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November 23, 2016

The Power of Gratitude

“The LORD strengthens and protects me; I trust in Him with all my heart. I am rescued and my heart is full of joy; I will sing to Him in gratitude.”  Psalm 28:7 (NET1)

American playwright and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Thornton Wilder said, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

Most people who know their days are numbered understand the importance of the little sensory details that we often take for granted.  They know what it means to wake up each day with a grateful heart.  I’ve seen men and women who were suffering chronic pain, smiling as they sipped their morning coffee or held the hand of their spouse.  They were immeasurably grateful for one more day, for another opportunity to embrace their lives in every detail.

We talk about gratitude a lot in our culture, but we find it difficult to practice.  The consumer mindset instilled by media and advertising, combined with our human tendency to compare, leaves us coming up short.  We’re told – and often believe – that what we have isn’t enough.  We’re conditioned to automatically accept that the next electronic gadget, the next pair of designer shoes, the next tropical vacation, or the next romantic relationship will fulfill us.  But of course, material goods, exciting experiences, and even other people can’t quench the spiritual thirst in our lives.

Only God can slake our deepest thirst with His living water. Cicero wisely observed, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”  When we are thankful, we become content and full of the peace that only He can provide.  Focusing on how grateful we are for what we have prevents us from becoming bitter and greedy for more.

When I think about the way gratitude can increase our capacity to love, I think of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  My favorite line in the whole story occurs right after the Grinch has realized the true meaning of Christmas:  “And some say the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.”  Gratitude expands our hearts the same way.  We become fully aware of the details of the life we love, the simple things that delight us, and, perhaps most of all, the people God has placed in our lives.  Simply stated, gratitude expands our capacity to enjoy life.

Ingratitude has the opposite effect. It causes our hearts to shrink and become colder.  It blocks the flow of God’s wisdom and blessings in our lives.  In fact, the opposite of a heart of gratitude is a heart of dissatisfaction, grumbling, complaining, and negativity.  Whenever I’m being negative, I can’t help but feel that God is disappointed with my attitude, that it’s a slap in His face after all He has given me.

If you knew your days were numbered, you’d want to make the most of them – to laugh and fully engage with the people you love, to appreciate the little things, the ones that might seem silly to others but that delight your soul, and to give God thanks for allowing you to experience them.  When we thank those around us, it only increases the love between us.  When we express gratitude to God, it increases our capacity to experience a full life without regrets.

This Thanksgiving season, make a gratitude list of five or six things that you often take for granted.  Stop for a moment and thank God for each of them.  Then, make a list of people in your life for whom you are most grateful.  Think of the ones you most often overlook within your own household and make a point to express your gratitude for them.  When you do, you’ll experience the power of gratitude in your heart and relationships!