Practicing Your Deepest Gratitude

This is a talk that I gave in Chapel today:

I want to talk to you today about gratitude, about being thankful.

What can we learn from the Bible about gratitude?

From 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The Bible is very clear here: “always seek to do good to one another” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think we can read this in two complementary ways: give thanks when someone “does good to you” and, perhaps, “do good to one another” in part by giving thanks.

From Romans 1:21: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

We need to pay attention here to Paul’s description of the unrighteous, which specifically tells us that a lack of gratitude, knowing God but not giving him our thanks, leads to futility in our thoughts and foolishness in our hearts. Reading this in the light of the passage from 1Thessalonians, we can extend honoring God and giving him thanks to include obeying his command to “give thanks in all circumstances”-that is, to thank one another lest we become futile thinkers with foolish hearts.

From Colossians 3:15-17: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I propose to you that the Bible reveals that God wants us to be thankful, to have thankfulness in our hearts, and to give thanks—and not just to him but to one another as well. Always. In all circumstances. We should be obedient to this commandment.

How might we do this? Is it enough to just say “thanks” a lot? That’s a good start, certainly, but one way to be truly thankful is an approach I call practicing your deepest gratitude. It’s got three parts:

First, you need to recognize that someone did something for you, something he or she was not required to do. For example, students at Hope College are very good about holding a door open for the next person coming through. You don’t have to do that. I can get the door. So… thanks! Not a very deep thanks, mind you, but thanks all the same.

A deeper gratitude has a second component, which is to identify the need, your need, perhaps unstated or unrealized, that this action addressed. If we keep with the door example, sometimes I’m carrying too many things or I have a big box in both hands. I can’t get the door myself. So… thanks for holding it open. You didn’t have to do that, but I sure needed it. OK, this is a deeper thanks, but we’re not quite there yet.

Practicing your deepest gratitude means articulating the way in which this action has, as the Bible often says, “built you up”—that is, formed you and shaped you towards a better version of yourself. Closer to who God intended you to be. Here are some examples:

I want to express my deepest gratitude to Tryg for inviting me to speak in Chapel today. You didn’t have to do this. There are plenty of better speakers, and there’s no requirement that you work your way through the faculty and staff. It wasn’t my turn. But, you know, I needed this. I’m in my ninth year at Hope College, and I’ve never done this before. As I prepared for this talk, I realized that I had some things I needed to say and that I needed to connect with students, and with God, in this way. Finally, speaking in Chapel has helped me live into parts of who I am that were dormant, perhaps, or at least unrealized. So… Tryg, you have my deepest gratitude.

I don’t know if Megan Fisher is here today. Megan works in the Career Development Center, and she’s on the Life After College team. I want to express my deepest gratitude to Megan for the work she’s doing with this program. You didn’t have to do this. I’m sure you could have told your boss that your plate was already full or suggested someone else in the office to work on it. I knew I needed someone from Career Development to help with the project, but I didn’t know that I needed someone so gifted in working with students, in keeping the details in place, and in thoughtfully considering what students need when considering life after college. And I have learned from working with you, learned things I didn’t know about working with and for students, and I know that I will be a better member of the Hope College community for it, sure, but also, I think, a better person. So… Megan, you have my deepest gratitude.

One last example. Friends, did you know that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, who died for our sins so that we will not perish but have eternal life? He didn’t have to do this. We don’t deserve this. I certainly don’t. But Jesus did come down to Earth to dwell among us.

Friends, I needed God to do this. I need Jesus. I am broken and sinful. I’m the worst sinner I know: whoring, drinking, lying, stealing… and I’m just talking about this week. I need Jesus to be with me, and He is.

Friends, this good that God has done for me, for which I am so thankful, has been and continues to be transformative. I am a different, better person because of Jesus. He didn’t have to do this, it’s only through God’s grace that my need for a closer relationship with God is being met, and I am built up everyday because of it. So… God, you have my deepest gratitude.

What does practicing your deepest gratitude have to do with life after college?

In general, before you move on to the next season of life, reflect on the previous one. Seniors: Practice your deepest gratitude for those who have done good to you, something that addressed a real need (possibly one you didn’t know you had), something that built you up.

Develop a disposition toward expressing your deepest gratitude. Identify when people help you. Use those moments to reflect upon your needs. Think about how people are changing and forming you. Identify when you can do good to another person and build them up through an action that addresses one of their deep needs.

Despite what the world tells you, despite how it feels, despite the realities of making individual decisions… you are not alone. You are not an individual, you are a person in relationship with others and with God. You will never confront this more directly than when you transition to life beyond Hope College. Practicing your deepest gratitude will help you to grow into the righteous person that God knows you can be.


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