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OVERFLOWING WITH THANKFULNESS
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,
continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him,
strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
So many are struggling with either addiction, anxiety, broken relationship(s), depression, eating disorders, grief and even trauma over the death of a loved one, financial hardship due to unemployment, or major health issues. Not to mention other issues such as the COVID-19 global pandemic, ongoing issues related to race, gun violence, the war in the Ukraine, and the list goes on and on. In December, a friend lost his father-in-law who was brutally shot and killed in Chinatown. This past week another friend that has been suffering from ovarian cancer was told by her doctor(s) that she only has a week to 3 months to live leaving behind her husband and four children. How is it possible in the midst of suffering to not only persevere but even overflow with thankfulness to God? Gratitude is able to transform our perspective and even lead to contentment and joy.
Adele Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook defines the spiritual practice/virtue of gratitude as “a thankful response toward God for his presence with us and within this world”. In Radical Gratitude - Discovering Joy Through Everyday Thankfulness, Ellen Vaughn emphasizes the distinction between two types of gratitude that Jonathan Edwards makes in Religious Affections: 1) “gracious gratitude” or thankfulness for who God is (His character) regardless of any favors received and 2) “natural gratitude” or thankfulness for blessings received or appreciation for all good gifts (spiritual, emotional, and physical).
Ellen Vaughn concludes, “Jonathan Edwards called thanks for such blessings ‘natural gratitude’. But it is not, on its own, sufficient to stir us to true love for the Giver. Edwards says that if people love God only because of what He gives them, their affection begins at the wrong end.”
Throughout the Old Testament there are examples of both types of gratitude. The Israelites expressed gratitude to God through feasts and psalms. Feasts were celebrated in order to remember God and who He is and to give thanks to God for what He has done. Jews continue to commemorate Passover and give thanks to God for His deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Eqypt and “passing over” or sparing the firstborn of the Israelites. Jews also commemorate Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) and give thanks to God for His presence and provision when they wandered in the wilderness. They actually move out of their homes to live in something temporary such as booths or tents in order to remember their dependence on God. Jews still commemorate Purim and give thanks to God for His deliverance and rescue of the Jews from Haman who plotted to kill all of them (in 2022, Purim was Wednesday, March 16th- Thursday, March 17th). There are numerous psalms of thanksgiving that call us to give thanks to the LORD and even more psalms of lament that begin with a disorientation of the psalmist and then end with a reorientation of the psalmist towards praise and thanksgiving to God.
In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp invites readers to make an intentional effort to slow down, chronicle God’s gifts of grace, and express gratitude to God. Voskamp believes that it’s only in this expression of gratitude for the life we already have that we then discover the life we’ve always wanted. She explains, “In the original Greek language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo” or “thanksgiving”. Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks at the table of thanksgiving. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ and the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16)? The Eucharist invites us to give thanks for dying. To participate in His death with our own daily dying and give thanks for it. Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives.”
The mission statement of THRIVE Women’s Ministry does not currently include the last four words of Colossians 2:6-7: “and overflowing with thanksgiving”. Perhaps we ought to reexamine this unintentional oversight, and possibly include it as well as practice it in daily life. During this season of Lent, are you overflowing with thanksgiving to God? What are you thankful for? I am truly thankful for Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, as the Holy Spirit convicts me of my sins (anger & bitterness, criticism, cynicism, pride) that I often struggle with over and over again. Luke 22:14-20 describes how Jesus gave thanks to God the Father for the grace to come through his death on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of the world:
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”
“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and lovingkindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.” from The Book of Common Prayer (1979 ed.)
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