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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/

Photo: Woodley Wonder Works

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Why do people burn out from their jobs?

I am a pastor and this is a job that I love. I trust in the call of God to equip me to fulfill the commands and promises of God. I know that I am not perfect but I rejoice that God will yet still work through me to share the good news of forgiveness and renewal.

As godly and grand as my vocation is designed to be, I recognize that the ideal of a pastor’s vocation is designed to be messy. The gospel is designed by God to be in this world precisely because we are messy sinners.

The messiness of sin is where God’s word is designed to be present. I am not meant to find my days as perfect moments of righteousness. Indeed I am continually reminded of my own failings and the failings of others. Always engaging in ministry in the tension between sin and promise can be exhausting for pastors.

At blog.logos.com there is mention of a 2005-06 survey of 1050 pastors. In this survey more than 70% of these pastors said they felt burned out and depressed. This is a scary high number. The devil is prowling around like a lion indeed and he is seeking to devour us.

As a pastor and as a friend I need to be purposeful about reaching out to other pastors. I don’t think we are successful pastors if we attempt to work on little islands in a big sea. Trying to work on a lonely, isolated island will eventually cause me to imagine myself lost and forgotten by the passing traffic.

We are not alone, we are part of a communion of saints delivering the forgiveness of sins. How can I share this communion of the saints with people that are becoming burned out in their vocation?

In the LCMS pastors gather monthly at circuit meetings. When a brother is absent from these meetings I want to find a way to make sure he knows he was missed. Our circuit meetings are successful when they are more than just social gatherings. They are gatherings that bring me encouragement when we are joined together by the power of God’s word and share with one another the reality of how God’s word comes into our messy, sinful lives.

I fondly remember some pastors in my Niagara circuit who regularly sent out note cards of encouragement. I do not want any of my friends in the ministry to drift into burnout. I do not want to become the passing sea traffic that passes by the man lost on an isolated island in the big sea.

October has become the recognized month for purposeful thanksgiving for pastors. I know that I am appreciative of all the words and gifts of encouragement that I have received. I also know that I can become more than the person that receives this encouragement. I can become a part of extending this encouragement to others.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” – 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)