Practical Gratitude: Five Reasons to Go Big on Gratefulness

GratitudeFive Reasons to Go Big on Gratefulness

By Shane Bennett

In our current culture wars, I would like to think I choose my battles carefully. The evidence might indicate otherwise. Certainly, I’m prone to be judgmental toward people who engage with great tenacity on different issues than I do. For example, I could hardly care less if someone says happy holidays or merry Christmas. And I recently went on record saying it was cool that two particular Democrats were elected to Congress (because they were Muslim women, not because they were Democrats).

That said, without getting all whiny about Christmas chattel in Walmart already, I want to plant a flag, wave a flag, or do something with a flag that says, “Thanksgiving is cool” in big, bold, pumpkin-spice-scented letters!

Thanksgiving is essentially what a holiday should be: family, friends, food, and conversation all infused with this warm and grateful internal realization, “Ah, I’m not dead. You’re not dead either. Woohoo! This is good.”

If you hold to the basic tenets of Christianity, we of all people should be given over to gratitude. An uncreated Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, likes us. He went to great lengths to bring us back to himself. And he offers complete forgiveness and purpose-filled life forever starting now! That’s worth a hearty thank you very much. (Tweet this.)

Here’s the trouble: As mobilizers, we spend a good chunk of our time pointing out what isn’t done yet, the difference between what we see now and a completed Great Commission. We talk about needs and suffering. We’ve learned that response often correlates to how bleakly we paint the picture, and funding follows fear.

My purpose here isn’t to encourage you to stop that, but rather, given that reality, to inspire in us a fresh focus on thankfulness. You may or may not need a reminder. I do. About once a week.

Why go big on gratefulness?

1. The Bible says so.

Since you can probably quote Paul’s admonitions to gratitude better than I can, let me back up to Jesus for some biblical basis: In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says,

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

I wouldn’t split a denomination over this, but I think part of what makes our “light shine before men” is gratitude. When we’re thankful, the light of Jesus shines and people glorify God. I love it when that happens!

2. Gratitude reflects reality.

If we rightly understand the fundamental aspects of reality—that we exist, that we know it, that we exist and know it because of a good God, these naturally engender gratitude. You and I have life. And because of God we have hope.

3. Gratitude reshapes our psyche, outlook, and future.

According to Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” For a three-and-a-half-minute elaboration on this, check out Brene Brown. For ten change-your-life minutes, watch Ann VosKamp unpack the science and practicality of gratitude.

4. Thankfulness lifts others around us.

I am blessed when I hear people honestly express a sense of gratitude. When they’re grateful for me, of course, but really, regardless of what they’re thankful for. I love to read expressions of gratitude on Facebook and the list of “praises” that often go next to “prayer requests” on ministry newsletters. Oh sure, a little jealousy might sneak in when someone says, “I’m just so thankful that we’re at 118% of our support goal after these arduous five weeks of effort,” but you know, usually I’m blessed!

5. There are so many things for which to be grateful.

For mission mobilizers, the list is long. Although much work remains to be done, God has done so much already. And we live in a time when the growth of his kingdom is staggering. Skim Robby Butler’s article to feel the joy and hope being birthed in some 650 current movements to Jesus around the world.

Two final thoughts to make this as down-in-the-dirt practical as possible:

Who should we thank?

  • Thank God! More and more and more. He has been so good to you and me.
  • If you raise funds, thank your donors. (This is for me. Of course, you thank your donors!)
  • Thank your parents. Most of us could do this more than we do.
  • Thank people before they die. A nice obituary is honorable. Tell them before they die and it really rocks.

How should we practice gratitude?

You’re a grown up and probably already have eight ways you’re doing this and four more you’re considering. Even so, I’d like to invite you into a little experiment: I’ve set up a Google doc for Missions Catalyst readers to daily write down what they’re thankful for between now and US Thanksgiving Day on November 22. Simply scroll down to the correct date and write a couple or three things you’re thankful for.

Join me in doing this for each of the next nine days and we will have begun to form a habit. I’m pretty sure I’ll be better for it. Will you join me? I’ll be grateful if you do!

» Express your gratitude.

Subversive Gratitude

Some of the most potent expressions of gratitude come when your life has spun out of control and darkness has descended like a heavy blanket. I’m writing this in the aftermath of having lost the most important earthly relationship of my life. Much is in question. The way forward is unclear. The pain intense. Even so, I want to practice gratitude.

I’m thankful that Miss Bowers taught me to type in high school. I’m grateful that the current Colorado snowpack is 170% of average and may mean we won’t be plagued by drought next summer. And I’m thankful to be a part of a tribe with you all. Children of God. Loved. Chosen. Anointed. Empowered. And sent.

I don’t know how dark your days are right now. Maybe the worst you’ve seen. Know this: I’m thankful for you and I’m thankful with you.

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