It is remarkable how much we have to be grateful for every day: the sun that rises, the air we breathe, warm homes to live in, clean streets in our cities, and the company of friends and neighbors with whom we live, move and have our being.
It is also remarkable how easy it is to become cynical and disoriented by all the heartache, hunger, injustice, and fear that we witness in the world. Whether we turn on the evening news or remember a loved one in the hospital, many circumstances call our hearts to sadness and lament. Untempered, these spaces of sadness and lament can easily lead us to despair.
A faithful practice and powerful remedy for cynicism is the practice of gratitude: a simple, daily remembrance of all that God has provided that invites us to respond with thanks and praise. For me, the Scriptures that most inspire me to remember gratitude are the Psalms. David, the writer of many of the Psalms, possessed great wealth, power, and deep intimacy with God. David had much to be grateful for, but his story also held much sorrow: war, betrayal, loss of children, and the strains of his own sinfulness. Time and again, we see David crying out in lament and praise to God. David had many opportunities to move towards cynicism, but the Psalms record David’s faithful practice of gratitude. David faithfully practices gratitude and thanksgiving each time he experiences pain; David returns to God each time he is tempted to become cynical. In the Psalms, we discover an account of what it means to see God’s faithfulness and providence, even in the midst of brokenness.
Each day we have a choice and opportunity: do we embrace cynicism or return home to God in gratitude? There is much that tempts us to despair, but the faithful practice of Christians (for millennia) has been to return to God in thanks and praise. Paul writes to the Thessalonian church, “Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for that is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). Every moment presents an opportunity to discover gratitude for all that is praiseworthy. When we foster gratitude, we build resistance to the temptation of cynicism. The discipline of gratitude allows us to bear witness to the work of God in the world to a people desperately in need of hope. The practice of gratitude invites us (and others) to see and experience the goodness of God in each moment. We do not have to succumb to brokenness. As we turn our hearts to God in gratitude, we are sustained and renewed: this strengthens our resolve to love more generously and deeply in response.
As a congregation, we have an opportunity to turn our hearts and minds to the discipline of stewardship each fall: we pray, discern, and commit to how we might return the gifts God has given us in the form of financial pledges and gifts of our talents and time. At its core, this season invites us to (re)engage the practice of gratitude. The first step in this practice is to take stock of all the ways we have been blessed by God. We remember, in gratitude, the faithfulness of God in our church: the growing presence of children; our deepening worship and fellowship life together; the opportunities God grants us to engage the cause of justice in our neighborhood and world. When we begin to name and identify these places of God’s faithfulness, we speak that “thank you,” and allow our hearts to grow in gratitude and generosity.
I pray that you would encounter the richness found in the practice of gratitude during this season — that it would open you up to experience God’s great love in new ways and encourage you to respond to God all the more.
Grace and peace,