Posts

The Gift of Gratitude

“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

I’ve never been good at writing thank-you notes.

As a kid, I would procrastinate writing them after birthdays and holidays because the task seemed a little daunting—just looking at the stack of cards waiting to be filled with ink would make my hand cramp. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for the gifts. I simply would rather spend time playing with those new gifts than thanking the people who gave them to me.

I know that’s horrible…but an honest 10-year-old Rachel would have told you the same thing.

However, something switched in me when I actually practiced enough discipline to sit down and write those notes. I realized as I wrote them not only how grateful I was for the gift, but also how glad I was for the relationship from which it came. I realized how much effort might have gone into choosing the gift, the money that went into buying the gift, and the anticipation with which the gift was sent and the response anticipated. If I had failed to sit down and spend time thanking people, I would have missed out on a lot of humbling gladness.

Physically practicing thanks and gratitude made me far more grateful and glad for the gifts I’d been given and the people who gave them to me. The gratitude in and of itself was a gift. Without it, I would have missed out on realizing the significance behind these gifts, though it had been there the whole time. I’ve realized lately practicing gratitude to God lands me in a similar place.

God provides for us in ways we could never deserve. He gives us gifts far better than what we could ever expect or even ask from Him. His gifts, whether they come through moments of sheer happiness or through trials, through practical provision or human relationships, through emotional comfort or spiritual growth, often abound regardless of our acknowledgment of them. When we practice acknowledging his gifts, what changes is not the fact that God is good, but our increased awareness of how good He is to us.

A few weeks ago, Zach preached that gratefulness results in gladness, which in turn spurs more notice of God’s goodness. It’s an upward spiral of thankfulness that enlightens our view of God

and heightens our awareness of the gifts he’s made available for us, from our salvation to our relationships to the cappuccino I just finished.

As Thanksgiving has come and gone, I pray we may remember gratitude is not seasonal, but a gift always available to practice and receive from God. Finding concrete ways to thank God, whether by journaling his gifts, reflecting on them with a small group, or simply saying a short prayer in the moments we notice God’s abundant generosity in our lives, allows God space to remind us of his faithfulness and goodness. Gratitude is the gift of recognizing the rest of his gifts. I pray we together seek to offer God our thanks this season and in the coming seasons, always giving him the space to remind us of the blessed perspective in which we get to live, thanks to his generosity.

 

Rachel Smith, New City Stories Contributor

Thankful for God’s Word

“12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12 & 13

The Word of God is living….

The Word of God is active…

The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword…

The Word of God discerns the thoughts and intentions of our heart…

The Word of God exposes us, naked, to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account…

This is what this season has been for our community and I. We have allowed the intensity of James to lay us bare in front of God to examine our lives. If you didn’t jump on board that train, it’s not too late…all aboard! This last weekend we were able to hear from multiple voices that call New City home. Every person who shared had a word that pierced my heart in different ways. Our brother Chavo shared that “Competency kills! Familiarity breeds laziness.”  Noah shared how the Lord challenged him with the image from James 3:11-12 that fresh water and salt water can never come from the same spout.  Soccer in Noah’s life has brought some of the greatest fruit (“fresh water”) but also has brought about intense frustrations, which at times lead to “colorful” metaphors (“salt water”). We heard a sweet word from Thomas inviting us to receive the promise that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us every time.

Many voices declared and demonstrated the reality of Hebrews 4:12 and 13. James had served their spirituality through acting as a double edged sword and exposing them bare in front of the Lord. I don’t know about you but in my flesh, the reality that Hebrews 4:12 and 13 invites us into does not always breed thankfulness. But what if we leaned in and allowed the Word of God to do its job? I am so grateful for the power of God’s Word and my prayer is that in this season our community would grow deeper in our thankfulness for it.

What would this gratitude for Scripture do for your intimacy with Jesus? How would this impact your walk with the Lord? How could a deep gratitude for God’s Word transform your journey with Him? When I am deeply grateful for something, I treat it differently. My desire is that through thankfulness for His Word (not for a great podcast, sermon off YouTube, or book) we would see a deeper sense of intimacy and allowance for the Spirit to move in our lives. I believe deeply that His Word will bear fruit in our lives if we receive it fully. Isaiah 55 declares a promise about His Word…

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55 and Hebrews 4 teach us that we can anticipate transformation, not only from a sermon series through James at church but anytime we open, address, and allow the Word of God to interact with us. I believe as we grow in thankfulness for His Word we will be more postured to receive It’s ministry. As we continue as a community diving into Scripture together, lets pray for a greater appreciation for it.=

As you meditate on this during your week, here are some questions….

