Gratitude as a Defence Mechanism

 

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Have you noticed that it’s impossible to be both grateful and depressed at the same time?

The thought came to me when reading -of all things – A.A.Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” 

The words reminded me that gratitude is a lifestyle choice not dependent on circumstance or intellectual capacity. It goes deeper than circumstance and fosters resilience through its encouragement. When Paul starts off his letter to the Colossians with a note of gratitude, he’s not simply giving a conventional greeting, but sounding the keynote of a whole life of walking with Jesus.  “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,” (1:3). We’re grateful for you, and [praying] “that you may have great endurance and patience,and giving joyful thanks to the Father.” (1:12)

Did you see that last clause? Paul’s gratitude for them will evoke gratitude within them. And, more than that:

Gratitude produces encouragement

It was the custom to give thanks to the gods in Greek culture, especially as part of a normal letter- but Paul switches the emphasis from “the gods” to “God” and takes the concept to a new level. From being a conventional pleasantry it now becomes a clarion call of God’s ownership of every situation. Having that attitude of gratitude is essential for our faith and practice no matter what we have been through. Being thankful helps us to see hope, to forgive and live and have joy by which we display God’s goodness. Without gratitude, we are ungrateful people—ingrates; this is an insult to God and as a result, we will live a self-inflicted, miserable, hopeless life no matter what we have or could have; thus God’s goodness that is to be shown through us is veiled by our contempt.

And all of this is intended by Paul to encourage the Colossians. He writes “that their hearts may be encouraged.” Their love for one another and their deeper assurance of understanding is all for the sake of their encouragement.

But now verse 4 shows what is behind this special concern that Paul has to encourage these believers. “I say this in order that no one may delude you with beguiling speech.” So his immediate concern is to guard these believers from delusion. Someone is trying to mislead them. So how does Paul seek to guard them?

He tells them (first) of his tremendous struggles on their behalf, in the hope (second) that this will knit their hearts to his and to each other’s in love, and that out of this bond of love would grow (third) a deep and fully assured understanding of God, and that out of this love and understanding would emerge (fourth) a strong encouragement of faith, and that this encouragement would be (fifth) the power that guards them from the delusion of beguiling speech. Sacrificial struggle leads to love. Love leads to assured understanding of God. Assured understanding leads to strong encouragement.

And encouragement stops you from going off track.

The motive for wanting them to stand firm and not be deluded: “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” Paul wants them to stand firm in their faith against deceit and delusion because he takes such great delight in their good order and firmness of faith. His whole ministry is aimed at this. The faith of his churches is his joy and glory.

Encouragement guards from delusion

In verse 6–8 we have basically the same argument as we had in verses 1–4 only with different words. Notice that verse 8 corresponds to verse 4. It’s a warning against being deceived. Verse 8: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” Verse 4: “I say this in order that no one may delude you with beguiling speech.” Both verses warn the Colossians to guard themselves from traditions or philosophies or words that lead away from Christ.

Then verses 6–7 correspond to verses 2–3. Both of them show us how to guard ourselves from deceit. Verses 6–7 say, “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Notice four steps: First, they were taught the truth of Christ (verse 7 at the end: ” … just as you were taught“). Second, they received him (verse 6: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord… “). Third, they became rooted and built up and established in him (verse 7: ” … rooted and built up in him and established in the faith… “). Fourth, they are to live a certain way (verse 6 at the end: “… so live in him“). And that way of life is defined at the end of verse 7: “…abounding in thanksgiving.

Gratitude Is the Completion of Encouragement

In verses 2 and 3 the deep assurance of our knowledge of Christ leads to strong encouragement that guards us from the deceit mentioned in verse 4. In verses 6 and 7 being rooted and built up in Christ leads to an overflowing gratitude that guards us from deceit mentioned in verse 8. If you were to ask me how the guardian of “encouragement” (in verse 2) relates to the guardian of “gratitude” (in verse 7), I would say that gratitude is the completion of encouragement.

It is possible to be encouraged and not be thankful. All of us have had that experience: something good happens to us and we feel a new breath of hope and joy, but we don’t even give a thought to the Source of the encouragement, to thank him. I don’t think that’s the kind of encouragement Paul has in mind in verse 2. Surely he has in mind humble encouragement, the kind that is completed by gratitude to God.

Gratitude guards you: It’s a Defence Mechanism!

The conclusion that Colossians 2:1-8 draws is that we should guard ourselves with gratitude. Evidently we are fair game for the devil when we don’t abound with thanksgiving.  Tom Wright puts it beautifully: “When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves – that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”

And that which is authentic is hard to shake! 

And a final quote from Thomas Merton:  “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.

Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

You either take things for granted or take them with gratitude.

I truly believe we can either see the connections,

celebrate them, and express gratitude for our blessings,

or we can see life as a string of coincidences that have no meaning or connection.

For me, I’m going to believe in miracles,

celebrate life,

rejoice in the views of eternity

and hope my choices will create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others.

This is my choice.

 

I have learned that in every circumstance that comes my way,

I can choose to respond in one of two ways:

I can whine or I can worship!

And I can’t worship without giving thanks. It just isn’t possible.

When we choose the pathway of worship and giving thanks,

especially in the midst of difficult circumstances,

there is a fragrance, a radiance,

that issues forth out of our lives to bless the Lord and others.

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