Gratitude is the most underrated and underused attitude and activity in all of human existence. It waits patiently to be utilized, always yearning to be expressed through word and deed. It never grows weary. It never grows old. It is the welcomed guest at the heart's door for all who kindly receive it. Gratitude blesses, challenges, beckons, and heals. Gratitude is, after all, grace...and since grace is something we receive without working for it, grace is something we cannot take credit for. The only response to grace is to give grace back. The only words that matter, then, are the two words in our English language that, when spoken in this order, change everything:
I was taught at a young age to express the words, "thank you" in several ways. In particular, saying "thank you" means that you are appreciative of a gift and its giver, whether it be something tangible like a new coat or a service done on your behalf (like a family member cooking your favorite meal, just for you). These two words, "thank you," have the power to bless the one who gives while also blessing the one who receives. I have yet to meet a person who was resentful or bitter from someone telling them "thank you." It is virtually impossible to not be affected by these soft, charitable words and it is unlikely that these words will not be followed up with "you're welcome" either.
To participate in a gratitude exchange, or to watch it happen is a thing of beauty in our culture. We take for granted the words "thank you" and often overlook their meaning and power by their overuse in the course of business, at a restaurant, or even on the phone waiting for a customer service representative. Regaining our appreciation for these precious and valuable two words changes (as I have noted above) both "thanker" and "thankee." Saying "thank you" reminds us both that we are connected to one another socially, that we benefit from one another's presence, and that we need one another in community. And now, more than ever, we need to offer our words of thanksgiving to others, especially for kindnesses that are done on our behalf. Today, when we offer or experience kindness, we must acknowledge it and let gratitude permeate the atmosphere of our conversations and relationships.
Even Jesus wondered why only one of ten lepers returned to tell him "thank you" for healing. Since Jesus expected a life of gratitude, we must live a life of gratitude without exception.
Perhaps it's time that we learn how to say "thank you" well. Mastering the art of gratitude expands our influence in our social circle and affects the people we interact with in major ways. We are known and perceived as humble, appreciative and unassuming, and these traits are indeed rare and becoming even more rare as the years progress. Our culture doesn't favor "returning the favor;" rather, it expects others to give without giving in return. Our culture assumes that it is owed something. Our culture has a subconscious sense of entitlement; this means that it abides by the acronymn "WIIFM": what's in it for me. Therefore, the danger of withholding the words "thank you" is that people become less community-focused and more isolated and egocentric. It only takes turning on the television or logging onto the internet for five minutes to see that the world's mentality is "WIIFM."
But God gave us this world as a gift to us.
God gave. God initiated. God created. God so loved. God gifted us with grace.
So what must the world's response be to the God who so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son? Sooner or later, it must be "thank you, Father God!" The danger of neglecting our "thank you" to the Son of God has devastating consequences in this life and the next. But for today, the people of God must especially exercise their gratitude muscles and spread thanksgiving around like a virus without a vaccine. There should be no antidote for eliminating thanksgiving from our social sphere. Yet, unconsciously, we are attempting to do just that. When all we care about is "what's in it for me?" there will never be any room for the consideration, "what's in it for you?" The two words that change everything, "thank you," cannot be said in isolation. They demand community (more on that in a bit).
Let me share a brief summary of God's grace in my life. I was born on January 17, 1976 to two generous, God-honoring parents. I was given a world-class brother on April 7, 1979. I received love in all sorts of material, emotional, and spiritual forms. Our pantry was never bare. I received treatment when I was sick. I had clothes on my back. I received a great education and took trips around this great country we know as the USA. I enjoyed Christmas mornings, Easter Sundays, birthdays, and even had a financial debt paid for in my 20s that was paid off by the grace-filled hand of my mother. Both my parents grew up with hard-working parents themselves. I owe a tremendously enormous "thank-you" to my Pap and Grandma who richly blessed my parents and my brother and me our entire lives (and that blessing continues today and will continue to do so in the future). I met my beautiful bride in 2005, got married in 2006 and met our precious, bliss-filled gift, Finleigh on April, 29, 2011. I have served the generous and loving United Baptist congregation for nearly seventeen years and we continue to have material blessings that allow us to enjoy our lives without fear of not having enough.
So what have I done to earn these blessings? Zip. Zilch. Nada. Zero. Nothing.
James 1:17 tells us: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." Though I often forget this eternal truth, it bears repeating: God gave. God gives. God will give. I did nothing to earn it. I did nothing to make it happen. Every good and perfect gift comes from Christ. My only response to this grace, can be, must be, has to be:
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
And if we are honest, most of us would not go back in time (if we could) to alter one moment of our lives. Even the valleys, the storms, and the challenges served to place our eyes of faith back on the Author of that Faith. Paul informs us in 1 Thess. 5:18 that we are to "...give thanks under all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." We are to thank him in the ditch and we are to thank him on solid ground. We are to thank him on the mountaintop and we are to thank him in the valley. We are to thank him in the light and we are to thank him in the darkness. We are to thank him, thank him, thank him! Even in loss, we are to say along with Job: "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, may the name of the LORD be praised!"
We are all blessed with so much! We have one another and we have the greatest gift of all to be thankful for: Jesus Christ! Beloved, celebrating the Lord's Supper is the embodiment of thanksgiving. It's where we worship the Giver and the Gift and respond with a grateful heart and commit to get up from the Table to live graciously. Additionally, is there someone in your life for whom you're grateful? Tell God "thank you" for all the LORD has done and is doing in your life through that person. Then, consider saying "thank you" to this person who has meant so much to you (in person, card, email, social media post, etc.). In the beginning God said, "Let US make man in our own image." God is in community with his Son and the Holy Spirit. God IS community! He made us be in relationship with him and with one another. Living life in the reality of the Lord's Supper draws us into the beautiful mystery of experiencing the oneness of the spiritual community: Christ reconciles us to God and creates one, spiritual family, called to serve one another in sacrificial love. Let us be thankful that we are not an isolated body of believers; rather, we are grace-filled disciples who together thank God for all he has done and thank one another for the Jesus we receive in each other's love. By thanking God and one another, the community of faith tells the world that God is the giver of all good and perfect gifts, he is the one who loved us enough to die, he is the one who longs to say, "You're welcome!" when people respond to his abundant grace (John 10:10). And let us thank God that we need not wait for our quarterly Lord's Supper celebrations to live life with gratitude and thanksgiving for Grace incarnate, Jesus Christ--our Savior whose amazing grace covers us in love and compels us to share that love, gratefully, with persons both familiar and estranged, both friend and enemy.
As we move into the month of July and consider how grateful we are to live in a country where freedom is celebrated, let us use that freedom to embody and express our faith-filled gratitude for the supreme love and mercy God's given to the entire world. Saying "thank you" is a great start; choosing to live every moment as an expression of gratitude is the best worship-filled gift we could give Almighty God. Therefore, the pinnacle of all responses, in word and in deed, aimed in the direction of our heavenly Daddy must be both now and for always:
Join us for Sunday School and Worship each Sunday and Bible Study on Wednesdays! Let's thank Christ as we learn about him and praise him here in our building and then thank him outside the church walls by loving others as we love ourselves! Amen!
Desiring to live out my "thank you" to God in loving service alongside each of you,
><> Pastor Will <><