CULTIVATING AND MAINTAINING THE HABIT OF THANKFULNESS (GRATITUDE (PART TWO): WHY GIVE THANKS?

By: 
Rev. James B. Sellee, Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Camp Johnson Road, Monrovia

This second article of the series centered on the mechanic and necessity of thanksgiving considers the question, “Why should we give thanks to God and one another? What is the purpose and value of thanksgiving? What is the basis of giving thanks to God? This article will seek to explore a bit below. The introductory article on the definitions of key terms and background of the series made the following observations:

The four key terms of this series are thanksgiving, cultivate, habit, and maintain. They are all simple words. Thanksgiving is simply gratitude or appreciation. It can take the simplest form of “thank you” and yet with profound effects on both the doer and the object of this small act. To cultivate is to do something over and over until it becomes second nature to one; it is to nurture something until one can do it better, easier and faster. A habit is something that one does over and over until it becomes part and parcel of one’s nature; something that one can do easily without much thought and effort. And, to maintain is simply to keep and never let go what one has acquired.

There is a true story in the Bible about gratitude from an unexpected source. This story is told in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. When he reached a village between Samaria and Galilee he was met by ten lepers (ten persons suffering from leprosy). They stood at a distance and cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. He told them to go and show themselves to the priest. On their way they realized they were healed completely from this dreaded skin disease. But only one of them quickly returned to Jesus and fell at his feet, gave thanks to God in a loud voice. Jesus then asked a pertinent question, “Where not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give thanks except this foreigner?” Then he told the man, “Go in peace, your faith has made you well”.

In the ancient world leprosy was a terrible disease like smallpox or Ebola. In addition to the pain it inflicted on its victim, it also stigmatized them. They had to be isolated from normal human contacts. And if for any reason they had to come in contact with those who were not carrying the disease they had to carry a bell and be shouting, “unclean, unclean!” This is the dilemma Jesus delivered them from. But only one of them returned to say thanks. He happened to be a Samaritan. The Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings; they hated and avoided one another as much as possible. Among the Jews that received this free healing only the Samaritan returned and gave thanks!

This story speak to the rarity of gratitude and yet its great value. By and large a lot of people are ungrateful to God and those who do them good. Some are vey ungrateful to their leaders. Others are ungrateful to their parents and spouses who sacrifice much for them. But the few who are thankful ignite much good for themselves and others.

All human beings are encouraged and in fact commanded to give thanks to God in all circumstances and situations because God Almighty is the Source of all that each person is and has. The writer of Psalm 24 puts it accurately: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein” (14:1). The basis of all thanksgiving to God is that God is the Owner of us all and we are all mere stewards of his bounty. As stewards we manage what does not belong to us and are therefore accountable to the Owner. Our life and whatever comes with it is given on trusteeship. When we give him thanks in thought, word, and in deed we acknowledge that fact.

We give and ought to give God praise and thanks because we depend on him for every success and blessing of life. Our ingenuity, great planning and industry would amount to nothing if God does not give the rain and sunshine. Where would we be if he does not give health and strength? As Paul the Apostle right confessed: “I plant and Apollos waters but it is God alone who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

It is also our bounding duty to give thanks to one another for the good things we enjoy from one another (advice, guidance, encouragement, practical support that gives real relief in time of need, and the various ways others come alongside us to keep us going on in life). We depend on God and one another for whatever we have and enjoy in life. Ingratitude hurts. Conversely thanksgiving brings joy and warmth to God and the human heart. It ignites and propels the divine spark in each one of us. It begets more desire for goodness in the human thought and motivates for positive actions. We give thanks to express our dependence on God and on one another and this simple art of gratitude geminates goodness in us and in others.

Liberian Observer

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