Gratitude

Monday – Gratitude is an Attitude and Grumbling Becomes a Habit
Good morning this is Craig Robertson from New Crossing Church.  If I asked you to give me a list of the things that could be going better, whether relationships or circumstances, I’m guessing you could come up with a list fairly quickly.  Once you’d told me all about them, how would you feel?  Dissatisfied?  Overwhelmed?  Pessimistic?  Perhaps jealous of those who don’t have these issues?

At the same time, if I asked you to give me a list of things you’re grateful for in life, people or things that you appreciate and enjoy, I bet you could come up with a list just as quickly.  And by the time you’d listed them off for me the corners of your mouth would have turned slightly upward and you’d feel a little differently – a little more joyful, content, pleased, perhaps even blessed.  Gratitude is an attitude of appreciation and thankfulness.

One of my favorite quotes is from the wonderful pastor and writer Warren Wiersbe.  He said, “Attitude determines action, outlook determine outcome.”  He’s telling us that our attitudes are the things that drive how we live.  And our outlook sets the course for how our life turns out.  It’s so easy to let circumstances drive our attitudes.

So if we want our life to be the good life God intended for us, it seems we need to develop the right kind of attitude and outlook.  This week, I want us to take just one attitude that would have a huge impact on the course of our lives – gratitude.

Gratitude is not a feeling but an attitude that needs to be cultivated in the soil of one’s heart if it is to grow into something that nourishes our soul.  I wish I could tell you that gratitude is something you could buy in a store like a TV dinner, microwave it and in 5 minutes you have dinner.  Think of it as a summer garden where you want to grow your gratitude right next to the beans and summer squash.

To cultivate something means you work hard at preparing the conditions for the thing you want to grow.  It’s the same thing as the effort you make to cultivate a friendship.  You prepare and work for the things that will grow that relationship.  It’s no different with our character and attitude.  If we want to be a person of gratitude instead of a thankless ungrateful malcontent then we have some gardening to do.

This is really important because if we don’t cultivate gratitude then weeds will grow in their place and choke the life out of us.

The apostle Paul wrote to us in 1 Thessalonian 5:16-18 about this, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  This is what a gratitude looks like and Paul wrote it as a command.  Yet, we know it’s not as simple as, “Just do it and rejoice!  Just be thankful all the time!”

I find it much easier to develop an attitude of ingratitude.  Marketing campaigns train us to want more and better, so we grow discontented.  Media shows us all the possibilities that seem to be just beyond our reach – things we could have, things we could be – the sports car, the beautiful home, the tropical vacation, the promotion.  Now I’m not only discontent, I find I’ve become a complaining malcontent.

We get so used to thinking this way that soon we can’t enjoy what we do have – the four door sedan that still runs and gets decent gas mileage, the roof over our head and that keeps the rain off, a bed to sleep in, an evening spent with friends, and a job that pays the bills regardless of how fulfilling it is.

Ingratitude is like hard soil where nothing can grow.  Ingratitude goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve weren’t content to enjoy the perfect life God had given them – they wanted more – they wanted to be like God.  In their ingratitude they grasped the forbidden apple.  And ingratitude continues to be a recurring theme throughout the Bible.  God rescued the nation of Israel from oppressive slavery in Egypt.  But were they grateful?  Certainly not for long!  They soon forgot how oppressed they had been as slaves and soon tired of the food supply of manna that God miraculously provided for them each day on their journey through the dessert. Their ingratitude turned into grumbling – they wanted meat and they wanted variety.  And they were very vocal about it.

We can be just like the Israelites or worse we can be an Eeyore.  You remember Winnie the Pooh’s friend in the children’s book “The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh?”  Let me read you a portion:

“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.

“Why, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

So let me ask you, do you find that sometimes grumbling has become a bit of a habit, even if there’s nothing to grumble about?  There’s a little Eeyore in all of us!

God doesn’t want you to miss out on gratitude.  Take notice today and see how often you grumble like an Israelite or Eeyore.  What could you be grateful for instead?  God has blessed you and I pray you experience his rich life of gratitude. 

Tuesday – Cultivating Gratitude Begins With Humility
Good morning this is Craig Robertson from New Crossing Church.  This week, we’re digging deeper into gratitude and using a gardening metaphor to help us.  Gratitude is the measure of our ability to see the good God has given us.  To really enjoy and appreciate what God has given us we will need to work the soil of our hearts if anything good like gratitude is to grow from them.

There are really two ways to go through life, one with a deep appreciation of the good God gives to each one of us, even if it looks small to our eyes.  Or we go through life with discontentment because life owes us more.

If you want to cultivate soil and get it ready to plant a garden, there are specific things you can do – till the dirt to break up the hard ground, add peat moss and fertilizer to improve the quality, and water it thoroughly.  Cultivating gratitude may seem a little harder, but the Bible shows us that it is possible.

