Thursday, November 25, 2010

The harvest of gratitude

It’s a quickstep now, to the end of the year. The Thanksgiving holidays, winter festivals, the whole Christmas season, and New Years celebrations race along, catching everyone in their path. Miss one finger crossover in that sonata, and you’ll go sideways with the metronome! 
It’s like that at the ministry where I work, as we work through budget projections, strategic planning, the end-of-year bookkeeping, the most generous time of year for our financial supporters, the everyday duties, the conventions to prepare for and attend, and big projects with too-close deadlines. Of course, it never stops, because nothing slows down in the new year, either! It’s not as easy to keep smiling (as opposed to grimacing) when there’s so much pressure during the holiday season. Surely you have experienced the same thing. Even retired people say that since they retired, they’ve never worked so hard!
But then we receive a thank-you from halfway around the world or even across the country, reminding us that we are loved, appreciated, and that someone thanks God for us! That knowledge brings a burst of energy. It’s encouraging!
In Ukraine, I watched some “church ladies” who were entranced with the message of grace they heard from their visiting evangelist. And later, when that evangelist learned of their joy, he was encouraged and strengthened in his labors. In Russia, when the social worker at Zaoksky Theological Seminary heard of the American and Canadian interest in providing Bible teaching and comfort to “her” orphans, and watched as they impetuously filled the passed hat with $2300 in rubles, dollars, and grivnas, she wept for joy. (And the people who gave were not far from tears, either.)
Nearly a hundred evangelists left their families at home, and sacrificed thousands of dollars and weeks of their time to minister in Ukraine. Yes, they enjoyed their missionary service time there, they made friends, they loved the hospitality—but when they flew home, they were unsure of the results of their investment. They were planting seeds for the Holy Spirit to nurture and harvest—but they wanted to have a glimpse of the progress. Who wouldn’t?
God loves to give us gifts. So He inspired the union president to send a thank-you letter by email, along with an Excel file of the baptism and Bible-study preliminary results. Imagine the joy they’re feeling right now! They’ll not be able to contain their enthusiasm, but will share that excitement with their church families. 
“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, ‘He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.’ This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:8-11 MSG.
So sacrificial giving grows great wealth? Although it seems like a paradox, that’s what Paul is saying. Investing in seed and the hard labor that goes along with farming the crop leads to a multiplied yield. The harvested grain becomes bread for your meals, even the bread of Communion. God is truly extravagant.
When we realize even a tiny bit of what God has done for us in His mercy, compassion, and boundless love by offering His own perfect, divine life to give us eternal life at His side—we have a reason to be grateful. It’s so much more than being thankful for a nice house, job, health, loved ones, or a special meal on the table. God actually gives us the attitude and action of gratitude.
The English clergyman and poet, George Herbert (1593-1633), wrote,

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more—a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart whose very pulse may be
Thy praise.

“Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!” 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 MSG.
Yes, thank God for His gift of a grateful and gracious heart. Thank Him that we live in a country that recognizes that giving money, time, and thanks is a blessing to not only the recipient, but the giver as well. Thank Him that He has given you extravagant blessings in order that you may have the same joy of giving that He does.
Thank you, Lord, for making us grateful. Thank you for sharing brilliant glimpses of eternity and what our puny labors have wrought. Thank you for the very pizzazz and vibrancy that comes from giving—and from receiving thanks. Remind us to share that gratitude, that grateful heart, with those around us by thanking them.

Published elsewhere in November 2007

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