Grateful Hearts

Christine Pohl, in her book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, identified four practices that should be noticed and celebrated by congregations as they seek to live around the love of Jesus. I think it will be good for our community to get in the habit of noticing and celebrating the practices of gratitude, making and keeping promises, living truthfully, and hospitality. This month I am going to focus on the practice of gratitude. In future articles I will discuss the other three practices.

Remembering to say “please” and “thank you” is an important lesson of childhood but it is also an important practice for community life. Gratitude is vital to a community because this practice demonstrates that the grace of God is foundational to our community’s life. Our lives are redeemed from the debts of our sin by the grace of God. When our Christian lives are lived in gratitude, we recognize the starting point for our lives is the undeserved love from God. I am grateful for every dawn I see because I know that everyday is a gift from the Lord. I love the idea that our gratitude follows God’s grace like thunder follows lightning. Paul told the Ephesians to have gratitude at the center of their life together, “giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Gratitude and ingratitude are connected to what we notice. When we focus on the flaws in our community we will develop contagious ingratitude. Beneath our critique and complaint about people in the congregation will be doubts about God’s faithfulness. General grumbling and dissatisfaction exhausts a community. We will have more strength to move forward in our mission as a congregation when we acknowledge that God is faithful to His promises.

Gratitude can be undone when we covet. The ninth and tenth commandments talk about the danger of coveting. Coveting is the unhealthy desire for what God has provided to someone else. I know that it is unhealthy to always want more possessions or money. I am also discovering that it is dangerous to always want more success in ministry, greater spiritual growth in myself, greater spiritual growth in others, or some dramatic experience. Success in ministry and spiritual growth are good things. It is dangerous when my desire for success and growth makes me blind to the small blessings.

Christine Pohl comments in her chapter on gratitude, “When our lives are shaped by gratitude, we’re more likely to notice the goodness and beauty in everyday things. We are content; we feel blessed and are eager to confer blessing.” I believe that our congregation community can find participation in the divine graces of God when we reach to one another from a place of gratitude. I celebrate what God is doing daily to develop us into a community gathered by grace.

As we marvel at God’s love and faithfulness to His promises, we can pump oxygen into our community by noticing and celebrating the good. Communities and families flourish in environments of positive affirmation. We are strengthened when we express appreciation to one another on a regular basis. We will face difficult moments. We will find ourselves discouraged when people we serve are unresponsive or ungrateful. Communities that make it through difficult moments continue to embody gratitude and celebration.

Our Lord God rested on the seventh day of creation. He took time to notice what is good. This moment of resting and celebrating the good is baked into our creation. We may see celebrations and moments of thankfulness as extras to life in community. Yet we are called in the very orders of creation to pause and give thanks for all that has been made. This month take a pause and celebrate the extraordinary and the ordinary good that God has done in our community. We are blessed and redeemed by our Lord God Jesus Christ. We are living in the days the Lord has made for us.

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Photo: Woodley Wonder Works

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Living Into Community

Families are not perfect. Poor decisions can be made and other people respond poorly to the poor decisions. Without ever intending it, families can become broken. I also know that no congregation is perfect. A cycle of decisions can lead to wounds that just don’t seem to heal. A congregation can become like a broken family with shattered relationships, stalled projects, and a divided future. Families and congregations are not perfect, but do they have to become broken?

We are all broken in our sin, but in the full grace and truth of Jesus we find healing and restoration. I trust that God has made us to live together in community. We find community in our homes. We should also be able to find community in this congregation. At my congregation we are renovating our space this fall to help people not familiar with churches feel expected and welcomed. The inviting design and experience of feeling invited will be a part of our renovations. Living into community will be cultivated by more than just the design of our facility.

In our congregation I want us to be purposeful about certain practices that will help us live together. Christine Pohl wrote in her book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, “Good communities and life-giving congregations emerge at the intersection of divine grace and steady human effort.” At this intersection of grace and truth we can be purposeful about living into community.

There is no room for complacency or despair in this congregation. God is at work in this congregation. The promise of the good news of Jesus draws us into the kingdom of God. The presence of Jesus has been forming communities for two thousand years. We are building and maintaining a healthy congregation upon the promises of Jesus. In every community there are practices that hold it together. In our community we will continue to build and maintain the practices of hospitality, making and keeping promises, truthfulness, and gratitude.

The response of our community to the gospel of Jesus Christ will be embodied as we live purposefully these four practices. These four practices are written about in more detail by Chrstine Pohl in her book. Over the next four months this space will include some of the contemporary challenges related to responding to strangers or dealing with our own messy lives as we approach shaping our community joined together by a shared response to the gospel of Jesus.

I want us to get in the habit of noticing and celebrating these practices of hospitality, making and keeping promises, truthfulness, and gratitude. We are not going eliminate complacency and despair by wishing for them go away. Our congregation community should be a living testimony of the life-giving power of Jesus.

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