Not long ago I opened my mailbox and lo and behold it contained a gift box. I took it out, opened it and inside were two beautiful tea mugs. I took out the card inside, read the note and was stunned. The gift came from someone I had helped out in a professional (as opposed to pastoral) situation, with a matter which involved an infinitesimal pecuniary effort, and required more kindness than work. I even felt I had not done enough because I had not followed through with my intention to call later to enquire how things eventually worked out. Yet here they were expressing gratitude and in a way that showed they had given some thought to the matter, as the nature of the gift showed, my love for tea is well… I was stunned and moved. Moved because I am in the business ‘pastorally’ of helping people and that compared to what I normally do in the course of that business this was negligible. Yet, they felt real gratitude and expressed it in a most thoughtful manner.
Of course it set me thinking, again, about gratitude; and God’s thinking on the matter. Gratitude, and its expression thanksgiving, are peppered over the pages of Scripture. We are enjoined to ‘Be thankful’, to ‘give thanks’, to ‘magnify God with thanksgiving’. Thanksgiving is a courtesy extended to men and to God. It is more than a glib, dutiful thank you, it speaks of kindness, respect and honour extended to the person who has favoured us. Over and over again I say this to our people ‘when someone has been a major help to you, that person must now become sacred in your eyes and if the whole world were to turn against them, you will do well to hold your counsel, stay judgement, and sheathe your knife; remember that they were there for you when no one else was.’ We must not be so quick to turn our backs on those who have been instruments of mercy in our lives.
Gratitude is a big deal, it is a measure of our mettle as men and women of God. Those who stone the prophets will witness a dearth of prophecy, we cannot dishonor those God uses to bless us and continue clamouring for His blessing. We must be careful not to raise children with such an overdeveloped sense of entitlement that they become self absorbed adults who take and grumble, oblivious to the price paid by the one proffering assistance and devoid of any sense of gratitude towards those who have given them a helping hand in their time of need. Nobody owes us anything, all is grace and we must learn to value every good done us and value the doer and continually seek ways to be a blessing to them. Lest I be misunderstood, it is not about giving physical gifts per se, (so hold back the tea mugs and sundry teas) rather it is about keeping a right heart and attitude and never forgetting.
The psalmist puts it well, he enjoins his heart concerning God ‘Forget not His benefits’ and proceeds to enumerate God’s acts of kindness towards him. Indeed thanksgiving is the foundation and gateway into worship. At our New Year’s day meeting, as we prayed, we spent more time than I had previously expected expressing our thanksgiving to God. It just seemed as if we had to keep going, there was more that had to come out of us in our expression of gratitude to God. It is not about mumbling or shouting our thanks to God, a bit like the child who says thank you to the parent because he has been schooled to do it and it is expected of him. Rather, it is about our hearts truly being moved by the consciousness of the goodness of God to us, it is a place of openness and real honesty and humility, acknowledging our debt to our Father. Sometimes indeed it takes a while to move people to that place in the Spirit, but we got there; and the afternoon meeting was glorious, suffused with the presence of God.
We had shown our appreciation and even greater favour came to rest upon us. Indeed it is in the nature of gratitude to attract even greater favour. So be thankful. God will connect you with people who will reach out to you in a difficult situation, who will provide a solution to a conundrum you had been grappling with, who will listen to you when you need to talk, who will pray for you and pour love on you; decide right now that you will honour them and be grateful, grateful to them and grateful to God for putting them in your life. And as you speak kindly of and do good to those who have done good to you, you will certainly see good multiplied to you. I think I need a cup of tea.