Developing Gratitude

Posted on March 27, 2012 by

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Thanksgiving is not just for turkeys.

Last week at Lake Champion I was asked to share what the Lord has been teaching me this year.  One thing that came to mind right away was the fact that I can really be an ungrateful jerk much of the time.  In some ways it has been a great year, and I’ve been ungrateful for that fact.  In other ways, it has been the most challenging year of my life.  And although I’ve grown as a result, and although I’ve been surrounded by faithful friends who’ve supported me and prayed for me and let me borrow their faith (see Mark 2 for another sermon on that…), I’ve been ungrateful for this as well.  What is it about us (Yes, us.  I’m assuming I’m not the only ungrateful jerk reading this blog) that constantly has us asking, “Yes, but what have you done for me in the last 10 minutes?”

Being thankful is a discipline.  As sinful humans, we’re supremely self-centered and not really programmed for gratitude.  It takes practice, but we can actually learn to be grateful.  I remember the first time I was confronted with this early in my ministry.  I had been on staff for only a couple years and my trainer, who was also one of my best friends, gave me 4 tickets to a Rangers hockey game in Madison Square Garden.  My wife and I invited another couple and had a great time.  And a month later, I was driving with this friend and he said to me, “Jim, you never said thank you to me for those tickets.”  I was actually angry that he said such a thing, but before I could defend myself or protest, he said, “Just because we’re best friends doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say thank you.”  He was absolutely right and it was a moment I’ve never forgotten.  And although I’m still a selfish jerk, it has been something that has really challenged me for the last 30 years, both in terms of my relationships with others, and with the Lord.

I shared with our first year staff last fall that you should write a HAND WRITTEN thank you note anytime someone serves you, hosts you, or blesses you.  And it’s not just so that they feel appreciated.  The larger effect is that you are disciplining yourself to become a more grateful person.  Do it a few times, and you’ll begin to think of all of the situations where you could have or should have been more grateful to others and to the Lord. Would that be a good thing?  A good character quality to be known for?

One last story… A few years ago I helped plan and run Assignment Team Training.  John Wagner was my boss then, and he asked me to take the lead on that conference.  And a few days afterwards, I got a thank you note from him.  It wasn’t just a quick note written on one panel of the card.  He filled the bottom panel, then went on to fill the top panel, then an arrow pointed me to the back side where he finished and signed it.  He took that much time and space to tell me how much he appreciated me and what I’d done. Heck, I was only doing my job!  I neither expected nor deserved any special affirmation.  But do you think I’d follow John Wagner to hell and back?  Yes I would!  He is a leader who appreciates those who serve with and under him.  And he’s a person of gratitude.  John would not mind me saying that he’s as selfish at heart as the next person.  But somewhere along the line as a leader, he has disciplined himself to be grateful.  The effect is profound, both on himself, and on those who work under him.  And I’m sure the Lord appreciates his gratitude as well!

What are you grateful for today?  Tell the Lord, then tell someone who deserves to hear it.  It only costs you 5 minutes and a $.44 stamp to build an important character quality.

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