The spirit of thankfulness!
PROFESSIONS OF FAITH
Some people forget the names of people they just met. That’s awkward. Some people are famous for forgetting where they put their glasses-even when those glasses are on the top of their head. Am I describing anyone here today?
What are you most likely to forget in the course of your day or your week?
Cell phones, shoes, car keys, locker combinations-what is it that you are most likely to forget? And why do we so easily forget things that are fairly important to us? I think it’s likely that it’s because we are not living in the moment. Our mind is someplace else. We are rushed, stressed, distracted. And so . . . we forget.
A woman wrote into a website called Brightside.me telling about a stressful morning recently when she overslept and had to hurry to get to work. Has that ever happened to you? She rushed around her apartment, pulling on clothes and throwing supplies in her handbag. When she got to the office, she finally sat down to catch her breath. As she did, she glanced in her handbag and saw two eyes staring up at her. In her rush to get ready, she had somehow put her cat into her handbag. The shocked kitten had sat calmly in her bag all the way to the office.
Yes, strange things can happen when we’re rushed, stressed and distracted.
Back before COVID-19 when air travel was at its busiest, the Transportation Security Administration reported that air travelers left behind about $1 million each year in loose change at airport security bins. One million dollars every year in loose change! TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein says that security checkpoints can be stressful and distracting, and travelers often forget to take that last look around and make sure they got all their items. Their mind is someplace else. And that little lapse in focus adds up to $1 million in loose change for the TSA each year.
This week, people all over the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Author Charles Dickens accused Americans of celebrating this holiday all wrong. He said that we should set aside one day each year to complain. And then he said, “Use the other 364 days to thank God each day for the many blessings He has showered upon you.”
I think we would all agree with Charles Dickens. But why don’t we thank God continuously every day for our many blessings? How could we forget something so important? I guess it happens because we are hurried, distracted, and stressed. Our mind is someplace else. And so, we forget the incredible blessing of being alive, of having a sense of hope, of having people who love us, a roof over our heads-incredible blessings. How could we possibly forget?
John Kralik was a lawyer in Pasadena, California. Back in 2007 he reached a low point in his life. He was twice-divorced, out of shape, having money troubles. What did he have to look forward to? How did he get stuck in this downward spiral? But in the midst of his tough circumstances, an idea came to John: write one thank-you note every day for a whole year. This was John’s way of forcing himself to notice something positive in his life. He began writing one thank-you note each day to family members, friends, colleagues, former bosses and professors and teachers.
And this act of writing one thank-you note each day changed John’s life. He wrote about it in his book A Simple Act of Gratitude. His relationships improved. He left his negative mindset behind. He began to notice dozens of reasons each day to be thankful. And as he became more thankful, he became more joyful and hopeful too.
The Apostle Paul didn’t write 365 thank-you notes. But he did write about half of the letters that make up the New Testament. And Paul’s letters overflow with thanksgiving. No matter what challenges he endured, Paul’s letters, like this letter to the church in Ephesus, were filled with thankfulness. And so, they overflow with joy too. Ephesians 1 is a great example of heartfelt gratitude put into action.
Paul was thankful for the faith and love of his fellow believers. In fact, Paul was so thrilled by the faith and love of the Ephesian church that he wrote, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”
“I have not stopped giving thanks for you . . .” That’s some serious gratitude! He was inspired by their faith in the Lord Jesus and encouraged by their love for one another. Their faith in Jesus gave them a foundation of hope and purpose for their lives. And it inspired their genuine love for one another.
Stop and think for a moment about how amazing the church is. Once you and I claim Jesus as Lord, we become brothers and sisters with people of every nation, language, culture, and race all over the world who also claim him as Lord. We gain an instant family of people who live under the command to love each other as much as Jesus loves them. Yes, we are all hypocrites. None of us lives up to Jesus’ example all the time. But we walk into any Christian church in this world and ask people the question, “How has your church family shown its love for you?” and we will get story after story of people whose lives were changed by the love and encouragement of their church.
Faith in action means love in action. Paul put his thankfulness into action by praying regularly for the church. How often do you and I pray for our church? How often do we pray for the worldwide Church? Paul didn’t take the church for granted. He made it a point to regularly pray that God would bless the church in Ephesus. And what was the greatest blessing he could pray for? That they would come to know God better. Because as we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow in our level of love, joy, faith, hope, peace.
Something happens when we pray regularly for the church. Our love for our fellow believers starts to grow. Our unity with others starts to grow. I can almost guarantee you that the people who complain the most about their church are the people who pray the least for their church. The people who start controversies and conflicts in the church are the people who are least likely to serve in ministries in the church. When we pray for the church, we start to see more opportunities where we can serve others. When we pray for the church, God may work all sorts of positive changes in our church. But more importantly, God will work all sorts of positive changes in us.
When Scott Macauley was 24 years old, his parents were going through a divorce. His family was arguing and torn apart by bitterness. And Scott dreaded the thought of Thanksgiving. He wanted to share Thanksgiving with people who wouldn’t take the holiday for granted.
So that year Scott put an ad in his local paper inviting anyone who might be alone on Thanksgiving Day to come to his house for dinner. He cooked a big meal, and a few people came, and they all had a good time. And Scott decided that this was the truest way to celebrate Thanksgiving, so he’s done this every year since. He’s fed police officers, newly widowed or divorced people, immigrants who are new to the U.S. and still learning English, people who have just moved to his town and haven’t made friends yet.
Scott tells of one woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease who hadn’t left her nursing home in seven years. When she heard about his Thanksgiving dinner, she hired an ambulance to drive her to his house. She had a great time at his dinner and cried when it was time to leave.
Scott says that he wants the theme of his life to be “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” He is a great example of how the spirit of thankfulness spreads joy to others.
When we put our thankfulness into action, we brighten the corner where we are. We change lives.
Paul reminded his fellow believers that the greatest reason to be thankful is their salvation through Jesus Christ. Paul spent the first part of his life as a religious zealot, but a man whose heart was far from God. Once he understood God’s love for us through Jesus’ life and death on the cross, Paul overflowed with thanksgiving. He endured every kind of suffering and persecution so he could share that joy with others. And he is still sharing his joy and thankfulness with us today.
That was the secret to Paul’s overflowing, never-ending thankfulness and his joy. If we choose, we can make every day Thanksgiving Day. Make a choice to live in this moment. Notice the many blessings of life that you and I usually take for granted. Thank God that we are surrounded by other believers who share our hope and our joy. Let’s put our thankfulness into action by praying that others would know the great gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and that our fellow believers would grow in their faith in the Lord and their love for one another. And together, we can share in a thankfulness and joy that will draw others to Jesus and change lives.
Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 27th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA.