Disciples of Jesus are called to be hope-filled people. If there’s one thing this missional approach to life has helped me with, it’s hope. God has a mission and invites us into it. How can that not bring hope? And this is what happens as we respond to the invitation: we got involved in the places God is at work. And where God is working, God’s Kingdom is unfolding and we get glimpses of it. Emotional healing takes place. Forgiveness happens. Relationships are restored. People are valued, not for status or their ability to produce, but for simply because they are loved by God. Work becomes more humanizing and satisfying. Generosity unfolds. People who are sick get better. Adversity is less destructive. Selfish agendas are released. Reputations are protected. Tears are shed, to be sure, but not without hope. Sin still invades, but grace swallows it up. Darkness still tempts, but light shines brighter. Bad old habits sneak in, but love undermines them. There is fellowship and support in hardship, mercy and understanding in times of failure, support for the weak and the struggling. Redemption unfolds. What was meant for evil is transformed into something good. And yes, the tasks are huge, but there’s a lightness in the room, joy, laughter, love, life, the presence of Jesus, and that means hope!
Last night, I got another glimpse. For our gratitude service, I asked Andrew, Paul, Becca and Lee to share something specific. Paul, for example, shared about finding gratitude through difficult season; Becca, through a difficult task; Andrew, through a difficult person. Lee wrapped it up, and talked about developing a discipline of gratitude. The stories were amazing and are theirs to tell, so I won’t attempt to recount. I wouldn’t be able to do them justice, anyway. And besides, my point here isn’t about their stories, per se. It’s about their willingness to speak up. That gives me hope. They shared from their hearts, personal stories. Emotional stories. They encouraged everyone in the room. They gave us an example to follow. If they can find ways to be thankful in the circumstances they described, well, then how can I not find gratitude in my journey, too.
One message that came loud and clear – they had learned something about sustaining hope. How? Well, by giving thanks.
Those who follow Jesus are commanded to give thanks in all circumstance, for it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. (I Thes 5:18). I looked this verse up up in the Greek. “In everything give thanks.” That’s a 2nd person plural verb. The Southern English Translation would be “In everything, y’all give thanks.” We’re to give thanks “in everything.” That means the good, bad, boring, thrilling, hard, easy, and mundane. It keeps us humble when we acknowledge God provides. It also teaches us to hunt for the less than obvious good things when we get discouraged. We become good at finding silver linings in grey clouds. We become good at discerning what really matters. Also, it helps to be in a thankful community. You may have noticed that cynicism (an enemy of hope) is contagious. Gratitude, is too. But unlike cynicism, gratitude is not the natural default. It takes effort. It takes work. It is a burden best shared. I find that being a part of a grateful community makes it easier. I have friends who can me see good things on cloudy days. (And for them, I am thankful.) Finally, accept that it is “God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, we have an obligation to be thankful! It is part of our identity. It may not be unusual to encounter an ungrateful Christian, but lack of gratitude is out of character.
But how does a discipline of gratitude sustain hope? I think gratitude teaches our hearts the truth about God’s kindness and faithfulness. He kindly places goodness, grace, and redemption in everything and gratitude helps us to see it. And gratitude reminds us God’s strength, love, and that faithfulness. It reminds us we are loved and not forgotten.
Borrowing from Hebrews 11:1, thanksgiving allows us to see what we hoped for. It teaches us the certainty of what, at one time, may have been unseen. It helps us to see that our faith was not in vain.
This week, where ever you are, I hope you enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. I think it’s pretty cool that our government says, “Take a day off and try to be thankful.” I am thankful for that. And may you find many reasons to be thankful, too!