Gratitude: The ‘on ramp’ to a better story & better world

The upward spiral of gratitude. Find the on ramp!

God knows there are plenty of problems and challenges, both around us in our own homes.  It’s easy focus there, fighting our battles, or looking on in despair, anger, or cynicism as others, who are supposed to be fighting battles for us, don’t.  The super committee isn’t so super after all.  A nuclear Iran and a sluggish economy threaten;  An Arab spring appears to be settling in for a long Arab winter of discontent; A Euro whose future is uncertain creates anxiety.  And all the while, back in our homes, there are personal tragedies, or diseases, or addictions, or betrayals, or we just don’t like our job anymore, or we’re bored.  Yes, there are plenty of problems.

None of this is news.  But how we react to it all is newsworthy, because in spite of it all, God invites us to practice gratitude on a daily, moment by moment basis.  In fact, God explains that the root cause of so much that pains and grieves us stems from our failure to practice gratitude.  In other words, our ingratitude over the simplest gifts that are breaking into our lives has the affect of creating a downward spiral.  Ingratitude leads to loss of trust in our relationship with God.  This leads to a loss of intimacy.  And, as with any relationship where intimacy is lacking, we find ourselves looking to fill the void that’s left.  We will, in other words, worship something. The story of Genesis 3 follows this pattern.  It’s only when Eve begins to doubt the goodness of God that her appetites rise up and take control of her choices.  This danger is articulated in I John as well, where we discover that it’s our appetites that are only too willing to take the reigns and fill our lives with that which leads to emptiness.  The emptiness begs to be filled, and so there we go, off on a downward spiral towards bad choices, as we move farther from God’s far better story.

Suddenly our appetites are running the show.  “Buy that!”  “Eat those”  “Sleep with her” “Indulge that fantasy!” They’re shouting and to the extent that we’re discontent, we’re listening.  Then, off we go, in search of filling the void.  In making our appetites king, we’ve become disobedient to God, and the fruit of disobedience is that we find ourselves falling short of the life for which we were created – a life of blessing, peace, joy, generosity, justice.

This downward spiral, according to many places in the Bible, begins with our whining, our inability to be people of gratitude.  The good news is that the opposite is also true:  The on-ramp to God’s better story starts with this simple perspective:  Develop Gratitude!  Pay attention to God’s daily gifts and give thanks. HERE’S WHY.

1. When we way pay attention to God’s gifts, and give thanks, gratitude leads to intimacy with God. God becomes trustworthy, and we come to view God as good – even though we don’t understand, or even like, everything about the way God runs the universe.  We can point to the gift of life, water, the brilliance of creation, and myriads of momentary gifts, ‘snapshots of grace’ I call them – as we hug our children, navigate fresh powder, enjoy a good night’s sleep, and so much more.

2. Intimacy leads to contentment.  What, after all, do we really need, in order to be content.  God is bold enough to say, “not much”.  God is right, but only if our relationship with God is strong enough that we sense and enjoy fulness because of God.

3. Contentment leads to Obedience.   Somehow it’s true that when our relationship with God is working well (and of course, that ebbs and flows like any relationship) it’s easier to step into the life God has for us.  Our contentment opens up space of heart, time, and wallet – and we’re able to be the presence of Jesus in specific ways that we usually don’t enter when our life is full of our own agenda.

4. Obedience leads to Life – When we’re walking more fully in God’s story, we come to the simple discovery that this is the life for which we’re created.  We’re using our gifts, serving others, practicing hospitality, enjoying creation, loving people, whatever it is in the moment.  And we thing to ourselves:   “This is the abundance of which Jesus spoke.  This is fulness of joy.  This is when the joy that comes on the far side of cross.  This is resurrection life.”

5. Life leads to Gratitude... and as the former announcer for the Seattle Mariners said famously during their shining moments of glory:  “I don’t believe it!  It just continues.  My O My!”

Just Continues indeed… may you find more than an extra slice of dark meat this Thanksgiving, more than a special deal on “Black Friday”.  May you find instead, the gift we all need the most, and fan it into flame – namely the capacity to see the gifts all around us every day, and give thanks to God.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.


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