And be thankful…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15,17
“And be thankful!” How easy it is to forget to be thankful even during the Thanksgiving season. We get worried about stuff in our lives, about all the things we don’t have, all the things that aren’t going the way we think they should, all the things we don’t have control of. Then we get anxious; we fear; we complain.
We live in a society that preaches that there’s never enough… never enough money, time, people, health, happiness, freedom, etc. “More, more, more” is the mantra that is constantly shoved into our ears and hearts, making it hard to be content with what we have much less thankful. We get so focused on the “not enough’s” that we become cynical and critical of others, complaining about all the things that we can’t control or think are going wrong. In our anxiety about not having enough, we start to fall into bad habits, listening to rumors, spreading misinformation, talking behind the backs of others, or just not caring.
In the midst of this muttering mantra of “more” comes the apostle Paul’s call to “be thankful...Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Christ.” Do everything in Christ, giving thanks to God! Life in Christ is a life of thankfulness, a life lived in the Spirit’s gratitude that remembers that “enough is plenty.” This constant thanksgiving can be hard to do. It takes a willing heart and the readiness to practice giving thanks even in difficult times.
What does living in the Spirit’s gratitude look like? Well, it pays attention to what it does have rather than getting sucked into the hole of scarcity. The Spirit’s gratitude sees problems not as roadblocks but as an opportunity to find another way of “doing everything in Christ’s name.” The Spirit’s gratitude gives thanks for the positives that can come even out of the toughest experiences. The Spirit’s gratitude sees everything as a possibility because nothing, even life out of death, is impossible with God. For in Christ, the glass is neither half-empty nor half-full; the glass is always overflowing with the abundant love of God and the power of new life that God shares with us every day.
To practice letting the Spirit’s gratitude into your life, try repeating again and again a simple prayer like “God make me thankful for enough.” Try tuning out the messages of “not enough” by turning off the TV or at least muting it during the advertisements. Try counting your blessings by writing down all the things, no matter how small or weird, that you are grateful for. And then whenever you hear yourself complaining, stop and name those things you are most thankful for to break the pattern of complaint. And definitely try forgiveness, both accepting it and giving it, for it is only in the new life given in God’s forgiveness that we can truly understand what it means to be grateful for the grace God has given.
Congregations can practice living in the Spirit of gratitude too. Instead of complaining about the changes happening, we can ask, “how can this help us know Jesus better?” Instead of beginning with the idea that time is scarce, we can begin by encouraging each other to see that, in thanksgiving to God, we will always have enough time to do what is important if we set priorities. Instead of thinking about what we don’t have or what someone else is doing that we don’t like, we can focus our faith on God and Christ’s love for us, from which nothing can separate us.
Being a thankful congregation in the Spirit’s gratitude means that we don’t spend our time worrying about the people who aren’t here or the things we don’t have. Instead, a grateful congregation is excited about who IS here and what we DO have. A thankful church takes an inventory of its many gifts and assets and then it asks, what can we do to serve God’s kingdom with the abundance we DO have? No church can be everything to everybody. But all churches have a myriad of spiritual gifts and an abundance of God’s love to fuel them if only they’re willing to let go of their worries about not having enough and live out their faith in gratitude.
So be thankful! And in every word and deed, give thanks to God for what God has done for you through his Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In gratitude for you,
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod