GRAT­I­TUDE

Activated - - NEWS - By Peter Am­s­ter­dam, adapted

Be­com­ing more Christ­like is about be­com­ing a bet­ter Chris­tian through a more com­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tion of the Bi­ble, cou­pled with the guid­ance

1. See Ro­mans 13:14. 2. Colorado Springs: Pur­pose­ful De­sign

Pub­li­ca­tions, 2005 3. Zi­garelli, Cul­ti­vat­ing Chris­tian Char­ac­ter, 24. 4. See 1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 5:18. 5. See Eph­e­sians 5:20; 1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 5:16–18. and grace of the Holy Spirit. This ap­pli­ca­tion of Scrip­ture cuts two ways. First, it calls for do­ing away with un­god­li­ness, for re­sist­ing and over­com­ing sin as much as pos­si­ble. Sec­ond, it calls for us to put on Christ, to em­brace the godly

1 virtues spo­ken of in Scrip­ture, and live in a man­ner that strength­ens th­ese virtues within our lives.

In his book, Cul­ti­vat­ing Chris­tian Char­ac­ter, au­thor Michael Zi­garelli

2 con­ducted a sur­vey of 5,000 Chris­tians and found which virtues seem to help in the growth and de­vel­op­ment of Chris­tian char­ac­ter. He iden­ti­fied three at­tributes that ap­pear to be ma­jor build­ing blocks in de­vel­op­ing Christ­like­ness:

There are three at­tributes that best ex­plain why high-virtue Chris­tians are dif­fer­ent from av­er­age-virtue Chris­tians. Those at­tributes—those three pil­lars of suc­cess—are grat­i­tude, joy­ful liv­ing and God-cen­tered­ness … Chris­tians who have sown th­ese three seeds into their life­style are far more likely to reap max­i­mum Chris­tian char­ac­ter … to see

man­i­fes­ta­tions of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Fun­da­men­tal but elu­sive Chris­tian virtues (e.g., love, in­ner peace, pa­tience, kind­ness, gen­eros­ity, faith­ful­ness, gen­tle­ness, self-con­trol, com­pas­sion, and the abil­ity to for­give) all flow from the roots of grat­i­tude, joy­ful liv­ing, and God-cen­tered­ness.

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Grat­i­tude is a key ele­ment of growth in Christ­like­ness be­cause it's a “par­ent virtue”—a virtue that helps pro­duce other godly virtues and has a trans­for­ma­tional ef­fect on our char­ac­ter. It's also widely un­der­stood in fields such as psy­chol­ogy and self-im­prove­ment to be ben­e­fi­cial for im­prov­ing one's health and emo­tional, so­cial, and psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing. Grat­i­tude is uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered a ba­sic foun­da­tion for a bet­ter, hap­pier life.

In Scrip­ture, grat­i­tude or grate­ful­ness is based on the con­cept that every­where and in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, God's peo­ple should give thanks to God, the One who has cre­ated and re­deemed them. The giv­ing of thanks in the Old Tes­ta­ment is in­di­cated most of­ten by the He­brew word to­dah, which is trans­lated thanks, thankfulness, and thanks­giv­ing. It's also how you say “thank you” in modern He­brew.

The New Tes­ta­ment is also full of ex­am­ples of ex­press­ing thankfulness to God, as well as in­struc­tion to do so. In fact, we're told to give thanks to God for ev­ery­thing4 and al­ways.

5 Cul­ti­vat­ing grat­i­tude changes our out­look on life, pro­duc­ing over time a new con­text or lens through which we process our cir­cum­stances. We be­gin to see our ex­pe­ri­ences and ev­ery­thing we have in the light of God's love, and we rec­og­nize that no mat­ter what our sit­u­a­tion, it could be worse—but it isn't. This doesn't mean we don't do what we can to im­prove our sit­u­a­tion, but we view it with thankfulness.

In a sense, grat­i­tude is a mind­set. No mat­ter what our cir­cum­stances, we can choose to see them through the lens of thankfulness to God for His love, care, and sup­ply, rather than com­par­ing with oth­ers or be­moan­ing our lot in life. It re­quires fo­cus­ing our thoughts on our bless­ings in­stead of what's miss­ing from our lives or how much bet­ter life could be “if only…” Grat­i­tude causes us to want what we have, to be con­tent with what­ever state we are in, and to reg­u­larly thank God for our bless­ings, whether they're mea­ger or abun­dant.

