Dr. George Cherian General Secretary Mission India Tiruvalla
The lessons we learn in our childhood often gets stuck into our hearts as convictions and some things we learn are gradually translated into our lives as habits. Mr. Fulton Oursler tells of a lesson he was taught as a little lad on the blessings of having an attitude of gratitude in our lives. He remembered the old nurse, Anna who served in his home for many years. Mr Fulton says, “I remember her as she sat at the kitchen table in our house; the hard, old, brown hands folded across her starched apron, the glistening eyes, and the husky old whispering voice, saying, ‘Much obliged, Lord, for my vittles.” By the word ‘vittles’ she meant what she got to eat and drink. As a young boy, Mr Fulton was intrigued by her spirit of thanksgiving for the food she got to eat in his home. He was puzzled because he knew that his mother would provide her with food at each mealtime. He told her, ‘Anna, you’d get your food and drink in my home whether you thanked the Lord or not. “Sure, she said but saying thanks before eating it makes everything taste better.’
How true is the statement of this godly old woman, who learned the secret of making her life taste better by having an attitude of gratitude in life. This is a rebuke to today’s world not only outside the kingdom of God but tragically inside it. Paul while developing his theme on ‘sin’ in the epistle to the Romans said, ‘when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’ (Romans 1:21) Hence, according to the scriptures, ingratitude is more than a missing attribute in life but sin.
Some people by nature they are grateful and they often express it in their conversation. We feel comfortable around people with an attitude of gratitude. But scripture teaches us to be grateful to God and people around us.
Tragedy of Ungratefulness
Absence of gratefulness is often revealed by the spirit of grumbling and complaining. The history of God’s people in the old testament is a classic example of ungratefulness. The miracles and provisions they have enjoyed was incomparable yet they were
a. Not satisfied with where they were (Ex 17)
b. Not satisfied with what they had. (Num. 11)
c. Not satisfied with who they had in leadership. (Num.12)
d. Not satisfied with the God they had. (Ex32)
Spirit of ingratitude and grumbling slowed down their journey into the promised land. Instead of 11 days, the journey lasted 40 years with a generation lost in the wilderness. Ungrateful heart will produce a murmuring spirit and complaining mouth and lives journey to the destination is drastically slowed down.
A story is told of a seminary student named Edward Spencer who personally rescued seventeen persons when a ferry boat capsized in the Michigan lake on September 6th, 1860. The exertion of that day permanently damaged his health and he was unable to continue his studies. When he died some years later, it was noted that not one of the seventeen persons he had saved ever came to thank him. Historians do not record the emotional pain Edward Spencer underwent, although as a godly man he must have found satisfaction since he did it as unto the Lord.
The Gospel narrator Luke shares the wonderful story of Jesus healing ten lepers who were living away from the society and wandering between Samaria and Galilee. Although all the ten were healed, only one returned to the Lord Jesus to say thanks. It is important to note that Jesus commented and asked the listeners, “Where are the other nine?”
1.Obedience to God’s command produces an attitude of gratitude
Paul writing to the Colossian church exhorts them with this direct command. “Be thankful” (Colossians 3:15) God’s commands are all for our good and wellbeing. This command is based on the fact that all what we are and all what we have is from God. David, while offering his gifts to the Lord said, “O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for your holy name is from your hand, and is all your own.” (1 Chronicles 29:16) This was the principle God wanted His people to know before they entered the land of Canaan.“When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. (Deuteronomy8:10) The doctrine is that all good gifts we enjoy are from him. Ingratitude comes from the proud and independent spirit. There has always been a tendency to think that we have achieved everything we possess by our human skill and effort, forgetting that the life, physical strength and opportunities are all given by the gracious hand of God. Paul preaching to the Athenians said, “for in Him we live and move and have our being”(Acts 17:28) Like any other commandment in the scriptures, to be thankful is to be obeyed and observed with joy.
