There is something unique about a thankful heart. If you have ever been around someone who really practices a lifestyle of gratitude, you know what I mean. Another word for gratitude is gratefulness. I sometimes think this character trait is linked to a similar trait - being graceful. Grateful people have a way of exuding grace in some of the most unlikely ways, don't they? Our "G" list of character traits - grace and gratitude.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG)
As Paul writes to the Colossian church, he focuses on something which keeps people together - focusing on "staying in tune with each other". In other words, we don't always choose our own path and just plunge down it without regard to the feelings of another. We call this being "graceful" - there is a "beauty" inherent in the movements of people of grace. Why? They look beyond themselves and see those God has placed in their path. They "give the Word of God room in their lives". What happens when God's Word actually gets into the nooks and crevices of our lives - it challenges us, convinces us, and eventually changes us. We become people of grace!
A natural outflow of truly experiencing grace in your own life is to develop the complimentary trait of being grateful. This is because we are deeply affected by the grace of God - it touches us deeply and we have to give expression to things which touch us this deeply. If we are in the habit of burying our emotions, this expression of gratitude might be just a little muted, but it is there, nonetheless. The thing about gratitude is it is really an attitude - it is not something conjured up - it stems from within.
Grace moves upon us - gratitude comes from within us. It is the outflow of grace. I think of this as grace priming the pump for a tremendous outflow of amazement, awe, and adoration. Gratitude is the basis of worship - for we truly don't worship what we are not thankful for in our lives. Don't believe me? Let someone take away that ONE thing in your physical environment which you take such delight in. It might be the best mattress you have ever slept on, the nicest car you have driven, or perhaps the biggest TV you have ever watched. Now, it is gone. How'd ya sleep? Did you enjoy getting to work quite as much on the bike as you did in the car? Did the game seem as exciting when you had to listen to it on a radio? Gratitude is the basis of worship - not that I am saying we should worship ANYTHING in our physical environment, but it helps to make my point. We appreciate what we have, so when it is gone, we mourn its loss (we don't have an attitude of gratitude).
Gratitude is the basis of worship in our spiritual lives - based on the actions of grace in our lives. They go hand-in-hand. God moves upon us, we experience his movement - the "outflow" should be gratitude. Yet some of us have a tough time with this trait - our attitude kind of stinks. We get into this issue of "comparing" ourselves with others and when we see they "get" something better than we do, or seem to be "getting along" better, we get a little down in the dumps. This is the sad thing about comparing - it changes our attitude toward what it is we DO have! Maybe this is why Paul tells us we have to "cultivate" this attitude of gratitude - it takes effort to maintain our focus on what God is doing in US and not looking to what he is doing in OTHERS! Just as important as it is for us to not just go our own way and do our own thing, it is equally important for us to not be looking with envy upon what another person has, is experiencing, or has come through.
It is a narrow line between envy and encouragement. I can be encouraged by your blessing, but the very moment I begin to cross-over into the space where I start to wonder "why not me", I move into envy. Envy destroys gratitude, and it limits the actions of grace in our lives. It is to be guarded against - this is why Paul tells the Galatian church to "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." (Galations 6:4-5 MSG) This is the crux of the matter - gratitude focuses on the grace we have been given, sinking deeply into the place of appreciating even the smallest hint of its work, and then enjoying it with all the gusto we have. Yep, we can be excited about what God is doing in the lives of others - in fact, we are told to celebrate with them. We just need to guard carefully our tendency to then drift into comparing what God is doing there with what he is doing in us!
Grace is undeserved - gratitude is an expression of awe at receiving something other than what we deserved! Just sayin!