  • How have you experienced the Word of God in the ways Hebrews 4 describes?
  • How could you position yourself to experience God’s Word in a deeper, more intimate way?
  • Do you see Scripture as a a means of our Spirituality or as a generous gift from God?
    • How would our life look different if we saw it as a gift and not just a “means to an end”?

What promises or stories in Scripture are you thankful for?

 

Zach Meerkreebs, Head Planter and New City Stories Contributor

Gratitude in Community

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)

Here at New City, we have been exploring the idea of gratitude and what it looks like expressed in community. The challenge that Zach gave us this past Sunday was to be a church, a community, where “our gratefulness outweighs our giftedness.” There is so much packed into those five words, and this post will attempt to explore what living out this challenge means for us, not only as individuals, but as a people called to live a life together saturated with thanksgiving. This exploration will focus on 1) seeing our individual giftings as God’s pure grace in our lives and 2) viewing the community itself as a gift, transforming our participation in the community.

1) Gratitude means that we see all things as a pure gift from God.

This principle of “gift,” both on the individual and communal level, is the heartbeat of what it means to be the people of God. If in my own heart I view my abilities as primarily my own and my skills as ones that only I developed, then I will build walls of pride and status that will lead to isolation. If I own my abilities, then I can only offer them at great cost to myself. In contrast, if we see our giftings (notice the language shift here?) as not our own, but as the result of God’s grace in our lives, then we have no need to protect them, but only to faithfully steward them for the sake of others.

This posture of seeing the whole of our lives as a gift also allows us to more readily see the gifts in others. If I take sole ownership of my talents, I will naturally see them as better and more useful than the talents of others, which leads to unhealthy comparison and envy. This can develop factions deep within and oftentimes pit us against our brothers and sisters. This animosity runs directly against the unity that Jesus prays over his Church “that they may be one” (John 17:21).

However, if I see my talents as the sole result of God’s grace in my life, I begin to notice God’s grace in all people. The walls are broken down and this deep recognition of gift in myself opens the door wide open for the practice of thankfulness, celebration, humility, collaboration, and love between members of a community. In order to have gratitude, we must see the whole of our lives as a gift from the Good Gift Giver.

2) Seeing our community as a gift necessarily transforms our relationship to it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together has a convicting and powerful word for us as the Church:

The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together… God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship,…God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness, and his promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.

Bonhoeffer here gives us two distinct and contrasting approaches to our life together as Christians. He says that we can be “demanders” who have our own ideas of what the community should be like, or as “thankful recipients” who see the community fundamentally as a gift from God. If I enter a community with dreams of leadership without service, of status without humility, of ownership without giving, then I am living in what Bonhoeffer calls a “wish dream,” and I am a “destroyer” of that community from the very beginning. Instead, if when I stand next to my brothers and sisters in awe of the God who placed them in my life, by that very posture I am allowing for the Spirit of God to move and work. How great is the design that God has for His people!

This is the crucial point of Bonhoeffer’s remarks: Jesus is the one who makes this kind of community possible. Through his faithfulness on the Cross, he has destroyed the need for distinctions and “dividing walls of hostility” and gives us all an invitation to a community mediated by him and his finished work (Ephesians 2:14). What a beautiful image! We now no longer have to rely on what we can offer to others, but what Christ can offer through us. The ultimate gift that we have been given is God Himself in Jesus Christ. If we neglect to live into that reality, not only will we begin to erode our own hearts with pride and envy, but we will then begin to erode the community around us. We must remember that the health of our hearts will always manifest itself externally.

Lastly, because we live in a culture so marked by the pulses of individualism, status, competition, and isolation, just think of how a robust community of gratefulness rooted in the person of Jesus Christ could witness to the world around us. Jesus’s prayer for unity among his people ends this way: “So that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). Seeing our lives as gracious gift leads to gratitude; gratitude leads to unity; and unity then creates a light for the world that cannot be ignored. The world is hungry for healthy community, and truly healthy community is found only in the self-sacrificial love of Christ. Let us be that vision, that answer, for which the world hungers so that we may have the opportunity to invite others into the ever-expanding table of Jesus.

So, how do we at New City live into this challenge to be a community where “our gratefulness outweighs our giftedness?” We pursue Jesus together and remember that it is in His gift of Himself that we truly find ourselves and each other.

 

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor

 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. Harper, 1954, 26-28