The spiritual disciplines of remembering and gratitude (part 2)

In part 1, Ken Boa talked about gratitude as a spiritual discipline, formed through the practice of remembering, and how remembering involves looking back to see all that God has done. Now, in part 2, he explains what gratitude looks like in the present and the future as well.

Gratitude isn’t simply only about remembering God’s goodness and acts in the past. It’s also about thanking him for the blessings he gives in the present. These include blessings all around us – in his creation – as well as personal blessings (material, relational, and spiritual ones). Gratitude, at its root, is a choice, not a feeling. If you leave it to spontaneous experiences, the feelings will diminish. But if you see gratitude as a series of choices, the difference is huge.

One choice we can make is to bookend our day with gratitude: thanking him for his blessings the moment we wake up, and reviewing the day with gratitude before we fall asleep at night. But we don’t need to limit ourselves to those times, or to mealtimes. Writing in the 19th century, G.K. Chesterton advocated a continual mindset of gratitude in everything:

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the play and the opera, And grace before the concert and pantomime, And grace before I open a book, And grace before sketching, painting, Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; And grace before I dip the pen in ink.” *

Chesterton’s words illustrate the power of the accumulation of small acts and thoughts. Over time, these add up, producing a gradual but significant shift in mindset. A habit develops. We become more inclined to look for the good things that come along rather than immediately focusing on the bad things.

Most of us have, by default, a deficiency mindset (focusing on what we do not have) rather than a sufficiency mindset (focusing on what we do have). I’m not advocating a shallow philosophy of positive thinking; I’m suggesting God is serious when, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, he tells us to acknowledge him and give him thanks in all things. When we obey this wise counsel, we’ll thank him for the simple pleasures of life (cultivating humility). We’ll also see what appear to be negative events and circumstances as necessary for our journey, things that we don’t want to go through but that are needful for our growth and development.

Giving thanks amidst adversity is the “hard thanksgiving.” It’s hard because we’re giving thanks for something that doesn’t make sense to us yet. But God always has a reason. And we can thank him in advance even when we don’t grasp what that reason will be.

Giving thanks amidst adversity is the “hard thanksgiving.” It’s hard because we’re giving thanks for something that doesn’t make sense to us yet.

The future

We’re to remember and thank God not only for his deliverance in the past, and not only for his benefits in the present, but also for his promises of the future. And these promises are abundant indeed.

God promises that what he has planned for us is far beyond our grasp, far beyond what we can imagine or think of on our own (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Corinthians 2:9). When we understand this, we have no choice but to conclude that God has a better vision of our good than we do for this life. So often, we can shoot ourselves in the foot and make an inferior choice by resisting and pushing back against the promptings of the Spirit of God. But if we obey his promptings, we’ll never regret it.

One of his promises is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4–7

Paul is saying that, right now, no matter how you feel, the reality is that real you, your deepest self, has been made alive and raised up with Christ, and God has seated you with him in the heavenly places. Furthermore, your earth-bound life is but a few decades; by contrast, your time with him is eternal, and in those ages to come, his intention is to lavish the riches of his grace in acts of kindness toward you. What more can we possibly hope for?

We see a glimpse of our heavenly Father’s ultimate intention by watching earthly fathers (Hebrews 12:9–10). Human fathers train children for a short time, as we deem best, for an ultimate purpose that is good – though usually our children don’t understand or appreciate the discipline until later. In the same way, God is training us in righteousness (not as punishment, but as discipline), that we might “share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). The writer of Hebrews makes the understatement of a lifetime when he notes that discipline “for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (12:11a). But God’s promise is this: “to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (12:11b).

And so we can thank God in our trials because of his future promises. He uses this “momentary, light affliction” to give us the skills and wisdom we need to lead a life of excellence, and ultimately enter into his glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is a better vision than we would ever desire for ourselves. But if we acknowledge it and thank God for his promised blessings, it will have a radical effect on our daily lives and mindset.

God uses this “momentary, light affliction” to give us the skills and wisdom we need to lead a life of excellence, and ultimately enter into his glory.

Do not forget!

In conclusion, everything we have derives from God – a gift from God, an expression of his grace. We’re stewards of his possessions, ambassadors on his business (not our own). If we remember these things, from the perspective of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us in the past, present, and future, our lives will be marked by gratitude and humility leading to joy.

I encourage you to recalibrate your mindset on a daily basis, perhaps using these words of King David and adapting them into a prayer of your own to God:

Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.

1 Chronicles 29:11-13

But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours. Since I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You.

1 Chronicles 29:10–17

* From The Collected Works of G.K. Chesteron (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1994), 43. Original source is an unpublished poem from his early notebook (early 1890s).

Read part 1 of this article.

This article is an edited transcript from a teaching session Ken Boa delivered in November 2017. Watch here.

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