During Mission Lazarus' Songs on a Mission, our extraordinary annual awareness and fundraising event in Nashville, we were blessed by the generosity of many longtime and newly faithful supporters of our ministry. We were equally blessed to have the opportunity to express our gratitude to many people and organizations for believing in our mission and coming alongside us as we bring eternal worth to light in Honduras and Haiti in the name of Jesus.
With joyful hearts, we now set our sights on that sacred American holiday where we offer thanks for any number of things, causes, and people. I think we can mostly agree that Thanksgiving was meant to be celebrated with family, friends, and at minimum in a spirit of gratitude. It's that one day of the year when the most embittered individual feels just safe enough to speak those life-giving words of appreciation that've remained encrypted deep within their heart those other 364 days.
It's not that we don't appreciate the good things in life, and it's not that we too often forget to speak those magic words Mom taught us when somebody does right by us. But either we get too busy, too prideful, or we simply misunderstand that gratitude is not meant to be practiced as a task or virtue limited to prayer or when someone passes the gravy.
Before the Apostle Paul experienced his miraculous encounter with Christ, his heart was filled with religious self-righteousness, bitterness, and viciousness. After his conversion, by the Spirit of God his heart became filled with humility, compassion, and a passionate commitment to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles even at the cost of his own life. Paul's heart went from thankful only to himself to thankful for the privilege of languishing in hardship for the sake of others.
Despite the suffering, in few words Paul made the convincing case for gratitude as lifestyle in his first letter to the Church in Thessalonica, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Not mincing words, Paul states that we are to be grateful in all circumstances, yes, even on those days when it feels as if both the sky has fallen and the floor has collapsed. Life is a continuous journey through a series of encounters with challenging circumstances which are mostly beyond our control. When we elevate the critical importance of gratitude as vitally on par with the oxygen we breathe, we experience a deeply and sustainable sense of joy and become powerful vessels of God's mercy and grace in what too often appears to be a thankless world.
Dr. Brene Brown, author of "The Power of Vulnerability," one of the most-viewed TED Talks ever, has conducted years of research on gratitude, perusing thousands of data points. The science backs her assertation that "It's not joy that makes us grateful, it's gratitude that makes us joyful."
In other words, gratitude gladdens the heart, and when happiness fills our hearts we feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment. When we are living with a dignified sense of purpose, as God meant for all of us to live, gratitude breaks through the confines of the calendar and reminder list and naturally overflows multiform into the lives of everyone around us through the words we speak, deeds we do, and smiles we share. At Mission Lazarus this is what bringing eternal worth to light looks like.
Of course there is no substitute for words and acts of gratitude, and Thanksgiving Day is revered for good reason in American culture. My challenge is that we would allow gratitude to transcend the transactional time and calendar specific moments of life. May we allow gratitude to become a lifestyle inspired by our own humility, selflessness, unconditional love of neighbor, and assurance that it is God's immeasurable love for us that gives us the very breath we draw today, and the indescribably beautiful future tomorrow.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on gratitude. What's something you do to make gratitude a lifestyle?