16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1Th 5:16-18 NASB

What is God’s will for you? Should you go to Africa? Start a jail ministry? Change careers? Should you wear blue socks or those crazy orange socks? Should you buy that house? Marry that person?

We actually know what God’s will is for you right now. In everything give thanks. This sounds great until you reflect on it a bit. It’s actually crazy. All the time, we have negative pressures from every direction. Pressure from our marriage. Pressure from our families. Pressure from our jobs. Financial pressure. Health pressure. Societal pressure. The news is full of negative pressure – mass murders and corrupt politicians. At some point the pressure will become so great that we will each actually die. How can we possibly be called upon to give thanks in the middle of all this?

I remember Brennan Manning told a story about a monk who was being chased by a tiger. The tiger chased him right over the edge of a cliff. He hung onto a vine for dear life, with the tiger snarling up above, and certain death on the jagged rocks below. As he was hanging there, he saw a beautiful red ripe strawberry growing just within reach. Just as the vine was giving way, he reached out to pluck it, and he was heard to say, “what a lovely strawberry, how wonderful it tastes!”

Gratitude is a profound and sophisticated act. It is always the beautiful strawberry that could be so easily overlooked in the midst of the terrible pressures of life. Yet as we see in this scripture, joy and prayer are always closely intertwined with gratitude. Gratitude is the intelligent play in every circumstance.

Gratitude: The Currency of Grace

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly 
I will show the salvation of God!”
– Psalm 50:23

Gratitude is the currency of grace. It acknowledges that a gift has been given for which we can pay nothing back. When we cultivate gratitude, we grease the gears of grace to operate, because in expressing gratitude we remove the burden of seizing favor and manipulating circumstances by our own labor and cleverness, and allow for circumstances and powers quite beyond ourselves to operate on our own behalf. If I must deserve everything I get, then everything I get must depend on what I do – and I am limited in my knowledge and resources and power. When I cultivate a habit of gratitude, I allow that in my common experience, good things can be given to me, and that I can be blessed by the love and sacrifice and concern of others. I can receive blessings and gifts which are beyond my own power or merit.

Break the Karmic Cycle

In our interpersonal relationships, gratitude breaks the karmic cycle of owing each other for things. If we live under grace, and have together entered the kingdom of the God who would die for us while we are yet sinners, there is no payment for anything. Everything is a gift. The only “payment” is thanks. We escape the need to repay one another for great kindnesses, or requiring payment for great kindnesses. We are able to receive thanks because we understand that all things are gifts from God and there is nothing to repay.

We are able to receive and give only thanks in return because we realize we must give nothing in return for a gift, and in heaven’s economy, everything is a gift because everything is of grace.

Nothing tears apart relationships, friendships, families, churches, workplaces, like ingratitude and complaining. It is not the intelligent play to complain. Anyone can do it. The intelligence is to find gratitude, particularly when it is difficult to see. The “gratitude muscle” is quite atrophied in many of us and it must be exercised to find grace in all things.

Through gratitude we can acknowledge that we are never getting what we deserve. We deserve hell. Grace gives heaven for eternity as a gift instead. And believing that, we are able to return blessing for cursing, because in the kingdom of heaven everything is borne of rich mercy and has nothing to do with what you deserve. We don’t love because others first love us. We love because God first loved us. Everyone else starts out judging us, with a judgment that we cannot on our own make right. Only under grace can we give thanks for one another, since only under grace are our consciences assured that justice is served between us in Christ.

Gratitude is Not Mandatory

Gratitude is not payment for a gift. Gratitude cannot be mandatory or it becomes payment. Imagine it is your birthday, and you have a big party. Someone hands you a gift, and once you open it, you pull out your wallet and try to pay them for it. This is an uncomfortable breach of etiquette, because you are not supposed to pay for a gift. If you do, it is no longer a gift!

In expressing grace to one another, it is important that we do not expect or demand gratitude. It is not a law, and God does not withhold favor because we do not perfectly express thanks. This is a subtle back door to gracelessness. Gratitude is a gift, in that it is a sweet joyous natural way to respond to a gift that does not spoil the oil by promising repayment. Gratitude is really a sweet nothing that expresses a simple and joyous receipt.

Gratitude Acknowledges that We are Not Entitled

Gratitude is born of a profound theology, which acknowledges that we deserve nothing but judgement but instead have received blessing. It is the perfect reaction to grace, as it only gives words in response to substantive gifts. It frankly expresses our own poorness of spirit, and receives the rich bounty of the kindness of God and the kindness of others with humility and simplicity and joy. It lays down works and creates a framework of simplicity free from karmic pressure, where gifts can flow freely and no repayment is required or needed. It allows us to receive blessing beyond measure because the blessing does not depend upon our own resources to repay. It simply says, I was not entitled to this blessing, but you have given it anyway. I see your kindness and receive it with nothing but gratefulness in return.

When we cultivate gratitude, we grease the gears of grace to operate, because in expressing gratitude we remove the burden of seizing favor and manipulating circumstances by our own labor and cleverness, and allow for circumstances and powers quite beyond ourselves to operate on our own behalf. If I must deserve everything I get, then everything I get must depend on what I do – and I am limited in my knowledge and resources and power. Gratitude says, my blessing is bigger than myself, and I receive it with joy!

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who alone does great wonders, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who made the great lights, For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
The sun to rule by day, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
The moon and stars to rule by night, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And brought Israel out from their midst, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who led His people through the wilderness, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
To Him who smote great kings, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings, For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And gave their land as a heritage, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
Even a heritage to Israel His servant, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Who remembered us in our low estate, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And has rescued us from our adversaries, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
Who gives food to all flesh, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Psalm 136

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