161009 – A Habitude of Gratitude

Yr C ~ Canadian Thanksgiving ~ Philippians 4:4-9

As many of you know I love making up new words. When I was trying to figure out how to make a clever message title for Thanksgiving I was playing with the word gratitude, but I didn’t want to use the familiar “attitude of gratitude” line. Plus I wanted to underline from the Philippians reading that the spiritual life requires an ongoing effort on our part so I came up with the word habitude! Awesome new word, right?! Except it isn’t! It’s an actual English word! I’d never heard it before but it’s a real word! It’s so great; I wonder why this word didn’t catch on?habitude-gratitude

Your habitude is your customary way of behaving or acting. It’s the usual activities in your day. It’s your ongoing practice of something. You’re in the habit of doing it. It’s a regular thing you incorporate into your life. A habitude is not just an inkling or a thought about something, it’s the actual doing of it.

Your attitude is your orientation, or outlook – it’s your way of viewing or approaching a situation. It’s how you tend to feel toward something.
A habitude is an expected action – expected because that’s what the person usually does. It’s what you tend to do about something.

Your spiritual attitude might be just fine – you might think good thoughts, and have a solid theological lens to look at the world through, and be generally positive and hopeful in your faith, but if your spiritual habitude isn’t rocking your faith can’t grow.
So how’s your habitude?
What would a good habitude look like?
Let’s ask the apostle Paul.

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi was written while he was in prison – a reminder to us that in their time claiming to be a follower of the Way and daring to speak out loud about it had serious consequences. So from prison Paul reaches out to the Philippians and reminds them to rejoice!

Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!”

How often are we supposed to rejoice? Always! Without ceasing.
Does that mean we’re supposed to be perpetually happy? Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. No one is happy all the time. Life doesn’t work like that.

But then, it doesn’t say to be happy all the time, it says to rejoice all the time, and even more importantly it says to rejoice ‘in the Lord’.

Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice because you are in communion with the Holy Mystery we call God. Rejoice because at your core you are one with the Sacred. Rejoice because you’re blessed and loved and you are not alone – rejoice regardless of your circumstances. Joy isn’t a feeling, it’s an orientation. Happiness is an attitude; rejoicing is a habitude!

Paul continues, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” (v.5)
That’s interesting. Gentleness. Not your passion, or your intelligence, or whatever, but let your gentleness be known to everyone.
“The Lord is near.” That’s not near as in “Jesus is coming soon – look busy!” It’s near as in right here!

Rejoice and be at peace because God is near—God is right here. The challenge is that it isn’t enough to just say that—you’ve got to live it, trust it, constantly keep reminding yourself of it, constantly keep looking for signs of it all around. That’s spiritual mindfulness.
And if you do that your Spirit will develop a sense of gentleness, and that body language and soul glowing will communicate to people far more than your words ever could. In other words, practice mindfulness (knowing that God is near, that God is present), and you’ll grow gentleness and people will notice. Make it your habitude.

v.6 “Do not worry (or have anxiety) about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

“Be happy all the time and don’t worry about anything!” Well, that might be a nice idea, but it isn’t human, and it’s not what Paul said. What he said was “don’t just sit there and worry about stuff, do something about it.”
Worrying just spins your wheels and gets you nowhere. I think it was Louis Buscaglia that said “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow—it only saps today of its joy.”

So what do you do with your worries, with your anxiety?
What does Paul say we should do?

Two things: prayer and supplication.
Did you know they’re different things? This is subtle, but I think it’s really important. The Greek root of the word ‘prayer’ is pros which means toward.
So to pray is to turn toward God, to open yourself to the Holy, to lean into the Sacred.
That’s it. That’s prayer.

But when we pray we usually start talking. “Dear God, blah blah blah, I’m really sorry, yammer yammer yammer, I just WANT…”
That’s a type of prayer called supplication or petition – it means expressing desires. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good! We need to express our desires to God and I think God wants to hear them. The question is do we talk so much to God that we forget to listen?

