My family and I lived in Brazil for a little over three years. And while I grew to appreciate many things about Brazil, probably the thing I learned to love the most is the delicious food! I love the tropical fruit, the beans and rice, the meat, and the cheese bread. But the best Brazilian food is my mother-in-law’s cooking, and here is the secret to her food: she starts almost every dish by sauteing fresh garlic and diced onions in quality olive oil. It’s the base for nearly everything she cooks, and this flavor combination makes all of her food really delicious.
I think gratitude is the garlic and olive oil in our walk with Jesus. Just as food can still nourish and fill me up, if it doesn’t start with my mother-in-law’s secret sauce, it lacks the deliciousness that garlic, onion, and olive oil bring to a dish. In the same way, gratitude enhances our everyday experience with Jesus by bringing flavor and beauty. We can read our Bibles, spend time in prayer, participate in godly fellowship and partake of the sacraments. Those things do provide spiritual nourishment and are essential to cultivating a love for Jesus and for others, but a posture of gratitude aids us in more vividly tasting and seeing the goodness of God.
This action of giving thanks is captured in the Greek word eucharisteo. The root word of eucharisteo is charis or grace. We also see its derivative—chara— which we translate as joy. Displaying gratitude then seems to imply a connection to both grace and joy. Maybe gratitude is a repeated decision to receive grace which then results in joy. I believe this happens in our lives in three specific ways.
Gratitude provides perspective.
Thanksgiving reframes things for us. Gratitude is a perspective changer. It shakes us up and gives us proper sight in two ways: First, gratitude moves us from a position of ownership to a position of stewardship. It rightly places God as the giver of all things (James 1:17), the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), and the one who gives generously without reproach (James 1:5). This necessitates an acknowledgement that we are simply recipients; to receive a gift is foundationally a posture of humility. We do nothing other than stretch out our hands and accept it. Whatever we have, whether that be material goods, children, financial stability, healthy relationships, athletic prowess, or spiritual insight—we receive all of it as an immeasurably gracious gift from God. He created it all and He owns it all. Whatever we have is a gift from him. Gratitude gives us this perspective. Without it, we spend a lot of time hoarding things and even more time protecting them. We approach life tight-fisted, exhausting our emotional energy and the hours of our day fighting to protect the wealth, relationships, status, achievements, abilities, looks, and power which aren’t even ours to begin with.
Secondly, gratitude moves us from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance. God is not stingy. He is rich in grace, kindness, patience, and mercy. He does not get tired of you or annoyed by you or think that you are too much. On the contrary, He gushes with love for us. He is generous and committed and deeply invested in us. But we forget this. Without gratitude informing us, we believe that to give is to invite scarcity into our lives. So, we are stingy with our time, our resources, and our very selves.
Gratitude acts as protest.
Every day we are bombarded with all of the things that we do not have and apparently badly need. We see this in the ads on every social media platform, in commercials, the aisles at Target, and among our friends at the gym. We are naturally inclined (thanks to sin) to bigger, better, shinier, and newer. This doesn’t stop at material possessions. We tend to apply this mindset to our situations and relationships as well. It also manifests itself in those quiet conversations we have with ourselves. “If I could just get a better job. If only I made more money. If I could just take a vacation. If only I was more appreciated. If I could just…” Gratitude is a way of standing our ground and saying “stop” to all of those “if” statements. Gratitude is protest against the lie of newer, bigger, and shinier. It is a resistance to the joy-killing curse of comparison.
In Psalm 118:24 the Psalmist proclaims, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is essentially the mantra of gratitude. Each day, with all of its highs and its lows, its surprises and its disappointments, its stresses and its joys has been made by our Heavenly Father who loves us. Today is a gift. We are not guaranteed that we will get another one tomorrow. This alone is reason to be thankful. This alone is a reason to stop looking around in urgent comparison and instead look to Jesus in sincere gratitude.
Gratitude informs our purpose.
As followers of Jesus, our lives should be marked by thanksgiving. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 emphasizes this even further: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There it is. God’s will for us is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. While we must employ wisdom in making decisions, gratitude provides clarity as to our purpose. It helps to shed light on all of those other decisions because it gives us perspective and helps us resist the narratives that might lead us farther from flourishing rather than towards it.
In a similar way, Ephesians 5 reminds us that we are to be imitators of God in Christ Jesus. Gratitude slips in as a helpful and immediate way to apply this. Ephesians 5:4 says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” In other words, gratitude aids us in our fight against sin. Gratitude is a weapon to ward off sinful desires and behaviors. Specifically, according to this passage, if we struggle to control what we say, gratitude is a way forward for us.
Gratitude can be hard and requires practice, but when it is the underlying flavor in all of our situations (like onions and garlic in our food), when our knee jerk reaction is eucharisteo—receiving grace in the gifts—we begin to see that even the hard places, the broken places, and the sin-wrecked places of our lives are still places where the grace of God can meet us. We then start to expect it. Gratitude today—looking for the grace of God at every turn—is the habit that gets us through tomorrow. There is always grace upon grace to be found.
About the Author:
Stephanie Formenti serves as the Chapel Associate for Discipleship at Covenant College. She is passionate about Word-based ministry and loves serving the students at Covenant. She earned an MATS from Covenant Seminary and has had the privilege of living in various places around the world before landing in the Chattanooga area. Her husband, Gustavo, is on staff at New City Fellowship East Lake and they have three young and energetic children.