I’m sure it’s happened to you. You hold a door for someone and they walk through like you’re invisible. You pause during rush hour to let someone pull out of a parking lot and they move in without expressing any appreciation. You let someone else take a parking space and there’s no wave to say “thanks.” We live in an entitled society, and while there are exceptions to what I’ve described, more and more it seems like it is becoming the rule.
Gratitude. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary app on my iPad defines gratitude as “the state of being grateful.” That’s like saying that “hurting” is the state of being hurt. But then they define the word further as “thankfulness.”
Maybe you’ve experienced situations in which gratitude has been lacking. Maybe you can think of people who habitually fail to express appreciation when something is done for them. Maybe you’re tempted to preach a sermon on thankfulness as a Christian virtue, which it is. But before you do that, let’s look inside.
I believe this is an especially important quality for younger pastors to develop. It is one of those traits that affects relationships, and it also reflects our attitude toward others in our life. Let’s think a bit about thankfulness.
For instance, unless you came upon a burning bush, somewhere along the way God put people in your life who guided you toward ministry. Maybe it was a youth leader. Perhaps it was the pastor of your church or a Bible College or seminary professor who took an interest in you. You may have even had someone mentor you, providing you with opportunities to experience ministry and develop your skills.
Who paid for your education? Maybe you’re still paying for it month by month. And you may be doing that until you’re old and drooling. But many of us have had parents or other relatives who helped us.
Who has been there to listen to you when you need to vent, when you’ve reached one of those “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do” moment?
How about your wife, who spends more than her fair share of nights either alone or dealing with the kids because of another meeting you have to attend? How about the elder who comes to your defense when someone gets their nose out of joint? What about the older couple who slips you a twenty on the way out of church so you can have a date night? How about the friend who is always there for you, no matter what? Is there someone in your life who was willing to have a hard conversation with you when, as a young man, you showed just a little too much ambition or you didn’t respond well when someone didn’t buy into your ideas?
I could go on, but this suffices to remind us all that we owe a lot to people God has brought into our lives. Have we been appropriately thankful? Are we modeling gratitude for our people, both publicly and privately?
Colossians 3:12-17 contains a list of instructions about our behavior and attitudes toward one another. In the middle of what Paul writes, he says “and be thankful” (v. 15b). Later in the same paragraph he talks about being thankful toward God. But in this passage he’s addressing gratitude in our relationships with each other. Why does Paul tell us to act in a way that seems so basic? I mean, saying “thank you” is common etiquette, isn’t it?
In 2 Timothy 3:2, Paul tells his young protege that in the last days people will be ungrateful. It almost seems out of place when you see it in the context of the other sinful patterns he says will be more and more prevalent. But from where I sit, I can see it. Can you? Can you see how the spirit of entitlement affects how people act toward each other?
Pastor, let’s watch ourselves on this one. Maybe someone from your past is due a note, an email, or a phone call, telling them you appreciate how they helped you. Maybe you’ve already said it, but is there anything wrong with saying it again? Expressing gratitude and expressing it frequently trains our heart toward humility, because expressing sincere thankfulness reminds us we are not self-made, that we are not self-sufficient. Maybe your wife or a friend should hear again that you are grateful. Maybe your fellow staff members need the encouragement of being appreciated.
Maybe your whole church needs to hear it. What would it be like to close your worship service with this: “Before you go this morning, I want to say thank you and that I love you all. I hope you have a good day.”
Maybe you’ve got this one covered. But maybe if you’re honest, you can do a lot better. If not, take some steps away from the spirit of the age and make expressing thanks more of a habit than it is.
Oh, and before I close this, thanks so much for reading this blog! Have a good day today.