The Four Components of Gratitude
I don’t know what your Thanksgiving traditions happen to be, but if it’s typical you probably get together with family, watch some football, eat yourself silly, and generally try to have a good time. Maybe you take turns having each person tell one thing he or she is thankful for. Whatever it may be, I hope this note on gratitude can provide extra food for thought.
“Lord, accept my thanks.”
I’m afraid the first mistake we make when we think about gratitude is to assume that God owes it to us to accept our thanks. But one of the first stories in the Bible tells us this is not the case. Both Cain and Able presented gifts to God. One was accepted and the other was not. In the Old Testament law there were countless rules about how sacrifices ought to be offered, so that they would be accepted. In Psalm 51, King David mentions, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart” (Ps 51:17, NLT).
Let’s not assume so quickly that expressing gratitude to God is a right. In reality, it is a privilege. With humility and an awareness of God’s glory and my complete dependency, let’s begin with the entreaty, “Lord, accept my thanks.”
The Four Components of Gratitude
Gratitude means more than simply saying “thank you.” Here are four different expressions that we all ought to incorporate into both our mindsets and behaviors.
Thankfulness: Giving thanks for all I’ve been given. The key words here are “all” and “given.” All means that “apart from you I have no good thing” (Ps 16:2, NIV), and also “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17, NIV). It’s true that a lot of what we have and enjoy is precipitated by the hard work and decisions we’ve made at prior points in our lives. But when it comes down to it, the will and strength to work, and ability to make good decisions, and the opportunities that come our way are all gifts from God. And for many of us, the simple timing and placement of our birth set many of these things in motion – something we had absolutely no control over. Realizing that all I have has been given to me ought to be enough express my thanks in and for all things.
Generosity: Giving away some of what I’ve been given. It’s amazing how hard it is to give away the things we have. Unfortunately, it can be even harder the more we have. Sometimes the most generous people are the ones who have the least. Take a tip from Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. In his most recent book Wealth: Is It Worth It? he answers the question by saying that wealth is worth it only if we give it away. And in the end, the Bible tells us “whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor 9:16, NIV). Let’s take some of what we’ve been given keep the cycle going.
Sharing: Sharing some of the things that are mine to keep. Most of us do not give 100% of everything we have away. We usually keep the majority of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but just because I keep something doesn’t mean it cannot still be an object of gratitude. The first thing we try to teach our kids about playing with others is to share. Then why is it so hard for us? We double (or triple or quadruple, etc.) the usefulness of our resources when we employ the things that are ours to keep in ways that also bless others.
Contentment: Being content with what I have. One of the observations by the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, was that “most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless – like chasing the wind” (Eccl 4:4, NLT). This is the same man who claimed “those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” (Eccl 5:10, NLT). Most of us won’t always be able to have everything we could ever want. There will always be more out there than what we currently have, and a lot of it may well remain within reach, provided we sacrifice a little more or work a little harder. It is a beautiful thing to work, wait, sacrifice, and save for what we want. But at some point we each have to decide when enough is enough. Many of the things we have are either good enough for now or good enough period. Let’s follow Solomon’s advice, “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit” (Prov 23:4, NLT), realizing at the same time that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6, NIV).
So as we enter the Thanksgiving season, I’d like to challenge each of you to do two things with me:
First, get in a posture of gratitude and ask God to accept our thanks. If there is anything that repels our offering, let’s get rid of that thing!
Second, let’s come up with at least one way to demonstrate gratitude in each of these four categories. Think of something we are thankful for and content with as well as something we can give away or share.