The Care and Feeding of the New Heart: Gratitude
Today’s feast at the Training Table deals with a matter of the heart that’s at the heart of the matter of the heart’s care, feeding, AND our ability to have nourishing relationships of any kind: Gratitude.
It’s been said that “an attitude of gratitude” is the key to a happy, fulfilling life, but how exactly can we acquire, maintain… even grow and deepen… a spirit of gratitude which not only relishes the good times, but the really horrible, insufferable times as well?
For that’s the truest test and tempering of one’s attitude, right? How we deal with the unavoidable trials of living in a horribly broken world… while maintaining, even deepening, our attitude of gratitude?
It’s Organic: There are No Shortcuts to Growing an Attitude of Gratitude
Unlike so many things that appeal to our gotta-have-it-now, get-rich-quick, super-abs-in-a-week, lose-ten-pounds-with-no-sweat, there’s-an-app-for-that, “Just-Google-It!”… culture, an attitude of gratitude begins with the seed of the Holy Spirit’s heart-regenerating grace, and grows, flows from there—IF, like any living thing, it’s properly cared for: It’s a byproduct of how embrace God’s care for us, and how we care for others.
Frankly, as I interact with folks on issues of this kind nearly everyday I’m struck (but not surprised) by how someone’s initial intrigue… dare I say honest “seeking”… is just wonderful, but is too-often accompanied by a parenthetical that goes something like this:
Visible: “Yes, I’d love to know how to get and grow an attitude of gratitude!” [Invisible: “But I’m kinda busy and distracted right now so can you break it down and give me the short version? I just need a shot in the arm… An inoculation against being so angry, impatient, anxious… Is there an app for that?”]
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The love and truth of God goes way beyond quick, cosmetic, or cost-free fixes.
Please consider a pathway to a deeply-rooted and fruitful attitude of gratitude that may seem unusual and yet is “a full-meal deal”, and not a quick answer or light-lifting.
It’s the answer to the most perplexing question for the non-believer and Christian alike these daze, “How could a loving God allow such widespread and horrible suffering in the world?” If you will have a teachable spirit and the patience to receive God’s answer to this question, it will achieve the goal.
God’s Story… CREATION
In a partnership of power, love, and truth, God the Father thinking words, God the Son speaking words, and God the Holy Spirit “hovering”, “fluttering” words of creativity, Creation was born from nothing… “In the beginning…” (Genesis 1, 2).
The highest, best manifestation of God’s first creative act (over 6 days + 1 to rest) is the first man and woman—Image Bearers of God, Adam and Eve. They were created to, a) love God, b) love one another, and c) love, care for creation, and neighbor as self. (Genesis 1:26-31)
Since God’s Love—and all love—require the giver and receiver of love to respond in love… To reciprocate in Love… Or not… Adam and Eve were provided the free will choice to love or NOT to love God, in return for His providential, indefatigable, and sovereign Love of them. (Otherwise their (our) lack of a free will choice would render them (us) robots or marionettes of God. And this is not love at all.)
Eve and Adam failed the test (Genesis 3:1), disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6), loved self over God, made of themselves lesser idol-gods, and infected by spiritual inheritance the entirety of the human race after them (Genesis 3:16; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 5:12; James 4:17).
But, God’s Love didn’t quit—even though it was clearly within His justifiable right to do so (Exodus 20:1-26; Ezekiel 25:17). And at just the right time (Romans 5:6), God sent His one and only Son (John 3:16) to suffer and die for the Sin (inherited) and sins (of habit) of the whole world (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2:7; John 1:14)—for those who would repent, turn, and place their trust and faith in Jesus as Savior (salvation is needed first) and as Lord (disciples—beginning as spiritual babies, relearning to love—can then follow Jesus) (Luke 13:3; 1 John 1:9; Acts 3:19-20; Revelation 2:5).
Then, and only then… has any human being been made a New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and is then made capable (John 14:23) of recouping the Love and True Truth of God the Father and the Son—by means of the person, power, and work of the Holy Spirit (John 13-17: please read it all)!
REDEMPTION—“B”. Please note:
I split REDEMPTION into two parts in order to clearly answer the question we asked above, “How could a loving God allow such widespread and horrible suffering in the world?” and drill down to where GRATITUDE is, a) born, b) grows deep roots, and c) is spread abroad akin to how the Bible refers to the Christian being FREE, FAITHFUL, and FRUITFUL (Galatians 5).
Sin: Ever since Sin and sinners entered the world, the entire universe has been decaying. Everything in the world is in some way infected by Sin and sinning. No human being can avoid suffering by coming into contact with the brokenness of this world. So it’s not about IF, but WHEN… and to what DEGREE.
Justice: God is perfectly holy, He cannot abide anything unholy, and would be justified to destroy the world and all that’s in it due to the Sin and sinning of humankind. But He didn’t. Instead…
Love: God (once again) extended His amazing grace (unmerited mercy) and made a covenant beginning with Abraham (Genesis 15; NT: Rom. 4:3, 22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23) to not only provide God’s promise for keeping Abraham and his spiritual offspring safe from eternal death; but God also provided for Abraham’s inability to keep his promise—by God Himself (eventually) offering His one and only Son Jesus Christ (the “Second Adam”, GodMan) as a covenant-keeping, once-and-for-all sacrifice—for those who repent and have faith in Him.