One of the things we need to add to our lives to cultivate gratitude is humility.  You may be wondering what humility has to do with being grateful.  But if you think about it, it’s easy to see the connection.

Jesus told a story about two men who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). One was a Pharisee, a respected and honored religious leader in Israel.  No doubt he was very proud of his righteousness and his virtues.  Here’s what he prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector [we’ll talk about him in a minute].  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  I think we’d all feel comfortable describing him as proud and ungrateful.  He says the words “thank you” but his prayer is full of boasting and self.  The other man who went to pray was a tax collector, one of the most despised people in Israel because they collected money from the people to pay to the occupying Roman government, often taking a good cut for themselves in the process.  His prayer was a little different: “Standing far off, [he] would not even life up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”  Listen to what Jesus said about these two men, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When we are full of our own accomplishments and virtues, full of pride, it’s hard to be grateful.  Why should we thank anyone for anything when we are entitled to a good life because we are good people?  We deserve good things, we are entitled to a good life.  God owes us prosperity and pleasure – right?

But when we have humility, when we recognize that however hard we try we are imperfect, that we are all sinners, then we make room for gratitude.  Suddenly we realize that we don’t deserve good things – none of us can ever be good enough for God to owe us anything.  And yet, our merciful and generous God gives us many many good things anyway.  Only a humble heart experiences mercy and grace.  And when we admit we aren’t entitled to them, our humility allows us to enjoy them.

You probably know the hymn “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton in 1779, but do you know the story behind those amazing words?  John Newton was captain of a slave ship that carried hundreds of slaves in totally inhumane conditions from Africa to America.  The slaves were packed into the hold of the ship like cattle, many got sick on the journey and many died.  Those who died were simply tossed overboard like unwanted cargo.  Later in life, John Newton came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  He came face to face with the horrendous reality of the sin he had committed towards the slaves.  But when he had the humility to admit and confess his sin, he also found a deep and profound gratitude for God’s salvation and forgiveness.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Your sin probably doesn’t seem as awful or ugly as John Newton’s.  But we all sin – we have sinful thoughts, say sinful things, or have sinful behaviors. The reality is that you and I are no more deserving of Heaven than John Newton.  When we have the humility to admit that we sin, and really grapple with our need for God’s mercy, we find that gratitude starts to sprout and grow inside us.  Our humility provides just the right conditions for us to appreciate God’s forgiveness and be so profoundly grateful that Jesus takes our guilt away forever.

It was only when John Newton’s worked humility into the soil of his heart and acknowledged his sin that true gratitude sprouted inside him.  From gratitude grew this amazing hymn sung by millions.  What’s growing in your heart?  I encourage you to humble your heart today, find something to confess, know you are forgiven, and then sing God a song like Amazing Grace.

God has blessed you and I pray you experience his rich life of gratitude.

Wednesday – Gratitude is Theocentric
Good morning. This is Craig Robertson from New Crossing Church.  It’s tempting to think we’ll be more grateful when we achieve our next goal, when we have that thing we want, when we get the girl or the guy, when we get the next promotion, and so on.  But the truth is that more stuff won’t bring more gratitude.  It will only bring the stress of what to do with it, how to protect it, and how to maintain it.

A good definition of gratitude is the ability to see the good God has given you.

James 1:17 says Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.

In other words, everything good in our lives is a gift from God himself.  And gratitude is the ability to notice, enjoy, and appreciate all the goodness he sends our way free from acquiring what we want out of life.

At its very core, gratitude is theocentric, which means it focuses on God. If humility is necessary for true gratitude then focus is critical for lasting gratitude.  If we anchor the foundation of our gratitude on anything else other than God himself, we are building a house on sand instead of rock.

C.K. Chesterton once said that the worst moment for an atheist is when he or she feels grateful and there is no one to thank.

One year, we were celebrating Thanksgiving with some family members who don’t acknowledge there is a God.  As we looked at the amazing spread of food on the table, there was such a sense that we had been given something good even beyond the food.  One family member felt this overpowering sense to offer thanks on a deep level, but could not acknowledge a God.  So she suggested we all hold hands in silence, which we did until it became awkward.  Somehow it felt empty.  Thanks didn’t mean anything when there was nobody greater than us to thank.

But if we pause and remind ourselves that every good gift is from above and comes to us from a Father who loves us then our focus changes.  If you’re struggling to be grateful you may be looking through the wrong lenses.  Actually I think there are two wrong lenses through which we view gifts.

One is that we’ve earned what we have and don’t really owe God any gratitude. It is hard for some to admit that all the good things in life aren’t caused by their own hard work, good sense, and amazing skills.  It’s important for this person to acknowledge that their abilities, talents, and skills were good gifts from God in the first place.

