Do you regularly practice gratitude as a family or church community? How is that different from personal gratitude?
Life.Church recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. As part of their celebration they thanked God for thousands of changed lives, stories of God’s amazing provision, and the unprecedented opportunities for sharing the Gospel. It was very moving and God-honoring.
It got me thinking about how Western Christians tend to practice our faith very individualistically. What might it take to be grateful together?
Research confirms biblical wisdom
Researchers at the University of London studied how this works online. Based on their research, they created the gratitude cycle. If we choose to express, receive, and acknowledge gratitude in a kind way, we can reinforce the behavior in our online communities and church community.
Likewise, the University of Kansas developed a toolbox to help with community development. Within the toolbox they identified nine different “spiritual assets” necessary for high functioning communities. Gratitude and appreciation are listed along with other biblical concepts like mercy, forgiveness, peace, hope, compassion, and hospitality.
5 ways to build a grateful community
The phrase “one another” shows up over 100 times in the New Testament. It derives from the Greek word allelon which means “one another, each other; mutually, reciprocally.” 59 of these usages are commands teaching us how (or how not) to relate to one another.
We were designed for community. God even said in Genesis 2, before the Fall, that it was not good for man to be alone. Just like God lives in harmony as the trinity, we need one another. So it makes sense that we can help one another grow in gratitude.
Here are five ways to build a grateful community:
#1: Grow in gratitude together
Sequoia trees are the tallest and longest living. They can grow to be up to 300 feet tall. But only if they live in community. They don’t have deep roots, but instead their roots are intermingled.
Aspen trees are the same. I remember trying to take an aspen sapling home to Kansas from Colorado hoping I could get it to grow so I could enjoy it’s fall leaves. Unfortunately, it died a quick death because I removed it from its community.
Likewise, we will die without community. We help feed, encourage, and support one another. If we model gratefulness in the face of life’s tragedies, we can build one another up.
#2: Remember in community
We live in an age of abundant online content. It’s easier than ever to listen to online sermons, podcasts (like this one), and teaching resources. If we’re not careful we could fall into the trap of thinking our faith is just about learning.
I heard Pastor Morgan Burns quip, “You can’t podcast community.” You also can’t podcast gratitude. If you don’t take action on what we’re learning together, you likely won’t become grateful. In fact, you might become jaded or numb.
A primary goal of worship is to remember. We remember what God has done in salvation and we celebrate what he has done in our lives. This fuels our faith and motivates us to keep sharing the Gospel and growing in our faith.
QUESTION: Do you take time as a community to give thanks to God for what he has done in your midst? Where and how do you share these stories?
#3: Celebrate differences
On day 46 we discussed the dangers of comparison. Just like a car is made of many parts that must work together, the body of Christ has many parts that work together. We each have different roles to play, so let’s celebrate those differences.
I’m glad I’m not Sister Simone. She believes she was called to be the stomach acid for the body of Christ. She’s called to stir things up and keep things moving.
I’m called to write, create, inspire, speak, and encourage.
I wonder how often you take time to celebrate the gifts of those around you? Do you take them for granted?
#4: Gratitude is not just a personal spiritual discipline
Most of our discipleship materials focus on personal disciplines like prayer, bible reading, scripture memory, and fasting. These are deeply beneficial, but they miss the one another component of our faith.
I remember going to Costa Rica as a leader on a youth mission trip. One morning I arose early to have a “quiet time.” One of my fellow leaders saw me and invited me to come join the youth for a time of prayer. I declined because I needed to have “my” time with God. Later the Lord convicted me that he wanted to meet with me along with the youth.
Gratitude is something we practice together. It’s often expressed one-to-one, but it can also be done corporately.
#5: How to practice gratitude in community
I think each small group and church needs to figure out how to practice community. In addition to prayer and worship, I encourage you to consider regular times of storytelling, a corporate gratitude journal, and even periodic celebrations where you take time to acknowledge what God has done and the work of specific people in your community.
I’d love to hear in the comments any ideas from what your community does.
What will prevent this?
In addition to individualism, I think corporate gratitude faces an additional challenge: fear.
We don’t want to appear inadequate. We want to avoid the appearance of bragging. We’re afraid others will criticize us instead of affirm us.
Unfortunately, many of our church communities feel more like cruise ships; we gather to consume and critique. In a consumer-oriented church, many will naturally fear criticism.
If, however, Christians practice the gifts of the Spirit and exhibit the fruits of the Spirit together, our gatherings will become the most grateful on earth. Lives will be changed as we build each other up, encourage one another, and share the Gospel.
Invite your small group to discuss how you might practice gratitude together. Start doing it right away.
I praise you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for modeling perfect community. Thank you for making us for community. Teach us how to love each other, serve one another, and be grateful for one another. Help us to die to pride and a critical spirit that prevent us from connecting and loving well. We pray it for your glory. Amen.