So, how about you? Do you do more ‘prayer’ or more ‘petition’?
What’s your habitude of prayer?
It’s probably more petition. That’s the tradition we inherited. In our churches we tend to do far more petition than prayer.
Words, words, words, words, words.

That’s why we make a point of having brief periods of silence in our worship gatherings – because Paul reminds us that while voicing our supplications is important we can’t forget to simply turn ourselves toward the Holy and soak up God’s Sacred Presence in silent, open, wordless prayer.
Prayer is mindfulness, not just mouthfulness!
We’re trying to change our habitude of prayer—and if you don’t really have a habitude of prayer at all then this is the perfect time to start!

And what’s the benefit of this change in habitude? Oh, nothing much. Just this:

v.7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That’s all you get from prayer. Just an indescribable sense of peace that becomes such a vibrant part of you that it feels like it’s standing guard over your heart and mind and helping you move through life’s challenges.

And if you’re not getting that from your prayer time it’s probably because you’re doing too much talking and not enough listening!

And then we get the list; this beautiful list of things that grow out of knowing and practicing the peace of God.

v.8 “Finally, beloved, (make these your habit) – whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Minds freed from debilitating worry, and Spirits filled with joy and peace, spend their time thinking about these things. Who would want that?!

And then the big finish:
v.9 “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul knows they’ve been trying. He knows they are doing their best to learn to be faithful.
So he says, “Keep it up! You’ve got to keep working at it—keep practicing—keep pouring yourself into it—you’ve got to keep on keeping on!
Keep on doing all these things: rejoicing, gentleness, mindfulness, praying, concentrating on those wonderful aspects of life—keep on doing these things, make these your spiritual habitude and the peace of God will be with you. Practice being present to Presence and Presence will practice being with you.”

Here’s the hard part. It doesn’t just happen.
I’m sorry to say that you can’t just stroll in here on Sunday morning and then stroll out an hour or so later and know peace. Sure, you’ll probably feel better for being here and hopefully will leave uplifted and energized, but if you really want to know deep joy and deep peace it has to become more than a wish or an attitude. It has to become a habitude. It takes practice. Practice and practice and practice.

Most of you have a good habitude about attending worship, and a really good habitude of giving of yourself to the work of the church.
But how’s your habitude of prayer – of toward-ness?
How’s your habitude of learning about the bible and theology?
How’s your habitude of compassionate outreach?
How’s your habitude of taking this stuff beyond Sunday morning and into every facet of your living?
The faith journey is a challenging but rewarding one!

It’s kind of like being a musician. You might have an innate musical gift and talent, but it cannot grow to its potential awesomeness for you and the world unless you practice. Spirituality is exactly the same thing. It isn’t an event, it’s a habitude.

Now let’s take all this and apply it to Thanksgiving.
We’ll probably all gather around tables with family or friends this weekend, and someone will probably say something about being thankful. Maybe you might even be adventurous and pray about it. Or maybe you’ll go around the table and everyone will take a moment and say something they’re thankful for. That would be a wonderful thing to do at your Thanksgiving dinner.
Or any dinner.
Or at any time of the day.
Do you do that? Are you in the habit of naming your gratitude?

That’s the point of what we’re talking about today, the point of Paul’s letter. It isn’t to be thankful once a year, or once a day, but to be thankful all the time – to practice reflecting on your life and expressing your thankfulness – to have not just an attitude of gratitude but a habitude of gratitude.

But it isn’t easy. It takes work. This spiritual stuff demands much of us.
It demands we carve out time from our over-busy lives and practice toward-ness.
It demands we figure out ways to stay mindful of the Sacred even in the midst of our busyness.
It demands that we not just say we’re grateful once in a while but learn to become aware of our gratitude always—and rejoice!
The spiritual life needs more than your good attitude – it needs your wholehearted habitude!

And what do you get for all your trouble? What’s in it for you? Not much—just a sense of deep joyfulness, and the promise that “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

And that’s definitely something to be thankful for!



[This was first preached at Thanksgiving in 2013 and updated for this year.]