The Treasure of Gratitude
Every year, in September or October, Jewish worshipers celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, to remember God’s care for them throughout the years that they wandered through the desert, on their journey from slavery in Egypt to their new life in the Promised Land. Scholars believe that Psalm 95 was written for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Indeed, the psalm concludes with a recollection from Israel’s time in the desert. But the focus of verses 8-11 is not on God’s good care of them but on the hardheartedness of those who doubted God and grumbled about Moses to the point that Moses feared that they would stone him to death. What is particularly interesting about the incident at Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17) is that it takes place on the heels of the people walking through the Red Sea (Exodus 14 & 15), and the bitter water of Marah being cleansed (Exodus 15), and the provision of manna from heaven (Exodus 16).
Psalm 95 is a call to us to make a choice concerning how we respond to the challenges we face in life. It is a warning to us not to choose the way of hardheartedness and grumbling (as happened at Massah and Meribah). It is an invitation to us to choose the way of gratitude and trust (as we are encouraged to do in the first seven verses of Psalm 95).
Verses 1, 2, and 6 are filled with invitations to us: “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise…. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
Such invitations to us to enter the practice of worship, trust, and gratitude ae invitations to us to step away from the misery of resentment and to step into God’s treasure house of joy and contentment.
Henri Nouwen explains, “Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy. Gratitude, however, goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.”
It is as though gratitude sets us free and invigorates our life. Robert Emmons points out, “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risks for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”
Henry Jowett adds, “Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”
Perhaps a young girl named Debbie expressed it best. When asked by Art Linkletter, “What is salt?” she answered, “Salt is what spoils the potatoes when you leave it out.” We could say something similar about gratitude: “Gratitude is what spoils life when you leave it out.”