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Finding Faith: Giving thanks is an active discipline

By Rev. CHRISTOPHER PASSANTE

Have you been the recipient of a gift that maybe wasn’t all that genuine? Often, our gratitude is commensurate with that gift: a lukewarm gift equals a lukewarm thanks.

As we approach the holidays, we are bombarded with Thanksgiving messages and told what we are to be thankful for: luxury SUVs, diamonds, video game consoles… Gifts that may cost a lot of money, but little heart. Things of this world, as we know, don’t last.

But those that do last are the very things of the heart: love, service, grace, justice. These are the gifts that Jesus gives us each and every morning.

But when we receive such amazing gifts daily, we may have the tendency to take them for granted; after all, these “new morning mercies” are always present. Despite that they came from Christ’s work on the cross, if we give thanks at all, it’s only commensurate with our perception of that gift.

And our lukewarm gratitude is witnessed in our tepid worship, inconsistent Bible study, and reluctance to serve.

Thankfulness isn’t merely a perfunctory response; it’s a spiritual discipline. We must actively practice our gratitude. We practice gratitude by first recognizing the gift that we’re given. If done correctly, “Thanks” is not simply a word, it’s an act. For the gift we are given, we are to some degree transformed by it: We are in a different place now that it’s been given. We respond in thanks, then we act in gratitude. Acting in gratitude means living out the gift’s transformative power upon us and our lives.

But when we take for granted the gift — as simple as waking up in the morning — we take for granted the very understanding that we are not in control of our lives, of our hearts beating, of our own breathing.

What if we woke up each day thanking the Lord for the miracle of life and the potential of all the day could bring? How would that change our outlook on the day and our lives? How would that transformative discipline transform the world? If we don’t practice the discipline, we will never understand the gift itself. The gift simply becomes ordinary, and it creates in us religion and not true worship.

In his groundbreaking book, “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth,” Richard Foster writes “If we think we will have joy only by praying and singing psalms, we will be disillusioned. But if we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be joyful, that is, full of joy.”

We can’t merely go through the motions; we must daily practice connecting the gift to the Giver.

When we make that connection, we are truly grateful. And when we are truly grateful, we are transformed. And when we are transformed, we are able to transform the world. And we pray: “Let the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

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Christopher Passante is pastor at Mount Nittany United Methodist Church in State College. Reach him at cpassante@susumc.org.

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