It’s always the noisiest one who get the most attention. Isn’t it? I have four children and one of them is the most subdued. She is the thinker, the model, the upright, the one who rarely gets in trouble. And sadly, she is usually the one we rarely notice.
In the long list of Christian virtues, gratitude is the most quiet. Try to recall the last time you commending another Christian for his or her virtuous qualities. Think about the most recent believer you wanted to model yourself after and ask yourself why? What was it that made them so commendable?
We tend to recognize those characteristics that are loudest—at least the loudest in our own mind. The pastor is so wise. The deacon is faithful. The wife is sacrificial. Paul is courageous. Daniel is prayerful. Have you ever recognized someone for being so uniquely grateful? Probably not. And yet, gratitude is one of the most critical characteristics of the Christian life.
Imagine yourself exuding the love of Christ without thanksgiving. Imagine that you are consistently sacrificial without offering thanks nor persevering in the faith with no gratefulness. Think of being gentle, patient, hopeful, kind, meek, devoted, but never expressing genuine gratitude. Your love would meet disappointment. Your sacrifice would smash your joy. Your perseverance would change to cold legalism. Every ounce of your good faith would be drained from your weary soul. Gratitude is the weapon against the temptations that war against every Christian virtue.
John Henry Jowett said, “Every virtue divorce from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” He calls gratitude a “vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic” that rids the body of negativity that would dry up the basins of Christian virtue. It is the victor’s medicine, the soldier’s refreshment. When the soul is battered and weakened from the war on sin, gratitude is the rejuvenating drink of the goodness of God.
Even the world recognizes gratitude as a transformative practice. Professors at Yale University argue that it is strongly linked to mental health. “Grateful people,” they say, “experience more joy, love, and enthusiasm.” Also, “gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.” Additionally, it helps people “cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including low blood pressure and better immune function.”
If this is true of all people living in God’s creation, how much more is it true for those who live according to God’s design, who have been reborn by His Spirit, and how much more the benefits! If anyone has anything to be thankful, it is we who follow Christ, who emptied and humbled Himself “to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). We have much to be thankful for. Gratitude should flood our hearts and run as deep as the sins that once enslaved us.
Do you whine? Do you grumble and complain? Do you think about giving thanks, but rarely express it? Do you find fault in many things that accompany your life? If so, you are robbing yourself a most critical virtue of the Christian diet. You are going to war against the world with flesh eating bacteria slowly consuming your body—ingratitude. You will eventually fall over in weakness, cave under pressure, and die in the middle of battle. Yes, gratitude is that important.
As we relate to our children, my wife and I have to be intentional about how and when we interact with the quiet one. The same is true of our walk with Christ and life of thanksgiving. We have to identify the virtue of gratitude and deliberately draw it out until it is a lifestyle. It cannot be a second-hand nobility. Gratitude is not a cute cameo in the Christian life.