his gospel overseas, this last week has been one of deep confrontation of my own deficiencies that make me the less than an ideal missionary candidate. I am not compelled to write such words from false humility with the desire to be more highly elevated, nor do they come from a hope of empathy from others. They are written as the result of several encounters that merely remind me of my depravity and my need for God. Yet, such reflection and scrutiny prove to be immensely valuable in drawing us closer to God as we recognize the greatness of our need. As Spurgeon would say, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.” To go a step further though, permit me to share a great truth that has come from this introspection: gratitude can be a great antidote to sin.
A missing element in our prayer, our passion, and our priorities is the activity of gratitude. I suspect that the reason we lack graciousness towards others is that we lack gratitude towards God. Being thankful, an emotion that should spring forth from the internal places of our heart is an important aspect of who we are as children of God. Paul proclaims to the Thessalonians that believers should give thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and the Lord Jesus Christ made the heart’s inclination towards gratitude a distinctive aspect in his model of prayer (cf. Matthew 6:3-13). When rightly placed in the Christian life, gratitude oriented towards God pulls us away from sin and towards Him alone.
In a given day, we Christians find ourselves faltering in sin in many different ways and means, and while gratitude may offset many of them, we simply do not have the time to dive deeply into each one. However, consider three prominent sins and the way in which gratitude draws us away from that and towards God:
Pride (including selfishness and self-reliance): Pride reigns when we have replaced God with self. It sees skills as one’s own ambition and not as God’s gifts. It places precedence on one’s personal priorities over the Lord’s directives. It also replaces God’s will with a person’s own will. Gratitude inclines the heart towards God by reminding us that we received our skillsets from God as part of his gifting and that the roles he has placed us in are not positions of prestige, but positions of privilege. Ultimately, gratitude recognizes God’s graciousness in allowing us to accomplish what we have done not because of who we are, but because of who he is.
Discouragement: Additionally, gratitude causes us to reflect on what we have and what has taken place. Simple fixation upon God’s provision of food to thankfulness for the opportunity to enjoy God’s creation when we look upon the heavens, moon, and stars fixates our gaze upon him. We can be thankful that God has used us in the lives of others or that he has used others lives in our own. Regardless, the discouragement that befalls us can be displaced by the right distribution of gratitude towards God’s gracious work in our lives.
Discontentment: Finally, like discouragement, discontentment can be conquered through gratitude. Gratitude orients us towards God by fixating not on what we don’t have, but on what we do have, causing us to look upon God with thankfulness for his provision.
Gratitude forces us to consider the truth of the life we have because of His grace that prevails, and in doing our attention is drawn away from our own wants, our own ambitions, and our own strengths, and recognizes that indeed, it is the Lord who sovereignly provides for us according to his perfect gifts.
Gratitude though requires intentionality. Its lack of prevalence in our lives indicates what happens when we are not intentional in considering God’s work in our lives. Therefore, there are several practical disciplines that we can develop in our lives in order to develop thankfulness:
Read Scripture: Read Scripture and simply see God’s activities and attributes. As you read Scripture, you will be overwhelmed by the depths of our need in light of our sin and by the depths of God’s grace in light of his holiness. Drink in the Word so that you may drink in God’s mercy, kindness, compassion, love, generosity, grace, and so many other attributes as you see how he has dealt with humanity from past, through the present, and into the future.
Journal: A simple journal not only compels you to think about the ways in which God has manifested himself to you, but it also creates the opportunity to go back and see his ongoing faithfulness in your own life. Sometimes a simple prayer journal that keeps track of prayer requests and God’s answers to those can be helpful. Or perhaps listing the things you should be thankful for. It may start slow, but certainly, once you start thinking intently over time it will become easier and the sheer volume of reasons to be grateful will overwhelm.
Ask: Often times, there are others who see the good in our life when we don’t. Simply ask them what they see, not as a manner of boasting, but as a manner of giving thanks to God. You need not ask only other people around you though; ask God. James writes that the Lord will give wisdom to those who ask, so ask him for wisdom to see the ways in which he works.
Such practices instilled into our Christian lifestyle can incline our hearts towards him as the Lord makes us more sensitive towards his work in and through us.
I wish I had recognized sooner the connection between our gratitude and God’s work in us. When we give thanks, we are acknowledging Him and recognizing our need to depend on him. Thus, the activity of gratitude takes us away from self and inclines us toward God.
Photo “Seek” courtesy of user NCM3 and Flickr.