Gratitude: An Outward and Visible Sign of Love

On Gratitude 8-21-17

Bill and I have started a home small group….a “life group”….as our church now calls it, on Sunday evenings at 5:30. Bill and I cook and provide dinner to those who come. We have a devotional together first. As the basis of the reflections we are using reflections on Christian virtues (which are really the characteristics of Christ, the attributes of God, that are revealed in Scripture.) Our first one last week was on “Hospitality”. This week we focused on “Gratitude.”
Our discussion of Gratitude last night brought out a lot of thoughts on the blessings we enjoy…..from God, from one another, and just in being, belonging, and being loved and loving.

I had made an assignment to a woman who had experienced a relapse with alcohol on writing things daily for which she is grateful. About 2 weeks later, as we discussed the exercise, she said that it had helped her break with the regrets and grieving over the past and redirected her thinking toward the present and the things she still has to which she can look forward. She said she’d had an “aha” moment and seemed to have turned loose of the past finally. Furthermore, she said that God had taken away the craving to drink….since it now appeared to her to be a way to numb the pain of the feelings about the past. Gratitude, she said, and even hope and excitement for the future have replaced those negative feelings and preoccupation with the past.
She admitted that for years the thought of the next drink had been a constant present thought. She said she was always aware of where alcohol was in her environment… the grocery store, the gas station, her house, everywhere. Just recently she had gone grocery shopping and as she checked out she realized she had not thought about alcohol one time while in Walmart, even though she must have walked past it at some point as she went to the snack aisle. That check-out epiphany was the moment she realized the craving was no longer there. It was a moment of victory for her that she wanted to celebrate and share.
No wonder God tells us again and again to give thanks, to remember his love and good works on our behalf, and to love one another. It’s not just good theology…….it’s therapeutic and healing!

One of the hallmark things that I have come to look for with women as they move through the early stage of recovery is the spontaneous, unprompted expression of gratitude…..not to Titus 2, not to anyone in particular, not for any one thing in particular that has been given to her by someone, but to God……a deep stirring of gratitude that recognizes God’s hand has been on her life since long before she was aware of it, that God considers her worthy of love and redemption, that God is present and available to help her with whatever she needs in the moment. That heartfelt and irrepressible expression of gratitude is generally accompanied by renewed hope that life can be good again, joy, and confidence that comes from knowing that power comes through one’s relationship with Christ. It is a holy moment to watch that being born…..when one begins to love herself because she realizes how much God loves her…..and begins to be able to express that love to God and others as a response to God’s love…..

The definition of gratitude: grat·i·tude ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/ noun- the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Synonyms: gratefulness, thankfulness, thanks, appreciation, indebtedness; recognition, acknowledgment, credit

Some of the notes we used to reflect on Gratitude are listed here:

“We typically define gratitude as a positive emotional state we experience when someone else intentionally provides us with some benefit or positive outcome (McCullough, 2001, as cited in Algoe & Zhaoyang, 2015). This could happen when someone does us a favor, says something nice, or simply offers a random act of kindness. Gratitude is, generally put, the swell of warmth and positivity we feel toward such a person.”

The psychological community tells us we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy. It is a lubricant to relationships, affirming good things about one another.

– When we experience a benefit from others, we are motivated to provide benefit in return
– Receiving benefits and feeling gratitude affirms to us that we are worthy of the care and attention of others
– It strengthens close relationship bonds
– It helps us notice and attend to the positive, responsive behaviors of others
– Promotes connection in the moment and provides a basis for continued connection months or years later (….sort of in the same triggering way that one experiences post-traumatic stress response, but it is ingrained positive emotions that are triggered from the memory of being valued instead of having been harmed.)

In the Bible gratitude, or thankfulness, is a prominent theme.
First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
The highest and best expression of gratitude is the love for God that arises in response to the recognition of how much one is loved by God.
“We love because he first loved us ” 1 John 4:19
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16

God whispered in my ear one day years ago as I prayed for something specific in my life and said to me, “Affirmation is not love; sacrifice is love.” It positively transformed my life. My gratitude to God for how he has loved me and for all that he has done in my life and the life of those I love is beyond expression.

Watching the birth of REAL LOVE is observed as it arises from gratitude to God….for love received from and returned to God….can be observed in this spontaneous expression of gratitude. Watching it mature into a transformed spirit, soul, and even body that begins to reflect God’s own character is a miracle that always humbles and delights me. I pray that God allows me to continue to nurture and disciple people into that holy place. They may choose to continue to live there, like the one leper who returned to Jesus to express his thanks and worship Jesus, or they may get lured back into the things of the world, but they will never forget the peace, contentment and joy of that feeling and I know, without a doubt that having experienced it …..for REAL….they will return to it sooner or later.

I had often wondered why gratitude was not included in the list of “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. I think it is because gratitude is connected to humankind’s free will. It is the human response to the presence of and illumination by the Spirit of God’s character being born in us through his Spirit. It is an “outward and visible” expression of love felt deeply within that comes to be known through how we treat our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.

Jesus is shown time and time again in Scripture expressing thanks to God. In particular, we see Jesus offering thanks to God:
– For material blessings (i.e. feeding 5,000, at the Lord’s supper, etc.)
In a spirit of humor, one author tells this story: “On one occasion, a little boy was asked by his father to say grace at the table. While the rest of the family waited, the little guy eyed every dish of food his mother had prepared. After the examination, he bowed his head and honestly prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but I thank you for it, and I’ll eat it anyway. Amen.”
God loves it when we thank Him for our food and all of the material blessings of life (homes, jobs, safety, etc.)
– For answered prayers (after raising Lazarus Luke 11:41f)
Do you thank God for answered prayers? At times, we can get so caught up in asking…asking…asking… that we forget to thank him for answering our prayers. In fact, I have observed that the more we express our thankfulness, the more we are likely to recognize, enjoy, and respond to greater and greater evidence of God’s presence and provision! Why would God want to answer the prayers of ungrateful & unappreciative people who take him for granted or deny his involvement in their lives altogether?
– For relationships (John 17- Jesus thanked God loving him and for the disciples and for all who would come to believe in him through their witness!)

I think gratitude is an expression of Jesus’ humanness and an example for us to be and do the same! Gratitude is an attitude of the heart. The attitude of thanks can be practiced and can grow in us. It is more important even than the act of giving thanks. God’s evaluation of our hearts is evident in Scripture. When the prophet Samuel was surprised at God’s selection of David to be anointed king God said, “The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Instructions to us are the same—“look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
When we are thankful, our focus moves off selfish desires or the pain of current circumstances and is directed toward God who offers whatever we need in the moment.

Expressing thankfulness helps us remember that God is in control, a sovereign God, who has all things under his authority and that he cares for and loves us.

Thankfulness is not only appropriate; it is healthy and beneficial to us. It reminds us of the bigger picture, that we belong to God, and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

Thankfulness reminds us that we have an abundant life (John 10:10), and gratefulness is fitting.

2 Timothy 3:2 One of the characteristics of the last days is a lack of thanksgiving. Wicked people will be “ungrateful.”