The other day I was passing by a primary school and happened to see its motto displayed in large letters for all to see: ‘Be thankful’. Yes, I said to myself, that is a super motto not just for children, but for us all.
Certainly, as I come to the end of my antipodean travels I have so much for which to be grateful. I am grateful for the opportunity of visiting two such dynamic countries as New Zealand and Australia. I am grateful for the opportunity of teaching and preaching. I am grateful for the opportunity to see new ways of doing church. I am grateful for the kindness of so many people, including not least those who have had me in their homes to stay. It has been said that guests are like fish, which after three days they go off – and yet in spite of this I have been made welcome! At such a time, it is not difficult to be grateful.
There are, of course, times when life is tough and being thankful may be a challenge. This must have been true for the Apostle Paul, who for the sake of Christ endured all kinds of hardships. Yet as his letters bear witness, he practised the ‘discipline’ of thankfulness. In turn he calls us to ‘be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.18).
The reality is that there is always something to thank God for. As one wit observed, ‘If you can’t pay your bills, you can be thankful you’re not one of your creditors’. In similar vein it has been said that, even though we can’t have all we want, we ought to be thankful we don’t get what we deserve! Indeed, if you think you haven’t much to be thankful for, why not be thankful for some of the things you don’t have!
On a more serious note, it is good to ponder the observation of GK Chesterton: “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude”. He also maintained “that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
How does this all relate to a blog devoted to ‘church matters’? In the first place, I think that ministers could learn to be more grateful for their calling. Many years ago David Christie declared that the temptations of ministry are three in particular: “to recline, to shine, and to whine” (The Service of Christ, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1993, 66-94). Ministers can certainly “whine”. They whine about the lack of commitment of their members, they whine about the short-sightedness of their lay-leaders; and they whine about the long hours they have to work, the shortcomings of the church house they have to live in, and the meagre stipend they receive. Would that they could see things in perspective. For the reality is that (with the exception of bi-vocational pastors) they have been set free by the church to give themselves fully to the service of God. Instead of moaning at their people, they should be thanking them for this amazing privilege.
In the second place, I think that church members could learn to be more grateful for their ministers. Of course ministers are not perfect – their sermons can be boring, their creativity can be limited, and their people-skills may at times leave something to be desired. But they are Christ’s gift to the church (Ephesians 4.8). Instead of grumbling to others about their weaknesses, thank God for their strengths. Instead of criticising them when they mess up, praise them when they do well. As Bing Crosby used to sing, ‘Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on the affirmative”. For where people are grateful, ministers can grow in confidence and their ministries can begin to flourish. So look for the good points – and then comment on them as you say goodbye at the door!
According to a 2003 American study, people who cultivate thankfulness are generally happier and healthier than people who don’t! What is true of people in general, can also be true of a church. Where ministers and members cultivate thankfulness, the church becomes the happier and the healthier. So – for your sake and the church’s sake – be grateful.