Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Grace of Gratitude

An old Jewish tale tells of a rabbi who asked God to show him heaven and hell. The Lord, opening a door to a room, said to him, "First I will show you hell." Inside, he saw a group of people sitting around a large, round table, grumbling and complaining. On the table stood a bowl of delicious stew; and each person had a spoon, one with a handle longer than a person's arm. So the people could dip the stew from the bowl but could not bring it to their mouths.

            "Now," said the Lord, taking the rabbi to another room, "I will show you heaven." He opened the door to a room identical to the first. But here, the people were well-nourished, laughing, and talking among themselves. They, too, had long-handled spoons; but had apparently overcome the problem of feeding. The rabbi turned with a puzzled look, to which the Lord replied, "These have learned to feed each other."

            The people in heaven were obviously flourishing in an atmosphere of giving and receiving. They had fully grasped the meaning of the words of Jesus that "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) And they had learned the other side of that truth: the grace of receiving. When accompanied with thanksgiving, receiving is as much a grace as giving, perhaps at times even more. In fact, through the example of several Christian friends, the Lord has taught me that gracious receiving is an element of Christian maturity.

            In the New Testament, Paul uses a word for thanksgiving that descended from the same word as grace and joy, the root word charis. Receiving is certainly a joy. Receiving is also a grace. Receiving is always an occasion for giving thanks to the giver and to the Lord for His blessing on both (Ephesians 1:16).

            Paul taught that being able to receive is essential for our Christian lives as well as our growth in the Lord. Listen to what he says to the Philippians,

You have done well to share with me in my afflictions. And you yourselves also know...that at the first preaching of the gospel..., no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.... I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:14-18)

What a beautiful expression of gratitude. For Paul, their gift came not only as a blessing but as an expression of their love for him, their concern for the distress he was experiencing through his imprisonment.

            To receive a gift is, for us the same as for Paul, to acknowledge that someone really cares for us, to acknowledge their love for us, their kindness toward us. "Gratitude," said author, A. J. Cronin, "is the art of receiving gracefully, of showing appreciation for every kindness, great and small." Paul honored the Philippians by comparing their gift with the sacrifices of the Old Testament, sacrifices welcome and acceptable to God. His greatest joy was that their gift, as well as the love that prompted it, was dear to God. And he expressed his gratitude simply and graciously.

            Whether the gift we receive is a material blessing or a kind word, let us, too, receive it graciously, and with Paul, express our thanks the best way we know how, not only during the thanksgiving season when it is certainly appropriate, but all year round. "Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." (Ephesians 5:20)

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