pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV
This is the third of three posts on gratitude.
Jesus had a special word for a leper (one of ten and a Samaritan, not a Jew) who returned to give praise and thanks for his healing while the others (also healed) went on their way (Luke 17). Were they grateful? Surely, but was the complete healing, ‘Your faith has made you well (whole)’, the experience of the one alone, and was thanks the seal and sign of healing faith even more so than physical restoration? C.S.Lewis commented on the completion that gratitude gives to any blessing in a letter to his brother in January 1940.
‘It seems almost brutal to describe a January walk taken without you in a letter to you, but I suppose ‘concealment is in vain’. . . . I dined at the Harwoods that night and came away, on Tuesday morning, as you said in your last letter ‘thanking the Giver’ which, by the way, is the completion of a pleasure. One of the things about being an unbeliever is that the steam or ‘spirit’ (in the chemical sense) given off by experiences has nowhere to go to.
From The Collected Letters of C.S.Lewis, Volume II
Christmas. The season to be jolly, among other things. And not least among the others, Christmas is the season to be grateful, sometimes whether we feel like it or not. We may, in regard to our gifts, ask ourselves, ‘How can I look thankful for that?’ or ‘How can I show how grateful I am for that?’ In this first of three posts on the theme of Gratitude, C.S. Lewis suggests that one way to show our genuine gratitude for any gift, even the greatest gift of all, is to genuinely enjoy it.
‘I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different. How shall I put it? We can’t, or I can’t, hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message (‘That’s a bird’) comes with it inevitably, just as one can’t see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern. The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don’t just hear the roar; I ‘hear the wind.’ In the same way it is possible to ‘read’ as well as to ‘have’ a pleasure. Or not even ‘as well as.’
The distinction ought to become, and sometimes is, impossible; to receive it and to recognise its divine source are a single experience. This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore. Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun. If I could always be what I aim at being, no pleasure would be too ordinary or too usual for such reception; from the first taste of the air when I look out of the window, one’s whole cheek becomes a sort of palate, down to one’s soft slippers at bed-time.
I don’t always achieve it. One obstacle is inattention. Another is the wrong kind of attention. One could, if one practised, hear simply a roar and not the roaring-of-the-wind. In the same way, only far too easily, one can concentrate on the pleasure as an event in one’s own nervous system, subjectify it, and ignore the smell of Deity that hangs about it. A third obstacle is greed. Instead of saying, ‘This also is Thou,’ one may say the fatal word Encore. There is also conceit: the dangerous reflection that not everyone can find God in a plain slice of bread and butter, or that others would condemn as simply ‘grey’ the sky in which I am delightedly observing such delicacies of pearl and dove and silver. What sparkling flashes of God’s wit and brilliance, His coruscations, have caused your mind today to run back up the sunbeam to the sun and given you cause to give thanks and to worship the Lord?
From C.S.Lewis: Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Usually, our claims to specialness are in the hopes of claiming special privileges or special treatment so we would rarely think of discipline or the denial of our personal preferences and prejudices as the best way for God to treat such special examples of his creation. But sometimes what we want and what we need, what we want and what is best for us is other than we imagine. Sometimes, being special in God’s eyes means more than we would like.
This third brief post on the theme of specialness comes from C.H.Spurgeon.
‘This was a strange question for Job to ask of the Lord. He felt himself to be too insignificant to be so strictly watched and chastened, and he hoped that he was not so unruly as to need to be so restrained. The enquiry was natural from one surrounded with such insupportable miseries, but after all, it is capable of a very humbling answer.
It is true man is not the sea, but he is even more troublesome and unruly. The sea obediently respects its boundary, and though it be but a belt of sand, it does not overleap the limit. Mighty as it is, it hears the divine hitherto, and when most raging with tempest it respects the word; but self-willed man defies heaven and oppresses earth, neither is there any end to this rebellious rage. The sea, obedient to the moon, ebbs and flows with ceaseless regularity, and thus renders an active as well as a passive obedience; but man, restless beyond his sphere, sleeps within the lines of duty, indolent where he should be active. He will neither come nor go at the divine command, but sullenly prefers to do what he should not, and to leave undone that which is required of him. Every drop in the ocean, every beaded bubble, and every foamy flake, every shell and pebble, feel the power of law, and yield or move at once. O that our nature were but one thousandth part as much conformed to the will of God! …We need more watching than the billowy sea, and are far more rebellious. Lord, rule us for thine own glory. Amen.’