Generating Gratitude

contributed by Bud Reeves, Senior Pastor of First UMC Fort Smith

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

Do you ever have a hard time feeling grateful? Maybe it’s the age I am—I’m entering my “curmudgeonly years.” Or maybe it’s the age we live in. But some days it’s just hard to give thanks.

  • The political chaos of our country and the world is so disheartening. I still read a daily newspaper, but I’ve taken to calling it “my daily outrage.”
  • Our denominational future is at best uncertain; I vacillate daily between hope and despair.
  • People are hurting everywhere I turn: sick, dying, hungry, poor, lonely, dealing with grief, divorce, mental illness, and dementia. I hurt for them, and sometimes for myself.
  • I worry about the future of our church, our nation, our planet, and my children and grandchildren.

Some days I find it hard not to live with a “bunker mentality”—hunkered down, drawn inward, just trying to protect myself and my loved ones and hang on as we slide down the tubes.

That’s no way for a disciple of Jesus Christ to live! We are called to “give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thessalonians 5:18) How do we generate an attitude of gratitude? In this season of Thanksgiving, how do we give thanks?

I remember the Cokesbury hymnal song from days gone by: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done.” When we think about it, we really can.

  • God has brought us through tumultuous times before, both in our country and in our church. Our “better angels” have always prevailed.
  • In our personal struggles, sometimes a time of trial turns out to be a time of great spiritual growth. “In all things, God works for good.” (Romans 8:28) Through my worst times, I have still grown and learned. Even death is not the final answer; we have eternal life in Jesus.
  • The Word of God assures us, over and over, that we need not fear; God is ultimately in charge, and we can trust in God’s providence. Scripture gives us reasons to be thankful.
  • If we can get quiet before God, we can hear the “still, small voice” say “peace,” and in our hearts we know it’s true.

Of all the saints I have known—men and women, clergy and laity, young and old—the one universal quality of character I have seen is gratitude. To a person, the saints are thankful. I don’t think that’s an accident.

Gratitude generates stewardship. When we realize that everything we have is a gift of God, we strive to take care of what we have been given.

  • Thankful for creation, we care for the planet, from individual acts of conservation to advocacy for the big issues of recycling, climate change, and responsible development.
  • Thankful for our country, we participate in the process. We get informed; we vote; we engage in dialog for our best values.
  • Thankful for our church, we serve with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” Regardless of what happens with our denominational structure, we have a vital mission to make disciples and transform the world.

When we stop and think, God has been gracious to us in so many ways. So, in return, “like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. …Whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (I Peter 4:10)

I think I’ll put up my bad attitude, put down my “daily outrage,” pick up my Cokesbury hymnal, and sing!

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