“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2
I am not sure why this verse struck me this morning. Often when I’m in the homestretch of one of Paul’s epistles in the Bible, I’ll start glossing over the last few encouragements.
But something about how Paul connects “keeping alert” with “attitude of thanksgiving” struck me.
Two questions popped into mind….
- Why are we supposed to be alert and for what?
- How does an attitude of thanksgiving or gratitude help to keep us alert?
Why Be Alert
What is Paul putting his finger on when he’s telling us to be alert?
I really don’t know exactly what he’s referring to. Another translation says “watchful”. My feeling is that the key to knowing what to be alert for is all tied up in his command to have an attitude of thanksgiving.
If we pray and live withOUT gratitude, what starts sneaking through the door of our hearts?
A quick brainstorm reveals the possibilities:
If gratitude isn’t a watchman for us, then it’s very possible that we focus so much on what we don’t have and on what others have that we begin to allow others’ priorities to create sideways feelings, attitudes, and discontent.
In other words, we get distracted and thrown off course.
How Gratitude Keeps Us Alert
According to Paul, gratitude is the tool to help keep us alert.
But how? How does this self-helpy idea of gratitude keep us aware and watchful?
I’m sure there’s more ways, but here are two…
- Gratitude anchors us: Gratitude reminds us that there are actually blessings in our lives. When we’re tempted toward comparison or greed or selfishness, focusing in on what is currently true and good can be a powerful practice. And don’t tell me you have nothing good in your life. Some of the most powerful stories are from people whose lives were a wreck from all outward appearances, but were able to focus in on a speck of hope and built a tunnel through the mess solely based on that tiny speck of hope.
- Gratitude creates leverage: When we’re grateful for the resources and relationships we have in our lives vs wishing we had other stuff or other relationships, we learn to build into those relationships (making them grow) and become good stewards of those resources. When you’re thankful for the job you have vs. sitting around pining for some other situation, you’ll leverage your position, you’ll grow your skill base, and you’ll influence those around you for good. You’ll be watchful for ways to make impact.
When I think through the Simply in the Suburbs informal model (or what, I’m not quite sure): (1) Clear priorities – (2) Vision for those priorities – (3) Intentional action regarding that vision – (4) Focus, refocus, and refocus again to remove distractions – (5) Commitment for the long haul, I believe that gratitude is integral to number 4.
One of our biggest distractions is allowing ourselves to veer off our own journeys toward someone else’s priorities. Gratitude reminds us why we are on the journey we are on. Paul knew this. He was talking to a bunch of Christians who had a lot more to lose than most of us will ever have to deal with. As powerful as the idea was for them, it’s no less for us.
Gratitude is more than making lists of things we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving is a deep sense that where we are and what we have is right where we need to be, even if we know we’re heading towards better things. With gratitude, we can more fully engage and, consequently, have a better chance to grow toward and earn that next best step.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I don’t always think through these things completely before hitting publish. It’s more fun that way!