Letter: Radical Gratitude
Commentary by Michael VandenBurg
Over a decade ago, Chuck Colson wrote that gratitude should be radical. He demonstrated that it was easy to be thankful when things were going good, when life was a pleasure, when friends were all supportive. What happens to our thankfulness however, when things started getting tough?
A university research project, Colson stated, studied gratitude and thanksgiving. One group of subjects was given instructions to keep a journal of all the things in the course of a day that they were thankful for. The second group was given instructions to keep a journal of all the things that had gone wrong. Not surprisingly, those in the gratitude half were more alert, more determined, had greater optimism and energy and less stress and depression. The second group found that they suffered more depression, greater anxiety, less energy and were less optimistic than even before the study began.
Gratitude is one of those functions of life that God has built into each of us to preserve life and to maintain hope. Other researchers have found in medical setting that gratitude in patients built stronger immune systems, greater hope and shorter hospital stays.
Radical gratitude goes beyond the superficial thankfulness we all experience when things go our way. It is a gratitude that reaches into the depth of spirit and shines though as we let gratitude be our response to not what God is doing for us but in who God is, what his character contains, his kindness toward us, his love, power and his grace. It is, as Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher and president of Princeton once said, a gratitude that buoys us in difficult times and attests to the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
This kind of gratitude or thankfulness is one that is relational in Christ and not simply situational and fleeting in the things around us that come our way. Scripture tells us that even those who do not believe are thankful for the good things that come their way, but those who cling to Christ, are thankful for who Christ is and the relationship He has with us. It is this gratitude that sees believers thriving, even in the face of death. It is this gratitude that allows the follower of Christ to be thankful in whatever situation they find themselves, because their gratitude is not dependent on what is happening to them but the relationship they have to God.
When believers start practicing this type of gratitude, the world will see a city of light set on a hill and will stream to its constant joy.