Larry McKenzie, with his cowboy hat and Texas roots to boot, is one of the ministers at the church my family attends.  He is truly a great man, one of those you know “gets it” and who inspires you to “get it” as well.  When you meet Larry in the hallways of the church or at the supermarket he always responds to the typical “How are you?” with the reply, “Grateful!”  Even over the past few years as he faithfully cared for his ailing wife until her passing, his response remained the same.  Maybe that’s why he “gets it.”  He is grateful.

This is precisely what Michael Zigarelli argues in his book Cultivating Christian Character.  Zigarelli and his team surveyed Christians to determine the degree of Christian virtue or character they had and what traits and practices they had that contributed to their level of virtue.  What Zigarelli’s team found is that a disposition of gratitude was possibly the most important trait of all for a life that is highly virtuous:

Gratitude is one of the distinguishing marks of the high-virtue Christian.  But in fact, we can go much further with this statement: we’ve found that gratitude is the characteristic that most distinguishes high-virtue Christians from average-virtue Christians.  More than joyful living.  More than the practice of any — or all – of the spiritual disciplines.  More than anything else. (emphasis his)

Today’s reading says something similar:

If you are thankful, I [Allah] will give you more, but if you are thankless, My punishment is terrible indeed. (14:7)

In this surah it is Abraham who is used as the supreme example of gratitude:

Praise be to God, who has granted me Ishmael and Isaac in my old age: My Lord hears all requests! (14:39)

Unfortunately, humans are “truly unjust and ungrateful” (14:34) and only “offer ingratitude” in “exchange for God’s favor” (14:28).

As the Qur’an sees it, the issue at stake is not God’s glory.  Even if every human should fail to give Him the gratitude and glory He is due, this would not diminish God’s worth and glory in the slightest (14:8).  The issue is whether we as humans will benefit from the life that gratitude produces.  The Qur’an sees a higher quality coming from gratitude because of the direct favor and blessings of God it provokes (14:7, 37).  It also should be noted, though, that gratitude simply produces a greater appreciation for life and a positive attitude with which we approach the vagaries of life, whatever they may be.  However you see it, gratitude paves the way to a richer life.    

How can we foster a greater level of gratitude in our life?  That is a post unto itself.  This surah gives us part of the answer though: “remind them” (14:5), “remember”  (14:6, 7, 35).  It is hard to be thankful when we do not slow down long enough to notice the blessings of life and the moves of God.  A strong memory allows God to live right here, with us, a constant companion.  Remembering moves us to praise because we know our life is dependant on God, not simply our own power.  Memory leads to gratitude which leads, in turn, to spiritual strength.

Long ago, Cicero summed up this thought nicely:

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

What are you grateful for today?