God’s Redeeming Love in Action: Until Jesus returns to make all things new, the Triune GOD (each has a role) of unending mercy (Psalm 23:6) by means of an intimate orchestration of all circumstances (Romans 8:28) is allowing, generously using the very suffering and brokenness MAN created in Adam to, a) woo sinners to Himself for the first time—to repent and embrace Jesus by faith; and b) sanctify Saints—to conform them more and more (as the Saved are as yet sinful) into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The reason God allows unavoidable suffering to touch our lives is because He loves us so! As sinners—until it’s too late and Jesus’ judgement will assign the unrepentant to hell for eternity (Matthew 5;10;16;18); and as Saints—until we stand face-to-face with Jesus to give an account before being assigned to our rightful and glorious place in heaven for eternity (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12). A loving God would hardly be loving or lovable if He didn’t have a very good reason for allowing the little and big trials of the life: Calling us; refining us; preparing us for our place in eternity.
Should We Have Gratitude for a God Who Redeems… And Redeems… And Redeems… And Redeems? How could we not?
In His CREATION, CHRIST, and COVENANT LOVE, God has not only given unworthy sinners like you and me the Way, Truth, and Life to live, but also be conformed to the likeness of His Beloved Son, and live for eternity in unending praise and perfect bliss with the rest of God’s family!
God will bring you to Himself in conversion by means of using the trials of life; and God will conform you into the likeness of His Son by the use of your redeemed, sanctified suffering as well. Consider from whence gratitude might begin as we enjoy how CS Lewis addresses faith by means of offering God thanks:
Lord Father God, I’m so grateful to know, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” (Mere Christianity; Hebrews 2:10)
Lord Holy Spirit God, I’m so thankful to know, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” (The Problem of Pain; 1 Peter 4:19)
Lord Jesus, I’m so grateful to know, “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” (Mere Christianity; Deuteronomy 32:21)
Lord Jesus, I’m so grateful to know, “It cost God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost him crucifixion.” (Mere Christianity; John 3:16)
Father God, I’m so thankful to know, “God has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. You are as much alone with him as if you were the only being he had ever created.” (Mere Christianity; Deuteronomy 31:6)
Heavenly Host, I’m so grateful to know, “Now is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It won’t last forever. We must take it or leave it.” (Mere Christianity; Matthew 3:2; Luke 13:5)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ—Who died once and for all Sin and sinning—has made the Way, the Truth, and the Life for any fallen Image Bearer to be reformed (back to True truth, doctrine), revived (by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), and sent out on mission as a constructive revolutionary (to help transform the world as the light and salt of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The consummation of God’s plan of redemption will bringEden back to earth, make all things new, and perfectly restore God’s perfect True Love and Truth (Revelations 21) to the glory of His name and to the eternal blessing of His people!
A New Heart and Gratitude Go Hand-in-Hand
Please Don’t Forget, Beloved of God… At the most fundamental level, the heart of any human being is incapable of the deepest, most eternal form of abiding GRATITUDE (in the best and worst of times) if it has not been FIRST touched by the Holy Spirit in REGENERATION (Titus 3:5), and, as a result, is even capable of seeing, a) the Sin and sins of the heart, b) God’s perfect holiness, and c) the need FIRST for a Savior and SECOND for a Lord to lead and disciple the New Creation in Christ!
AND THEN, d) any fallen Image Bearer—out of the deepest gratitude imaginable and not by works (to merit earning God’s love) of any kind—can repent from the broken heart (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26) of his or her Sin and sins (Psalm 51), ask for forgiveness, be forgiven, and rest… TOTALLY, COVENANTALLY, FOR TIME and ETERNITY assured (Romans 8)… With a heart full-to-overflowing (Psalm 40:3; 66:16; 71:24) with GRATITUDE (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Let it Flow Through You! Gratitude made of grace is from God and will be an overflow for all whom the gracious heart might serve, touch, comfort, or bless in any way. Gratitude flows like a river from God, through His children, and to others; grumbling is another thing.
An Unconverted Heart and Grumbling Go Hand-in-Hand
Please Don’t Forget… A unrepentant heart not changed by God at the most fundamental level has a default mode built into the very nature of its Sin and sinning, its self-centeredness and unredeemed hardness of heart: The grinding GRUMBLING of ingratitude (Numbers 14:27; John 6:41-43; Philippians 2:14; 2 Timothy 3:2).
Grumbling is an awful thing: A heart devoid of a proper awe of God! And a grumbling heart and spirit is very hard to be around: Like a woodpecker of scarcity pecking, pecking, pecking… A spirit of incessant carping, protest, and grousing draws the life out of anyone in its proximity.
I have to say that the longer I’m on this earth, living as a sinner saved by God’s grace, having experienced some of the worst heart-breaks and sweetest heart-healing—while living in a culture of worldliness and comfort—the more I discern grumbling, complaining, whining, dissatisfaction, irritability, a small-hearted form of moaning and groaning and quibbling and bellyaching, nit-picking, angry-noxious-nagging… You get my point. The more my heart breaks for those hearts unbroken by being unrepentant and re-made. The grumbling is a more transparent window on the pride of life than ever… (Proverbs 16:5; Galatians 6:3; Philippians 2:3). And we should be evermore urgent as co-redeemers with Christ!
Whereas gratitude flourishes, grows, renews daily, enlivens… the re-born heart… INGRATITUDE is a cancer that BEGINS in the unredeemed heart, and spreads very quickly throughout the entire spiritual, emotional, psychological, mental, and physical realm of any human being.
A grumbling spirit is the worst affront to a God Who has given us everything possible… and a great deal more… to be more joyous, free, purposeful than we could ever dare imagine or hope for. Ingratitude a guaranteed shrinker, hardener, chiller and killer of the heart.
“If the only prayer you said was ‘Thank you!’, that would be enough.” (Meister Eckhart)
Until we sup’ next week on The Care and Feeding of the New Heart: Service, please take some time to dwell on the importance and manifold blessing of having a spirit and proactive influence of gratitude—in a world of malnourished hearts that need thanksgiving more than ever before.
In love from the deepest thankfulness of my heart,