Gratitude Lists

Saturday, January 03, 2015

"Ten Lepers" by Bill Hoover. Used by permission.


This past Thanksgiving, my wife Christie read for us the story of Jesus healing ten people of leprosy, only one of whom comes back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19). The story ends with Jesus' words: "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" And Jesus said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has made you well."

First of all, there is a direct link here: if we want to glorify God with our lives, we need to cultivate the habit of stopping to thank Him. Secondly, though ten people were healed, Luke's account seems to subtly hint that this one grateful person is "made well" in a way that the other nine aren't. There is something healing about gratitude.

Of course, I'm not very good at gratitude. So one spiritual discipline that has served me well, especially in life's harder seasons where it is easy to be discontent, is to regularly write to God a list of things I'm grateful for.

I'll write "Dear God, thank you for..." and then start listing off, in bullet points, anything that comes to mind. I strive to have no filter, no attempt to thank God for "the right things" or the Sunday school answers, since Scripture declares that "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights...." (James 1:17).

So most of the time, my list begins with whatever sort of milk tea I'm drinking at the time. And I'm fine with that. After all, it is a Christian truth (one that flies in the face of many other belief systems) that the stuff of this earth is actually good  broken sometimes, abused sometimes, idolized sometimes, but at its root, good. When God made plants and animals and declared them "good" in Genesis 1, he declared my Thai Tea with sweetened condensed milk "good" too. So it is good and right to rejoice in it and thank God for it.

I find this simple practice helpful for two reasons. Firstly, it snaps me out of my ruts of discontentment (why is it so easy to focus on what's wrong in life?). Secondly, after spend a few minutes thanking God for all sorts of things, even trivial things, my heart often begins to open up to the rich abundance of life. Gratitude begets more gratitude. I find myself beginning to thank God for the deeper things, the things I too often take for granted: my faithful, encouraging, hilarious, intelligent, beautiful, sacrificially loving wife; my two healthy, happy, goofy, precious daughters; the roof over our heads; plenty of food to eat; freedom to worship; health and safety to carry on our lives in peace.

And I often do find myself thanking God for the "Sunday school answers"  for Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, for the fact that I can dare to approach this holy God even to thank Him. But (and this makes all the difference) it is not so much because "I should" be grateful for these things, but because my heart has finally slowed down enough to genuinely stop and appreciate the unfathomable wonder of being alive and reconciled to God through Christ, who is the Gift above all gifts.

"...all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:16b-17)

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