The Roots of Gratitude

Psalm 100 was written to instruct the community of faith on giving thanks. It is a blue print of sorts for developing a posture of gratitude. Thanksgiving in the text is grounded in understanding two key things: creation and covenant. The Psalm begins with a call to celebration and praise showing the connection between joy and thanksgiving. As Karl Barth said, joy is the “simplest form of gratitude.”

This joyful gratitude comes forth from knowing something about God. The text says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, not we ourselves we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” In other words, know that God is the Creator and we ourselves are creatures. It is good to be reminded that we did not create ourselves—an obvious fact we actually do forget.

As creatures we are fundamentally dependent. Our existence itself is a gift. Do you see how this is foundational to gratitude? If your existence is a gift then it follows that everything that comes your way is also a gift. All of life is truly God’s gift to us. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians make perfect sense when you think about life this way: “What do you have that you have not received?”

G.K. Chesterton once said that “All goods look better when they look like gifts.” This is true. The fact is, all of life can and should be viewed this way. Imagine seeing life through this lens—it is the opposite of entitlement. Embrace what it means to be a creature of God and this view of life as gift will begin to take root.

The Psalm continues with a call to enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. The imperatives for thanksgiving really pile up in this section. Then comes a further root cause of giving thanks. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” The ground of thanksgiving provided here is the goodness and steadfast love of God.

The language of steadfast love is tightly connected to covenant. The word refers to loyalty and covenant faithfulness. It is the type of love bound to oaths and promises and sealed by blood. These promises are made by a God who cannot lie and can never change. They are made by a God who ultimately sent his Son to fulfill his promises to us and provide a way of forgiveness and hope. Understanding that the wonder and certainty of the blood bought promises of God produces gratitude, it must.

Entitlement and Gratitude

Entitlement, ingratitude, thanklessness…age old, insidious, and destructive. Like an aggressive cancer this wretchedness swallows and devours.  A parasite, it threatens to consume all joy and wonder. Restrictive, it squeezes and narrows the expansive gift of life. Utilitarian, it turns life into one big transaction to benefit self. Indifferent, it looks past gift and sees merit.

At heart, this is a way of being that pulls all things into self. It is a posture that demands the world orbit about “me.” Internal and external thrashing ensues when demands are not met, when the universe fails to obey. As Luther declared, this sickness originated at the fall when man “curved in on himself.” Once Adam recognized his nakedness he became obsessed with clothing himself.

Gratitude has been unnatural ever since. It is a forgotten dimension of our humanity. What was once second nature is now dependent upon grace. It is gospel grace that now produces gratitude. Gratitude makes life expansive, rich, and exciting. Many have grasped this reality. Here are a few examples.

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” -G.K. Chesterton

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. Chesterton

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” -Karl Barth

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” –Marcus Cicer

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus

“‘Enough’ is a feast.” –Unknown

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.” –Stephen Richards

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”   –Aldous Huxley