“Grateful: Emotion v. Ethic”

Weekly Bible Devotional

“Grateful: Emotion v. Ethic”

October 31, 2021

 

Scripture for Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

Notes on the Text:

This the first letter to the church in Thessalonica. Paul had a good relationship with that church. This was the capital city in Macedonia, a bustling seaport, with a new church largely gentile in membership. Yet, they had some struggles. There was a lot of pressure in that city on the church to conform to the norms of their society. This was a city that had a very dominant Imperial Cult where the worship and adoration of the emperor was very important. The followers of Jesus in Thessalonica were trying to be faithful and one of the things that gave them great hope was the belief that the return of Jesus was imminent. They just needed to hold on a little longer and things as they knew them would end. The way they understood the teachings of Paul was that Jesus was coming back literally before any of them would die. But several of them had died and it seemed that the delay in the physical return of Jesus was making them fearful. What if they got it all wrong? What if this second coming was not going to happen in their lifetime?  These must have been tough questions for Paul to answer because the expectations of the people were getting in the way of their ability to appreciate their lives and the presence of Christ in them in the present moment. Paul brilliantly responded in a very caring way.

He reminded them of the basics of following the way of Jesus and that doing those things was the only way to live with hope in times of uncertainty. One of the things he prescribes to them is to give thanks in all circumstances. Even though their expectations about the timeline of the return of Jesus were bringing them down, they needed to be reminded that the only proper response was to keep the faith, pray, fulfill their mission, and to give thanks. Gratitude was the most effective spiritual practice the people of God throughout their history. Actively giving thanks was the only way to ground the people of God in the story of God of enough instead of the world’s story of scarcity. Paul had every reason to feel the scarcity and pain of the world as he faced many hardships and challenges in his ministry. Here is a list of some of his hardships he endured in the course of his mission for Christ according to 2 Corinthians 11:23b-28 “With far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” In addition, he lost several ministry co-workers due to conflict. Yet, in all of it, he practiced gratitude each day by praising God. One of my favorite stories about Paul is the story of him and Silas singing in prison according to Acts 16: 25 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Paul’s gratitude was grounded in his daily practice of prayer and praise.

 

For Reflection:

The Apostle Paul left us a wonderful example of the power of gratitude. It is easy to let our circumstances dictate our behavior and our lives. So when life is good, we feel good and when life is bad we feel bad. With such swings we forget to see the grace of God in each moment of our lives. We may even feel cut off from others and from God. Gratitude becomes our path back to God and to the flow of God’s grace. In this way, gratitude becomes an ethic and a disposition in life instead of just a feeling.

One of the pieces that really spoke to me from Diana Butler Bass in her book Grateful is how practicing gratitude enhances our experiences of the past, present, and future. She talks about it this way: “Engaging the past more graciously, living more appreciatively now, and building thanks into the foundation of our future. Attending to our lives with hindsight, wide sight, and foresight moves gratefulness from emotion to ethic.” Sometimes our gratitude for the past might be blocked by negative or painful experiences. But “recalling the past through the eyes of thankfulness strengthened gratitude in the present.” This is not about nostalgia, it is about seeing God’s grace even in difficult times from our past. Wide Sight is about being intentional each day about being aware of the grace of God in the present moment, even when it is hard to see. Foresight is how gratitude can build up our resiliency to face the challenges that come our way and to be primed to see the grace of God in what comes to us.

Here is a devotional reflection from Diana Butler Bass on the theme for this week:

Thanks in Action

Quote from Grateful: “Gratitude is more than emotion. It is also a disposition that can be chosen and cultivated, an outlook toward life that manifests itself in actions. Gratitude involves not just what we feel but what we do. ‘Thanks’ is both a noun and a verb.”

Awareness: I am very good at feeling thankful. But I forget to tell people how much I appreciate their work, something they have done for me, or a gift they have given me. Too often, I neglect the connection between emotions and actions. We cannot, however, read one another’s minds. Living gratefully means doing things that embody thanksgiving. When we link our feelings to actions, we bring our truest selves into relationship and community with others. And that can be frightening, for we do not always know how our words or works will be received. Acting on gratitude can be risky. What are you afraid of losing or confronting if you take action?

Practice: Write a thank-you note to someone who has been kind to you, gave you a gift, or helped you in a meaningful way. This may be to a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a colleague, a spouse, or a grandparent–or to someone more distant, a person you do not know but who has been important to you. The note might be a text, an email, a short letter, a post on social media, or an old-fashioned card. • How did you feel as you wrote? • How do you think the person receiving your note might feel when receiving your words? Jot your responses in a small notebook or on your cell phone. In the evening, review and reflect on the power “thanks” as a verb.

Prayer: Let me never be content with merely feeling grateful. Instead, fill me with courage to act on thanks. Amen.

Grateful

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