The Power of Gratitude

Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live (1 Thessalonians 5:18, The Message).
            Gratitude has the power to change our lives and our churches.  That is, if we let it.  If we want to live happy contented lives, then we will obey the Scripture’s exhortation to give thanks in any kind of circumstance in any kind of context.  It can be a challenge to give thanks during hard times.  But that might be the most important time to do it.  The biblical character David had the where-with-all to acknowledge his desperate condition, yet chose to praise God in the middle of it.  In Psalm 57 he said, “I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords… They spread a net for my feet – I am bowed down in distress… But my heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music… I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.”
            If you are in between a rock and a hard place, for what can you express praise and thanksgiving to God?  Our spiritual ancestors, the pilgrims, came to this country.  The original colonial pilgrims of America numbered over a hundred when they came, and, after the first winter, less than fifty of them remained.  It does not get much bleaker than that.  Yet, instead of retreating into bitterness, resentment, and envy, they decided to set aside a particular day to give thanks for what they had, and not be constantly upset about what they did nothave.
            We are to give thanks in all kinds of circumstances, whether good or bad, whether big or small.  In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells about an incident that taught her the principle of giving thanks in all things. It was during World War II. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, had been harboring Jewish people in their home, so they were arrested and imprisoned at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.  The barracks was extremely crowded and infested with fleas. One morning they read in their tattered Bible from 1 Thessalonians the reminder to give thanks in all things.  Betsy said, “Corrie, we’ve got to give thanks for this barracks and even for these fleas.”  Corrie replied, “No way am I going to thank God for fleas.” But Betsy was persistent and persuasive, and they did thank God even for the fleas.  During the months that followed, they found that their barracks was left relatively free, and they could do Bible study, talk openly, and even pray in the barracks. It was their only place of refuge. Several months later they learned that the reason the guards never entered their barracks was because of those blasted fleas.
            Sometimes we do not understand what God is doing.  Sometimes we just don’t perceive that the Lord is up to anything.  You may feel as if you are sitting still right now, yet, planet Earth is spinning around its axis at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour.  We are also hurtling through space at an average velocity of 67,108 miles per hour. So even on a day when you feel like you did not get much done, do not forget that you traveled 1,599,793 miles through space! To top things off, the Milky Way is spinning like a galactic pinwheel at the dizzying rate of 483,000 mph.
That is amazing. But we don’t feel it, so it’s off our radars.  When was the last time you thanked God for keeping us in orbit? I’m guessing you have never prayed, “Lord, I wasn’t sure we’d make the full rotation today, but you did it again!” We just don’t pray that way.  But we are to learn to thank God in every circumstance, both big and small.  If we can trust God to keep our feet on the ground with a big thing like gravity, then we can trust him in any and every situation we experience.


            Gratitude has healing power.  It is easy to complain about church.  Any common fool will go on and belly-ache about how bad things are and play arm-chair Deity about how to fix all the ills of the church and the world.  But it takes a wise person to find gratitude and choose to give thanks for all the good things God has done and is doing, being careful to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 75

            Way back in the day, when I was in college, there were some lively characters within my group of friends and acquaintances.  One of those friends had a phrase he would call people out on whenever he discerned there was some sort of insincerity or disingenuous talk.  “Quit talkin’ out the side o’ ya’ neck!” he would say with some flavor.  His phrase captures the psalmist when he exhorts the boastful person to not “speak with a haughty neck” (ESV).
            Indeed, God will judge everyone on earth with equity, not showing favoritism.  Evil speech he shall not tolerate.  Instead of talking out of the side of our necks, the godly use their tongues in a different manner.  “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.  We recount your wondrous deeds.”  The way to avoid the proud words of the haughty person is to use our speech to express gratitude.  Generous words and proud words cannot co-exist in the same sentence.  Remembering God’s gracious works in the world and using our tongues to recount them has the effect of putting us in our proper place and shooing away the pride.
            One way of expressing gratitude to God is to take a few minutes each day to pause and give thanks for the things you notice.  If you take a walk, be intentional about noticing God’s creation and giving thanks for the specific things you see.  At your workplace, take note of the blessings for which you can give thanks.  When you are at home, notice the simple pleasures of being with family and be sure to give God praise for them.  For, if we do not observe God in the common and the mundane, we will likely miss him when he shows up in the dramatic and the awesome.


            Almighty God, you are the rightful Judge of all the earth.  Today I forsake all proud and haughty speech, and, instead, give thanks to you for your mighty acts of salvation and deliverance in Jesus’ name.  Amen.