2. Spirit filled life produces an attitude of gratitude
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we spontaneously sing psalms hymns and spiritual songs in our hearts and are also often sung out audibly for others to hear. Spirit filled heart is naturally a grateful heart. When Apostle Paul speaks of being filled with the spirit in Ephesians, he says,“be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,“(Ephesians 5:18-20)
Spirit filled life always displays a spirit of humility which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and a humble person is always thankful. It is the pride in man that prevents him from glorifying and praising God. This is remarkably displayed in the old testament incident where the Ark of God is brought into Jerusalem. We see King David dancing and singing praise to God unashamedly while his wife Michel is feeling embarrassed as her husband unashamedly expresses his gratefulness to God. While she was proud and so mindful of her dignity, David was humble and grateful to God for choosing him from the sheepfold to be the King of a nation. (2 Samuel 6: 20-22) A man filled with the Sprit has a humble and grateful heart or better said has a‘Hallelujah’ heart.
Spirit filled person is also gifted with grace to see something good in all what happens to him. This is the only reason why one can comply with the command, ‘for everything give thanks.’ Humility and a Spirit directed insight of all situations gives the believer an attitude of gratitude.
An incident that happened in the life of great theologian Mathew Henry illustrates this truth. After being robbed of his purse by thieves, he wrote in his diary,”Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” The attitude of gratitude is not natural to us, but it is something that is produced in us by the Spirit of God. No wonder the first century Christians endued with the divine power were found with this sweet spirit not only in their worship places but in times of difficulties and persecutions.
3. Memories makes us thankful
Although the sovereign and almighty God himself is worthy of our praise and worship, the believers are inspired to praise God as they recall from their memory the bountiful benefits they have received from the Lord. Ungrateful people have short memories. How easily men and women forget the blessings they receive from God and the help and care received from fellow beings.
In Psalm 103 David invokes his own soul to bless and praise the Lord reminding himself not to forget all what the Lord has done. In the early part of the gospel we see Mary, the mother of Jesus singing songs of thanksgiving for the saving grace and miraculous and transforming power she received from the Lord. (Luke 1:46-55) Her thankfulness originated in her heart and was joyfully expressed as a thanksgiving song. The grace that brought her out from obscurity and power of the spirit that worked a miracle in her life was not forgotten and she did not fail to give glory and praise to God for the amazing grace.When we remember the blessings of the past and marvellous mercy and loving kindness bestowed on us, we will spontaneously display a spirit of gratitude.
Rewards of having an attitude of gratitude
Living with an attitude of gratitude is highly rewarding. There is an imaginary story of a man visiting the store house of satan. There were different kinds of seeds that he has stored to be sown in the hearts of men and women. A particular kind of seed was stored in large quantity. On enquiry, it was revealed that it was the seed of discouragement and disappointment. Satan commented that although these seeds are very effective in many hearts, it will never grow in thankful hearts and hearts that praises God. Although a fictitious story, there are great lessons in it. While we live in a discouraging and terribly disappointing society, a heart full of gratitude and praise can not only sustain us but can make us live triumphantly in hard times.
Grateful heart also opens the heaven for more favour and blessings of God in the future. This is illustrated in the miracle of healing of the ten lepers. While the nine who were healed of leprosy never returned to thank Jesus, one returned, not only to say, ‘thank you’, but also to fall at Jesus’s feet to worship him. This act of gratefulness was noted by Jesus and was deeply appreciated by him. (Luke 17:16-19) While he laments over the ingratitude of the nine who neglected the marvellous blessing, Jesus pronounces holistic healing and a divine commission for this man who returned to give thanks.Jesus declares that genuine faith of this man has saved him and made him whole. Christ was teaching that holistic healing and salvation goes much beyond the physical healing. Jesus commissioned him saying, ‘arise and go.’Proceeding in life’s journey with God’s commission and direction is a sure guarantee for fruitfulness and blessings. Out of the ten who were healed only one who was grateful could go back to with the world with God’s approval and favour.
The presence of contented and grateful people in the society brings the aroma of heaven in this hell bound world. While we need to remember and thank God for the immeasurable gifts we have received out of his goodness, the primary blessing that ought to move us constantly to thanksgiving is that God has ‘qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.’ (Col 1:12). Qualifying us, the ineligible ones to become inheritors of the heavenly Kingdom in itself is enough to desire for a thousand tongues to sing songs of praise to our great redeemer.
Let us there praise Him, who is the source, support and end of all things and never fail to remember that the very life we live is his gift and therefore worship him with our mouths, our lives and oursacrificial offering pleasing to Him who loved us and gave his all for us. Hallelujah.