Psalm 65:6-13 You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, 6 who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,7 who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. 8 The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. 9 You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. 10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.11 You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.13 The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.
In a few days we will gather for Thanksgiving. As we have experienced over the years, the celebration of Thanksgiving is really important. We gather with family and friends. We laugh at the complexities of life, and we cry over the difficulties of life. We toast life and our amazing abundance that we experience. Many of us reach out to others who are less fortunate so that those folks can also experience the abundance that we have. Thanksgiving is the time when we really reflect on life and purpose with gratitude. Thanksgiving is more than the day before “Black Friday.” Thanksgiving is the time that we remember the Grace of live that God has given us.
Many times, the matriarch or patriarch of the family will lead us in prayer. We remember the theme of prayer from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. We find this to be a difficult task towards cultivating and living with and expressing gratitude towards others and understanding gratitude in our own life. And yet, if we can adapt even a partial response to Paul’s admonition to rejoice, pray and give thanks and we can experience gratitude— these are the three key spokes of a wheel whose outer rim is gratitude.
Christian author John Ortberg writes, “Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It opens us up to wonder, delight, and humility. It makes our hearts generous. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation. At the heart of gratitude is the awareness that all of life comes from God’s love for us. James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Everything is a gift. Air, light, soil, water. Friendship, community, family. Food, good wine, and hot coffee (!).
We live on a graced planet. Nothing is earned, nothing is deserved. All of life is an example of God’s love. And God’s love for us is extremely generous. God could have made one kind of bird—instead God made over 10,000 species of winged color. God could have made food taste all the same, supplying our need for daily nourishment—instead God created an environment that can produce the likes of curry, jambalaya, apple pie and chocolate sundaes. God made a world where ants build hills in Africa and tunnels in our garden. We live in world where water falls from the sky, and leaves change colors and regenerate in a matter of months. There is enough wonder and delicious diversity in our world to keep a person in awe for a lifetime.
The degree to which we are aware of this truth is a measure of our gratitude. Plenty of people notice our world, but gratitude goes beyond observation to receiving reality as a gift. Remember in Genesis 3 – where the serpent speaks to Eve and is coning her to eat of the forbidden fruit: You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good from evil. It was the original lie of the serpent in Genesis that God is distant and uncaring, and that we humans should go it alone. This is still the lie that humans believe; in fact, in our culture we are taught that independence and self-sufficiency make for the good life. But the truth is the opposite—dependence on God makes for the good life. The grateful person lives in total awareness and reliance on God’s good gifts every moment.
A breakthrough came for me when I realized that gratitude is not a passive disposition but a learned habit. We can learn how to be grateful. Paul commands, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:18). Or just simply, “Be thankful” (Col. 4:2).
I used to think that I always considered gratefulness as something that happened to you when a happy, positive circumstance occurred. But Paul suggests exactly the opposite: the discipline of gratitude in the midst of any circumstance leads to joy. It’s the joy when Ann’s cancer numbers go down and when the doctor says, there is another plan! It is not the happy person who is grateful—it is the grateful person who is happy, whose eyes are open to the abundance of all things.
This morning’s scripture sets the stage for gratitude. Psalm 65 – You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, 6 who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,7 who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. 8 The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. 9 You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. 10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.11 You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.13 The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.
In October, Ann and I went to Ocean City for a get-away. It has been decades since we were there —- everything changed – except the ocean – the ocean is timeless. Hotel rooms are very inexpensive at this time of the year and the streets and beaches are empty. Of course, if you want to go into the ocean, you will need a wetsuit. There were several people there who were surfing and had on a full-bodied wetsuit and head protection. Tuesday was a beautiful day and fairly warm – which enabled me to wade in the ocean – up to my ankles – the water was cold – but Ah! The ocean – with the saltwater and the salt air – it was great. On Wednesday – after all the rain had moved away from the mainland – the skies were clear – but quite cold. Sitting inside of our apartment with a full view of the ocean and hot coffee – we waited and watch a beautiful sunrise. By now the porpoises were swimming around and the gulls were having a field day with snacks delivered with each wave.
God’s beauty was on full display at the ocean and the surrounding lands as we drove home. The beauty of God’s creation was resonating in Psalm 65. We were in awe —- and grateful.
I believe that we are all called to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, even for those who are naturally a little more pessimistic, a little more of a worrier. We need to intentionally practice an attitude of gratitude as a spiritual discipline. The more we tend to it, weed out uncharitable thoughts, and fertilize it with inspirations of beauty and goodness, the greater will be our harvest of peace—both inner and outer.
So how do we cultivate gratitude? On waking, I let my first words be words of thanksgiving. “Thank you, God, thank you Son, thank you Spirit…” Waking from sleep and having a new day to live in the mercy of the Gospel is an amazing gift in itself. Then, throughout the day, I look for cues that prompt thanksgiving. Here is a simple prayer to utter every time you experience even the smallest good: a text from a friend, a sip of coffee, light filtering through the trees. “Hear the praise of this grateful heart” is a prayer to use innumerable times throughout the day. Or even more basic – Thank you God!
Before dinner, Ann and I try to conduct a brief review of the day. Doing so helps us remember the gifts of the day and to close our hours with thanks. I don’t always keep these habits, but even the sporadic discipline of gratitude has awakened me to God’s love and the gift of ordinary life.
As Diana Butler Bass writes, “Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.” Want to be more alive? Cultivate gratitude. “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever!” (Psalm 107).
Thanks be to God!