It's of­ten dif­fi­cult to feel grate­ful when we face ad­ver­sity in our lives, when it seems life doesn't make sense and our pray­ers go unan­swered. But a grate­ful at­ti­tude isn't based on events, it's an­chored in faith that God loves us, that He hears our pray­ers, and that there are al­ways things to be thank­ful for even in the worst of si­t­u­a­tions.

One way to cul­ti­vate grat­i­tude is to keep track of the things you are thank­ful for. Keep­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal helps you take ac­count of and focus on your bless­ings, which is part of de­vel­op­ing a pos­i­tive and grate­ful mind­set. Each of us has nu­mer­ous things in our daily lives that we are thank­ful for, yet we rarely take time to ac­knowl­edge them, so

they don't con­sciously regis­ter in our minds as bless­ings.

I re­cently started to keep such a jour­nal, and I've been sur­prised at how many things I'm thank­ful for that I've rarely given much thought to. I go through my day sur­rounded by bless­ings—but un­til I started list­ing five things I'm thank­ful for each day, I rarely took spe­cific no­tice of them. Of course, I reg­u­larly thanked God for my bless­ings, but I did so in gen­eral terms. I've found that keep­ing track of specifics has helped me both to be aware of my bless­ings and be more specif­i­cally grate­ful for the many things I've taken for granted for so many years.

In the short time I've been do­ing this, it's al­ready changed the way I re­spond to things. Just yes­ter­day, I found out I had an un­ex­pected bill to pay, and my first re­ac­tion was to com­plain about it, but then I

6. Zi­garelli, Cul­ti­vat­ing Chris­tian Char­ac­ter, 36. re­framed my thoughts and thanked God that I had the funds on hand to pay it. It felt so much bet­ter.

There are so many things in our lives, both small and great, which we can iden­tify as God's bless­ings: our gifts and tal­ents, goals we've achieved, op­por­tu­ni­ties that have come our way, our health, the car get­ting fixed, food on the ta­ble, wa­ter in the faucet, and so on. Then we also have fam­ily and friends who love us, and oth­ers who have helped or cared for us in some way. Keep­ing a jour­nal helps train our mind to rec­og­nize them, and even­tu­ally our mind­set can change so that grat­i­tude be­comes part of who we are, putting us on the path­way to greater Christ­like­ness.

Re­mem­ber­ing the poor in our pray­ers can also en­hance grat­i­tude. When we pray for those who have less than we do, it re­minds us of how dif­fi­cult life is for some and makes us grate­ful for our lives. When we pray for refugees who have to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind and risk their lives to get some­where safe, it helps keep our sit­u­a­tion in per­spec­tive.

Our frame of ref­er­ence be­comes the im­pov­er­ished widow, the hun­gry child, the job­less fa­ther, the disease-rid­den in­fant, the refugee forced from home by war, the third-world neigh­bor with­out elec­tric­ity or running wa­ter. Pray­ing daily for th­ese peo­ple is a prac­tice that il­lu­mi­nates our own ex­is­tence in the blaz­ing light of God’s prov­i­dence, and as a re­sult, one may ex­pe­ri­ence a stun­ning se­ries of re­ver­sals. Envy gives way to ful­fill­ment. Re­sent­ment gives way to con­tent­ment. Com­plaints give way to praise. The cat­a­lyst through it all is grat­i­tude, born of a clearer per­spec­tive that’s gen­er­ated by re­flect­ing on the poor.

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As Chris­tians, we pos­sess the ul­ti­mate bless­ing—sal­va­tion, the knowl­edge that we will live for­ever with God. We are in re­la­tion­ship with the Cre­ator and sus­tainer of all things. Our God is also our Fa­ther, who knows what we need and prom­ises to take care of us. No mat­ter our cir­cum­stances, we are in His pres­ence. Grat­i­tude isn't our nat­u­ral state, but as we work to cul­ti­vate it in our lives, we will be on the path to greater Christ­like­ness.

Peter Am­s­ter­dam and his wife, Maria Fon­taine, are di­rec­tors of the Fam­ily In­ter­na­tional, a Chris­tian com­mu­nity of faith.

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