A few years ago, university psychologists conducted a research project on gratitude and thanksgiving. They divided participants into three groups. People in the first group practiced daily exercises like writing in a gratitude journal. They reported higher levels of alertness, determination, optimism, energy, and less depression and stress than the control group. Not surprisingly, they were also a lot happier than the participants who were told to keep an account of all the bad things that happened each day.
The benefits of gratitude are enormous and obvious; but we need to understand that there are two kinds of gratitude. American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards identified them as Natural Gratitude and Gracious Gratitude.
Natural Gratitude, as its name implies, flows out of us effortlessly when good things happen to us. It could be something big like receiving an inheritance or as small as someone letting you go ahead of them in the checkout lane. But there’s nothing very hard or difficult about it.
Gracious Gratitude can be more challenging because it’s the gratitude we express for God and His goodness even when we are surrounded by difficult circumstances. It’s rejoicing in God’s character and love for us when the health report is negative, the bills outweigh the checkbook or a family member dies unexpectedly.
This gracious gratitude for who God is also goes to the heart of who we are in Christ. It is relational, rather than conditional. Even though our world may shatter, we are secure in Him. The source of our joy, the love of the God who made us and saved us, cannot be hindered by any power that exists (Romans 8:28-39). People who are filled with such radical gratitude are unstoppable, irrepressible, overflowing with what C. S. Lewis called “the good infection” – the supernatural, refreshing love of God that draws others to Him. The peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7).
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! ~ Romans 5:3-5 (The Message)