The power of gratitude is the ability to see the good. More specifically, a grateful person is free to see the good. When we give thanks, our eyes are opened and our hearts can understand. Simply having eyes doesn’t guarantee sight. Eyes must be opened in order to see.
The reason we often don’t see things correctly is that we see things as we want them to be, not as they really are. Most people are blinded by greed or desire, or their vision is skewed. But a grateful person is afforded a deeper understanding and the ability to see things as they are.
Perspective is the ability to see with understanding, or have insight. The same circumstance can stir up multiple viewpoints.
The twelve spies sent to Canaan came back with conflicting reports. All went to the same land and saw the same people. The ten spies came back with very negative reports, intimidated by the land and the people of Canaan. But Joshua and Caleb described an exceedingly good land that flowed with milk and honey. All twelve saw the same land, yet they re-turned with two different sets of viewpoints: one with complaint and the other with gratitude. Joshua and Caleb were thankful for the land because they saw the good in it— because they saw it with God’s perspective. We can be thankful to God when we see good things.
The ability to see good is the ability to find good. It is the power of gratitude that allows us to find good things where there seems to be none. Daniel knew that he would be thrown into the lions’ den if he worshiped or prayed to the one true God, but he prayed and gave thanks as was the custom from his youth (Daniel 6:10). How could Daniel give thanks in that kind of circumstance? It was because he chose to focus on the greatness of his good God, his Protector whose powerful hand was with him in the midst of crisis.
Prayer and thanksgiving are holy partners. Giving thanks when we pray opens our spiritual eyes, allowing us to see further and deeper. Elisha’s eyes were opened, so he was not panicked when the Syrian soldiers invaded; he saw the angel army surrounding him and protecting him (2 King 6:17).
Jesus prayed a prayer of thanksgiving in front of the tomb of Lazarus. The people saw a body that had been there long enough to stink, but Jesus saw God’s glory. Jesus told Mary, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (John 11:40), after which he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, for he saw the good things. Jesus saw the resurrection from that foul smelling tomb, and he saw the glory of God.
God bestows the ability to see the unseen on those who have gratitude. The more thankful we are, the more good things there are to see. We can be thankful for all situations because we can see the good and find the good. This is why I begin each day by giving thanks.
When we are grateful, our eyes are opened to observe and be satisfied with even the littlest things, things that are easily taken for granted. We see infinite potential in them, helping us to see all things from the proper point of view.
A little thing can make an undetected difference that might then result in a huge difference. When we are grateful, we are like poets: we can see the things that others can’t see. William Blake, an English poet, said it this way in “Auguries of Innocence”:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
In order to see the small things, the wildflower or a grain of sand, we need to descend to the low places, to bow down. To see the universe and God’s tears in a little dewdrop, to observe small things and tiny movements, one must stoop to look.
The Magi came to bow down before the baby Jesus and to worship him. They were willing to lower themselves in order to meet Jesus, and in that baby they recognized the hope of redemption for humanity. They saw the fullness of God.
Jesus used a tiny mustard seed to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, for there is an infinite future in a seed. In “History,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Similarly, if one has kingdom eyes, a thousand trees can be seen in one seed.
Flowers are beautiful, but fruits are even more precious because seeds are in the fruits. Our lives are maintained and prolonged by things that come from tiny seeds. No matter how huge something may be, if there’s no life in it, there is no future. In order to experience the power of gratitude, we need to be interested in the little things, as Jesus was. He wanted the little ones to come to him. He praised the servant who was faithful with a little. And he was thankful for five small loaves and two small fish because he saw God’s abundance in the little things.
God uses the humble person who values the little things. Mother Teresa, a small woman who saved many people with the love of Christ, described herself as a little pencil in the hand of a writing God. A small person with Jesus does a far greater work than a big person alone. God’s interest is always in things that have been rejected, for there is nothing unimportant to God.
Let us be faithful with little things. Let us consider little ones precious and love them. Let us make this world beautiful by having gratitude for little things.
Adapted from Spirituality of Gratitude by Joshua Choonmin Kang. Copyright (c) 2015 by Joshua Choonmin Kang. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.
Joshua Choonmin Kang (ThM, Talbot School of Theology) is founding pastor of New Life Vision Church in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles, California. He is a speaker and has written books such as Deep-Rooted in Christ and Scripture by Heart. Pastor Kang is also the author of thirty books in Korean, including God's Grace That Turns the Life Around, with over 1.5 million copies in print.