Living in gratitude

Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. — Colossians 3:12-15, NLT

resolutionsI guess I’ve never taken New Year’s resolutions seriously. I’m sure they work for some people. I’ll bet Warren Buffet is the man he is today because one New Year’s Eve, while wearing a silly party hat and listening to Guy Lombardo, he resolved to become a gazillionaire before he was 50.

But if you’re like me, you’ve already forgotten whatever you resolved back on January 1, and now you’re back sweating in the company salt mines. They didn’t move you into a bigger cubicle over the holidays, your inbox is filling up, the phone is ringing off the hook, customers are knocking at the door, and February is just around the corner. Life sure moves fast, doesn’t it?

Life moves fast and change comes hard. Routines and habits, both good and bad, make up the daily rhythm of our lives, and it’s rare when we manage to swim out of those deep currents and push off in a new direction.

For me, change comes hard because I resist it. I’m generally content with the status quo. If I had my druthers, I think I would probably just drift with the winds.

Unfortunate as it is for my driftwood personality, I believe in a personal, indwelling God and I’ve invited him to rule over my life. Not rule over in the sense that I’m some beeping, herky-jerky droid slavishly following the demands of my programming — Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope!

God created me, he is the author of all creation and, therefore, knows a thing or two about what makes me tick, what I need to thrive, what things are healthy and which are deleterious.

So I don’t drift through life, as appealing as that may sound. But neither do I make resolutions. Instead, at the suggestion of a pastor long ago, I ask God to help me find a theme for the year, a theme that can be summed up in a single word — my word for the year. Then I invite God to help me live out the meaning of that word all year long in every area of my life.

In his challenge in Colossians 3, Paul seems to be saying something like this:

“Each morning, as you dress for your day’s work, put on these clothes as well: mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. And to complete your outfit perfectly, put on the jacket of love, for love is the fabric the entire ensemble is sewn from. And let Christ’s peace rule in your hearts.”

I read those words and wince, because I don’t live them consistently. None of us do.

But my eyes drifted past all of those virtues and settled on a flashing red light at the end of Paul’s challenge, an apparent afterthought: “And always be thankful.”

Acknowledge God’s favor and goodness. Live in gratitude.

My theme for this year is gratitude, because I’ve come to realize that I’m not very good at being thankful. Not that I’m a complainer, at least not outwardly. But inwardly, in my conversations with God, too many of my prayers are complaints about things I’m unhappy about.

There are plenty of examples of prayers of complaint in the Bible, which has led Christians over the centuries to say that God wants our prayers to be honest and unvarnished. There’s nothing wrong with complaining to God, per se. The problem is one of balance, of acknowledging and staying anchored in the bigger realities. My particular circumstances at any moment may be tragic, but God remains good, fair, just, kind, generous, merciful, full of grace and love for his creation — for you and me.

My complaints, when I make them, should never take center stage. They have to be made in the context of God’s generous and lavish blessings to me. My life, as I live it, cannot rightly revolve around my complaints. If I go through life moaning and groaning like Winnie-the-Pooh’s pessimistic friend Eeyore, I am saying by my actions and attitudes that God’s many mercies are meaningless or unimpressive.

Living in gratitude is probably second nature for some people, but for me it’s a conscious choice made throughout the day, just as I might choose to respond to the slings and arrows of life with mercy, kindness, humility, etc.

In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. — Henri J M Nouwen

It has occurred to me that if I cultivate a more consistent response of gratitude, I will likely come to experience a greater sense of contentment, as well. Perhaps this is precisely what God intends. If we surrender ourselves to God’s sovereignty, if we believe that God is good, if we view our lives as a gift of God’s love, then we can experience God’s peace in the midst of hardship, grief, pain and uncertainty.

Paul’s seeming throwaway challenge to “always be thankful” may be one of the most difficult attitudes to live out, given the realities of life’s hardships. Henri Nouwen is surely right that gratitude is a discipline that needs careful cultivating. And yet, by living in gratitude, we give back to God the worship he is rightly due for all the blessings he has given us in Christ.

If you were to choose a theme for 2012, what would it be?

Photo credit: Muharrem Oner,

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  1. Ever thought of writing a book Charlie?

    God has blessed you with much wisdom fella…

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