Over the last few weeks I’ve been consistently delving into the ancient practice of mussar each morning. This has been a huge source of inspiration and discipline for me. For those who are not familiar with mussar, in very simplistic terms it is a practice within Judaism that has been developed over the last thousand years to develop and hone ethical traits within a person, using the Bible as its fountainhead. It began to reach widespread popularity with the works of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter in the 19th century. The primary text I have been using thus far has been Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis.
This morning, as I began the next chapter, which deals with Gratitude, I came across something that made me reflect back on a conversation I had recently with a friend of mine. The text reads as follows:
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat ha’tov, which means, literally, “recognizing the good.” The good is already there. Practicing gratitude means being fully aware of the good that is already yours.
The last sentence in this quote is what got my attention, particularly the statement that we must be “fully aware of the good that is already yours.” In my recent conversation, my friend was sharing with me what he recently learned from his church. He said that he learned that everything we need has already been given to us, because of the work of Christ on the cross. Therefore, if we need healing, we just need to thank God for it and claim our healing, because we have actually already been healed by Jesus; we just need to claim it.
This type of teaching is typically called “Word of Faith,” and is prevalent among many charismatic churches. These two concepts sound like quite similar. They both seem to be centered on recognizing a reality that does not presently exist. However, if we look carefully at the differences between Hakarat ha’tov and Word of Faith, we will see that they are quite distinct. The first distinction is that the former looks backward, while the latter looks forward. Also, the former focuses on the blessings (whether obvious or seemingly hidden) one has already received, while the latter focuses on the blessings one will be receiving. The former says, “I thank you, Lord, for the financial blessing you gave to me in my time of need.” The latter says, “I thank you, Lord, for the financial blessings you will give me in this time of need, because I already possess them in Christ.” Again, the former is thankful for the previous reality, while the latter is thankful for the future reality.
The difference between the two may not seem significant. However, the fruit of the two lines of philosophy should be fairly apparent. The one who practices hakarat ha’tov is instilled with a sense of gratefulness and humility that his past needs have been supplied, and is assured that whether or not his present needs seem to be met (according to his perception), he has something for which he can already be thankful. The one who practices Word of Faith, however, is prone to presumptuousness and insolence in that he feels that his needs are an entitlement. This tends to allow one to walk before the Lord without humility and expect him to satisfy our own desires, rather than being thankful for that with which He has already blessed us.
I’m not saying that my friend is arrogant. I am saying, however, that this type of theology typically lends itself toward this mentality and I have seen it far too many times. We must remember, that although Jesus gave us everything, we should still be content and gleeful to be dogs who eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table, rather than demanding our share of the loaf. Let us “Count our blessings, name them one by one. Count our many blessings, see what God has done” and live a life filled with thankfulness, rather than presumption. Let us be truly thankful in this season of the many things our Heavenly Father has done for us without any expectation of what blessings we may or may not receive in the future.