“The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust – not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.” (Brennan Manning)
I usually don’t pay attention because I’m usually in a hurry, but whenever I start my car, the onboard computer goes through the entire system to make sure everything is functioning properly. I sense that this would be a good practice for my life. But like many of you, I mindfully take stock of my life for a while, but then get out of the habit until a real problem develops in my life. If I’m not paying attention, I get physically out of whack, lose my emotional and spiritual balance, and in short order, my relationships go sideways as the overall quality and effectiveness of my life plummets. When that happens, what I’ve learned to do over the years from my mentors is admit my foolishness and resume the practices that point me in the direction Jesus is seeking to lead me.
In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul cited the results of living life under our own steam in our own way. It’s not a pretty picture: “…a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” The temptation in this moment is to point fingers at the people around us and identify which of these “sins” they are guilty of, but in truth, these characteristics manifest themselves in one way or another in my life when I’ve lost my way spiritually. There’s a reason the twelve steps built in a daily inventory (step 10), and my life never gets better when I forsake that practice.
On the other hand, Paul follows up this list with a description of life lived God’s way (Galatians 5:22-23: But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
The evidence is overwhelming that the game-changing practice which will move toward living God’s way, and away from the self-destructive choices we make when we’re calling the shots is gratitude. Gratitude. We cannot live self-centered lives when we’re practicing gratitude. Gratitude connects me with God and the people around me in a way nothing else does. The result is healing and renewal at the core of who we are. Researchers are mapping the way gratitude changes our brains in real time, and it turns out the benefits are profound and lasting.
The key is recognizing gratitude as a practice, not an emotion. Gratitude throughout the Bible is something we do that reshapes our hearts and minds. I don’t know about you, but I need my heart and mind to be reshaped. The peace, hope, joy, and love I long for is not going to be found “out” there in the world of more money or more power, no matter what the ads and politicians tell me. The abundant life Jesus promised is an “inside” job that involves gratitude as the key.
This Sunday I’m inviting you to join me in a forty (40) day gratitude conspiracy: November 4—December 14. I’ve gathered some resources, and we’ll brainstorm how each of us can make this very personal. The Little Book of Gratitude is an excellent resource. Unfortunately we’ve cleaned out Amazon and the other publishers. We have a few copies available, but for those us who use digital devices, here is the link to Amazon. Digital Little Book of Gratitude
Our reading Sunday comes from Luke 17:11-19:
It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They went, and while still on their way, became clean.
One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”
Note that ten lepers were healed, but only one was both healed and “saved.” Gratitude is the game changer.
See you Sunday.