Recently I was watching the film saving private Ryan and (spoiler alert) his Captain dies saying “earn this!” and the film closes with an elderly Ryan crying at the Captain’s grave asking if he was worthy enough?
It is the opposite of grace, how would you ever know if you’d done enough if you had earned it? If you were truly worthy? Yet I believe that many people try and earn their salvation trying to impress God with their good deeds, their spectacular piety and hardwork. Yet this a false gospel of works, or exchange and bargaining rather than a gospel (good news) of grace generously given by God.
Saving Private Ryan is a beautiful and moving film, but as I watched this I realised how unlike the Captain Jesus is. When Jesus died on the cross for us he said “it is finished” and the temple curtain split in two, he didn’t say “earn this” it was freely given and paid for in full and freely offered to us all who are undeserving.
We as humans know our total dependence on God, every breath in our lungs or beat of our heart is a gift from him. The food we eat, the love we give and the live we receive has its origins in God, in fact every good and perfect gift comes from him.
Rather than saying “earn this” Jesus said “this is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for you, feed on me by faith with Thanksgiving” -the idea of thankfulness and gratitude is at the heart of the Christian faith, the word Eucharist literally means “thankfulness”. To live “eucharistically” is to live each day with thankfulness to God, as are called to be a grateful people. We owe God everything ‘for he has created us and redeemed us”. When we were separated from God -dead in our sins- when there was no way God made a way for us to be reconciled with him through the wonderful unearned gift of Christ Jesus.
As I thought about my attitude I realise that I have become complacent about the beauty and the blessings all around me. I have fallen for the lie that happiness is consumable, ironic that we have more material possessions than we have ever had before and yet we have never been more depressed and yet we keep on and on spending!
Recently after/during a really tough bout of depression I was walking the dog along the beach and I was struck afresh by the beauty and wonder of creation, and began the mindful discipline of recalling what I wanted to thank God for. Often I take for granted all I have received and I need to reconvert my eyes and hearts to all I have been given, maybe this is true for us all?
When the dark moments come I recall the things I am grateful to God for -both large and small- and as I begin to resurrect gratitude in what I have rather than the pain of what feels wrong or is missing or lost. It is a tough discipline to create and maintain an attitude of gratitude, focusing on what we have rather than what we lack! Choosing to celebrate and savour our blessings to sustain us and making us more resilient in darker moments.
It is an act of faith to choose a different attitude, yet one that I believe causes us to shine, demonstrating something distinctive and beautiful to a watching world.
Gratitude brings warmth into our soul where as a scarcity mindset makes us cold, begrudging and bitter. A life of gratitude makes us healthy and whole where the opposite diminishes us.
Gratitude is transformative as when we realise that happiness and success is not measured by the accumulation of stuff we are liberated not only to find joy in living simply but in that to find contentment, a rare treasure within our culture.
Gratitude effects how we treat others, we have received so much from God that it should overflow into all our relationships and should exhibit generousity shining out from us to others, the more we are generous the more we look like God.
Gratitude will effect our priorities we who have received so much from God will (or at least ought) want to sacrifice themselves extravagantly in sharing what God has done with other people.
As I think of generousity I cannot help but think of the woman who broke a pint of pure nard over Jesus’s feet in an extravagant gesture of worship (costing about a years wages). The woman knew she was sinful and the Pharisee who seems smug and self righteous were told by Jesus that “those who have been forgiven much love much, and those who have been forgiven little love little!”.
So let’s pursue an attitude of gratitude together day as we emulate the God we serve in generosity.