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The Christian grace of gratitude

From the November 25, 2019 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


The grace of gratitude is one of the great blessings of the Christian life. Gratitude heightens our awareness of the good already in our lives and prepares us to receive more. It can help even a life that appears barren of good be like a bud that blossoms into a beautiful rose—a life full of abundance that can be lifted up to be a blessing for others. This can happen when we entertain unceasing gratitude as we walk and talk with God.

Gratitude plays an essential role in our communion with God. The Bible tells us, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalms 100:4). Gratitude opens our thought and makes us more receptive to God’s law of redemption and healing. God is the source of all good and is already “pouring forth” good in our lives—even “more than we accept” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 2). Gratitude enables us to recognize God’s communications to us—the ideas that come to our thinking as His angel messages of guidance and healing—and to be blessed by them. 

This was illustrated in the experiences of Jacob in the Bible (see Genesis 28:10–22). In a place that he later called Bethel, where he slept with a stone for his pillow, Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. I like to think of the ascending angels as Jacob’s increasing gratitude for and worship of God. They prepared him to hear, follow, and benefit from the descending angels, which could represent God’s messages to Jacob, telling him, in this instance, what land He would give him, how numerous Jacob’s descendants would be, and that He would always be with him.

Years later, after Jacob had married and had a family, God told him to return to the land of his fathers (see Genesis, chaps. 31–33). This was not an inconsequential command, nor was it an easy one for Jacob to follow, as this land was the home of his brother Esau, whose birthright Jacob had taken years earlier. Nevertheless, “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.” When he learned that Esau had brought four hundred men to meet him, he fully expected Esau to take his revenge by killing him and his family. 

In this time of great inner struggle and physical challenge, a healing angel of God came to Jacob. Knowing his need for healing, Jacob said to the angel, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” The angel gave him a new name, Israel, and blessed him. The next day brought the full fruition: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.”

Nothing good exists in our lives without the power and goodness of God. 

As Jacob’s experience proved, no matter what our circumstances are, we can find something to be grateful for. Nothing good exists in our lives without the power and goodness of God. It may be something simple—a beautiful sunrise, a field of wildflowers, or our daily needs being met. But as we become conscious of the abundance of good that exists, we see that we actually have an overabundance of opportunities to be grateful, even where we perceive difficulties. And this gratitude is to God, the source of all good, who delivers us from our fears.

It may not be easy to feel and express gratitude during difficult times in our lives, when lack seems more apparent than abundance, sin more compelling than morality, unfulfilled hopes more real than fruition, or sickness more real than health. At these times, expressing gratitude can take spiritual courage and strength. 

A friend of mine told me that during a period of great challenge, she decided she wouldn’t finish each day until she had found fifty things to be grateful to God for. Her courage, humility, and loyalty to God touched me, and I began to express more gratitude myself. I quickly became conscious of good in my life that I had taken for granted or failed to recognize—and of just how abundantly blessed I was. As a result, I became less restless, less tempted to pine for what I thought might be better circumstances in my life, and less worried about what the future might hold. Consistent practice of this recognition of God as the source of abundance assured me that He would continue to provide for me and mine as He was doing now and had been doing all my life.

In addition to being grateful for my human needs being met, I began expressing more gratitude for spiritual blessings—such as angel messages from God that instruct and guide me, qualities of God I can express, and opportunities I have to demonstrate His goodness. Because God is infinite, gratitude itself must be infinite in its expression and application. Gratitude meets the spiritual demands of the moment, uplifts us, and prepares us for the next steps in our growth in Christian character.

Jesus gave us an outstanding example of the power of gratitude in prayer when he raised Lazarus from the dead (see John 11:1–44). After the stone was removed from the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus’ first words were, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” Even before he raised Lazarus, Jesus knew that the solution was already at hand. It was not a matter of somehow making a dead Lazarus come back to life. Jesus’ gratitude was impelled by what he knew about God as the eternal Life of man. He knew that Life is forever intact, and that therefore Lazarus’ life had never ended. The need was to awaken Lazarus, and those who thought he had died, from the dream of death. Jesus’ understanding of this fact was so clear that his simple words, “Lazarus, come forth,” were all that was needed to accomplish that awakening. 

We can take this prayerful approach to every challenge we are facing. “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me” can mean for us: “Father, I thank You that You have already provided the solution to this problem. I may not see it clearly at this moment, but I know that You are holding Your creation perfect, forever reflecting Your love and goodness. I don’t have to make myself perfect, because I am that way already as Your image and likeness. Your angel messages will lift me and others out of the dream that there can be any experience separate from You, and this will bring healing.” And like Jacob, we can say to the angel messages, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”

Gratitude meets the spiritual demands of the moment, uplifts us, and prepares us for the next steps in our growth in Christian character. 

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, challenges us in our expression of gratitude where she writes: “Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more. Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech” (Science and Health, p. 3). This involves a shift in thought from seeing a blessing as something that takes place solely in our experience to uplifting it to God—first, to the recognition of Him as its source, and then even higher to the glorification of God and the blessing of others. 

As we appreciate the beauty of something as simple as a sunrise, for example, we can ask, How can we use this blessing to glorify God, to uplift our own experience, and to bless others? We might recall Mrs. Eddy’s statement, “Christians rejoice in secret beauty and bounty, hidden from the world, but known to God” (Science and Health, p. 15). Beauty in its higher meaning is a quality of God, of Spirit, and since we are ideas of God, we reflect this spiritual beauty, which is hidden from the senses that perceive only that which is material. The more conscious we are of the spiritual beauty already present and intact, the more we’ll see how we can express this beauty in our thoughts and lives. 

At times when it’s difficult to recognize beauty or anything to be grateful for, the very fact that we are conscious of the beauty of spiritual reality means that we have a glimmer of it. We read in Science and Health, “The wakeful shepherd beholds the first faint morning beams, ere cometh the full radiance of a risen day” (p. vii). Spiritual reality is already present for us to discern, although it may at first seem faint. Here gratitude is an essential step. We can be grateful for the blessing of what little of God’s goodness and beauty we do recognize. Then we can avail ourselves of that blessing by expressing gratitude in those opportunities that God leads us to. As we practice this, those “first faint morning beams” become stronger and stronger. 

We can go forward then, walking in the footsteps of Jacob, daily letting the angels of God’s presence lift us to increasing heights of gratitude and worship of God, where we are met by angel thoughts that guide, uplift, and heal us. As we see the tangible blessings of practicing gratitude, we can be truly grateful for gratitude itself—the gift of our loving Father and the great grace of the Christian pathway of redemption and healing.

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