If I buy myself a Christmas gift with my own money, I may enjoy it, but I won’t feel grateful.  Who would I thank?  But if I accept that even who I am is a gift from God and that he deserves all my gratitude because if it wasn’t for him I would have nothing, then I sit down and write him a thank you card.

The other wrong lens that people have is that God has given them nothing to be thankful for.  Yet there is one gift that we all have received that none of us deserve or could earn on our own.  That is the gift of God himself.  This is ultimately what it means to be Theocentric in our gratitude.  We have received the undeserved gift of God’s steadfast love!

Many years ago my daughter received such a gift that illustrates this.  IPods were not real common yet and her brother bought her one for her 18th birthday.  As soon as Selina opened it she burst into tears.  Why?  Not because of the gift itself but because she knew she did not deserve what her little brother had done.  Joel had saved up almost $200 doing a paper route and spent it all on her because he loved her that much.  She did not deserve it and she did not earn it by being a perfect sister.  He loved her that much just because he chose to, and she deeply appreciated the cost of that love from him.

There is a God in Heaven who gave the world a gift of love that cost him everything.  It cost the life of his son on a cross.  Is there someone out there who has yet to appreciate and receive this undeserved amazing gift?

Sometimes people become so focused on what they want, they don’t see the good gifts God has already given them and they’re not grateful.  Other times people don’t appreciate the amazing gift of God himself.

God is always good towards us and his love is constant and never fading.  When people accept that everything good in life is a gift from God, they suddenly see things differently.  Even when life is at its worst they can be grateful because they know they are loved by their Creator.

Let me close with the shortest Psalm in the Bible for our morning – Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

God has blessed you and I pray you experience his rich life of gratitude

Thursday – Taking our complaints to God
Good morning this is Craig Robertson from New Crossing Church.  This week we’re looking at gratitude and the ways we can help cultivate it in our lives.  Gratitude is important because without it our soul dries up and withers.

There are some people who complain all the time.  Regardless of anything good that happens in their life, they always find something to grumble about.  Then there are others who always see the good in a situation and seem amazingly resilient and positive, even in the most difficult circumstances.  If I’m brutally honest I have found myself sounding more like the former and wishing I were more like the later.

Most of us prefer to be around a positive person because their gratitude is contagious; they lift our spirits and help us see the good in our own lives!

So why would any person complain and grumble and be negative?  What’s their motivation?  Hmmm, let me think.

First, well if they are like me negative thoughts build up inside and we speak them out to others because it feels good, kind of like a release valve for high pressure.

Second, there are people who will grumble about others or about circumstances because it makes them feel better in their own eyes by comparison.

Third, there are others who complain about their personal problems so they can have the attention and sympathy of others.  In a backwards way this feels good to them.

So what’s my other option I ask myself – to stuff all that is wrong and makes me unhappy?  To hold all this in like a steam kettle until the pressure builds and I blow my top?  Is it possible to validate very real problems and needs and at the same time have a life of gratitude?

We need to understand that gratitude is all about choices and actually has little to do with one’s feelings about people or circumstances.  It’s more about the choices a person makes while riding this roller coaster of life that brings all the emotions of joy, laughter, fear, and unhappiness.

A person has to choose.  Will they be a righteous complainer or an ungrateful grumbler?

The encouraging news is that God never asks us to be posers who pretend to be care free from problems in the world. David from the Old Testament is a good example for us to follow.  When David wasn’t causing his own trouble he seemed to always have trouble with his family, friends, and job.  What I love about God is that he didn’t try to hide his less than perfect followers from us.  You can find David’s concerns, complaints, and even unrighteous thoughts recorded in the Psalms.  Why would God want us to have access to them?  Because they teach us how to be a righteous complainer instead of an ungrateful grumbler.  The difference is one brings all their negative caustic complaints about people and life to God instead of to everyone else.  Why?  Because God is the one who wants to hear them and lead us out of that negative attitude and into one of gratitude which can only be found with his help.

One of our families had a Thanksgiving tradition of going round the table and asking each person to share one thing they’re thankful for.  When it got to my aunt, she couldn’t say a word of thanks for anything, even though her own adult daughter and the rest of the family were sitting right at the table.  She had watered her complaints, they had grown into bitter roots, and there was no room left for gratitude.

Gratitude needs freedom from an overdeveloped focus on self.  In any given moment, a person can always choose gratitude and see the good God has given them, or they can choose to focus and complain about all the bad.  It’s their choice!

We can be very honest about our struggles and problems.  We can verbalize our concerns and disappointments.  But grumblers go over them again and again, rehearsing them and wallowing in them, dragging everyone around them into them.  It’s like pouring water on them – it makes them grow.  Then they put down deep roots of discontent and bitterness.

Paul said in Colossians 2:6-7 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Paul wants us to choose gratitude.  Paul reminds us that we can receive Christ Jesus as Lord and escape the life of the ungrateful grumbler.

Remember Jesus’ words in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus’ words hold out the promise of a different life filled with wonder and transformation.  Not a promise of prosperity but a promise of his presence and the gift of life found only in him.

Today honestly bring your complaints to the one who loves you, trust your concerns to him, and be grateful that you are not alone in them but have Christ with you.  Righteous Complainer or Ungrateful Grumbler – it’s your choice.

God has blessed you and I pray you experience his rich life of gratitude.

Friday – Trust Through Uncertainty
Good morning this is Craig Robertson from New Crossing Church and let me ask you a question.  “Do you trust God?”  How would one go about measuring the trust level a person has in God?  One of the great measures of trust is the evidence of gratitude in one’s life.

This week we’ve been talking about cultivating gratitude in our lives.  Sometimes it’s genuinely hard to be grateful – isn’t it?  Sometimes life is so difficult and we are so overwhelmed that gratitude just doesn’t enter our minds.  The good news is that gratitude grows in all climates.  It grows when life is sunny and warm and pleasant, but it also grows in deserts, in icy and harsh winters, on rocky mountains, and in deep canyons.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

He tells the church in Thessalonica and is telling us to give thanks in ALL circumstances.  We aren’t only supposed to be thankful for the good stuff in life, the healthy relationships, the pleasant circumstances, and the fun surprises.  We are always to be thankful, even at the most trying times.

As usual, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything that he didn’t do himself.  The night before Jesus was crucified, he ate dinner with his disciples, a meal we’ve come to know as the last supper.  What did he do after dinner?  He took some bread and a cup of wine, and thanked God for the meal.  He knew he was about to suffer great pain and a brutal death, but he wasn’t preoccupied with that.  His habit was to be thankful in the moment and to trust God with what was coming next.

When a person trusts God, they can be grateful, because they know that there’s always more to life than they can see.  Romans 8:28 reassures us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A person may not be able to see the good things ahead that God can bring out of their rotten circumstances, but if they choose to trust him, they can thank him even for the goodness they can’t see in the present hardship.

Sometimes it’s actually easier to be grateful when we have experienced hard times.  When we are sick or injured we suddenly appreciate good health.  When we lose a job, we appreciate whatever position we find next.  When someone close to us dies or even when they move away, we are grateful for the relationship we had with them in the moment.

Sometimes when life pushes us to the limits of our own strength and we come face to face with our own weakness, we become so grateful for the supernatural strength God gives us and for his grace and mercy towards our weakness.  We’re like the alcoholic who becomes grateful for the grace God’s give him every morning to face the day as they feel weak and powerless in their addiction.

Gratitude is about trusting God.  Do I trust that he will work these painful circumstances for a good I cannot see?  Do I trust that this empty place in my life will help me rely more on him and grow closer to him?  Do I trust that his strength will be enough when I am weak?  Do I trust that even when I don’t get what I want, he will provide everything I need?  Do I trust that he wants good things for me, even better than I want for myself?

Jesus was able to thank God before dying a brutal death, because he knew that his death would pay the penalty for our sin and allow us to have a relationship with God.  I can trust God, because Jesus did.?

I am learning to pray and trust God with things more and more.  But I have also learned how critical it is to actually praise God each morning for the smallest of things if I’m going to live a life of gratitude.

“Lord, I’m grateful for the bark you put on trees and all their textures.  The bright greens that sprout at the beginning of Spring and then turn to yellows and reds in Fall.

Thank you for the way finches molt their feathers from brown to gold to trumpet the end of winter.

Lord, I love how toddlers find so much wonder in every new discovery.  Thank you that they walk in the steps of Lewis and Clark to discover new lands.

Thank you for the deep pleasure I feel when I can make a child smile.  I’m grateful that you feel the same towards me.

Thank you for those times I am with my son in a new restaurant in our quest to find the best burger town.

I’m thankful for a daughter who makes beautiful music on a flute and has a husband who loves her.

Thank you Lord for a wife who is more different from me than I would ever have guessed and how this helps me grow in knowing you.  Thank you that you give me the opportunity every morning to show my wife kindness by bringing her a glass of water and her Thyroid pill.

Thank you Lord that I get to be a part of church where I get to see what faith in you looks like lived out in love of the members of New Crossing.

I’m grateful that every trial and trouble becomes a holy moment for you to reveal yourself to me.

Thank you Lord, that I am alive and your love for me is steadfast. Amen.”

God has blessed you and I pray you experience his rich life of gratitude.

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