When I was about ten years of age, my mother worked a miracle.
She was a widow, with four children. I was the eldest. She was running my late father's bakery and pastrycook business. Just after World War Two, times were tough, money was tight and housing was impossible. But somehow my mother managed to buy a newly built house. We shifted into the unsewered area, with its dirt track for a road.
One day I found a box with handle and lid in the long grass beside the track. It had fallen off a builder's truck. It was full of tools. I was absolutely delighted. I was trying to build a cubby house with the leftover wood from the house and fence. Now I had the tools for the job. But my mother said I could not keep them. We had to find the owner. She said they could belong to Mr Murray. She would take them up to his house, a half-mile from us. "Serves him right", I said. "You don't need to give them back to old Murray." My mother rebuked me, "Of course I do. He needs them to earn a living. He's paid for his wrong and he deserves another chance."
That was strange coming from my mother. She had warned my brother and me not to go near Mr Murray. He had been in prison for sexually assaulting boys. Most of the neighbours would have preferred that he had stayed there until he rotted. My mother took the box of tools and walked to Mr Murray's house and returned them. It was a good half hour before she returned. I had only one question: "Did he give you a reward for me?" "Yes, he asked me to thank you." I was expecting two bob, but all I got was "thank you"!
Looking back, Mr Murray had little work. Probably he did not have two bob to his name. "Thank you" was the reward. Two bob would have been a bonus. Not to say "thank you" is one of the worst forms of selfishness. In High School, I learned Shakespeare's saying:
"I hate ingratitude more in a man
than lying, vainness, babbling drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood."
Later I would learn of King Lear's cry against the ingratitude of his daughter: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." Ingratitude. It is hurtful against others. It is a sign of sickness within us.
We all know the impact on our mental heath if we live with negative attitudes. But what of the impact of positive attitudes? Professor Hans Selye, whose landmark work on stress did so much to help psychiatrists understand the impact of stress, wrote that of all the positive attitudes, the attitude of gratitude did more than anything to maintain mental health and a psychologically strong personality.
Unfortunately people have to be taught to say thanks. Gratitude does not come easily to many people. Paul says that the constantly ungrateful person cannot possibly be termed a Christian. Ingratitude is a sign of a pagan mind, which has no one in this universe to Whom he can say "Thanks". The fact is few people stop to say thanks even after wonderful times, as Jesus reminded us when He commented on the fact that of ten men healed one day, only one returned to express gratitude.
1. THE BIBLE TEACHES GRATITUDE.
Gratitude or thanksgiving was almost exclusively reserved in the Bible for thanksgiving to God. Paul commences most of his letters with a word of thanksgiving to God for the people to whom he is writing. Rom. 1:8, 2 Cor. 1:11, Eph. 1:15 f., Col. 1:3 f. 1 Thess. 1:3 In his prayers no petition was made without thanksgiving. Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7; 4:2; 1 Tim. 2:1 It was the custom of the Jews to say grace before meals, to praise God for each dish. The meal ended with a benediction over the cup of wine. When Jesus broke the bread and fish to feed the multitudes, He first of all gave thanks for the provision of the food, little though it was before so many. Paul presupposes that grace before meals was said in Christian households. Rom 14:6, 1 Cor 10:30. He also stressed Rom 14:6 the table prayers addressed to God built a sense of community among the believers.
Prayers of thanksgiving were central in the worship of the early Christians. 1 Cor 14:16-17; Col 3:15-17 The goal of Paul's missionary work is to make this prayer of thanksgiving universal. 2 Cor 4:15 Gratitude to God should be a feature of all prayer. Phil 4:6; 1 Thess 5:17-18; Col 3:15-17; 4:2 Our worship should include not only a prayer of intercession for the whole world but also a prayer of general thanksgiving to God. 1 Tim 2:1 It was in the celebration of the Lord's Supper that our gratitude was to be most clearly seen. In early Christian communities there were prayers of thanksgiving in connection with the Lord's Supper. By the second century, the name "Eucharist" which means, "We give thanks" was the name of the Lord's Supper. Christians gave thanks for the saving work of Jesus Christ.
2. WESLEY MISSION EXPRESSES GRATITUDE.
At the end of every year our members, staff and donors meet together to give thanks to God for all His blessings. I receive scores of Annual Reports from companies, not-for-profit organizations, and church welfare groups. Wesley Mission is almost alone in giving thanks to God each year in its Annual Report. This year, I introduced the report by writing: "Last year I said in this report that the previous year had shown our greatest achievement since Wesley Mission began in Sydney in 1812. It is my pleasure to tell you that for the year 1999 - 2000 we surpassed even that record-breaking year. We are one of the three largest and most significant charities in the nation. Wesley Mission Sydney is a Christian church committed to the worship of God and service of people in need. We praise God for an incredible year, which has capped off every year in our history. We thank God for outstanding members and friends of Wesley Mission and for the generous financial commitment from tens of thousands of individual donors, churches, corporations, businesses and government departments."
This past year has indeed been a very good year. "Our financial results for the year ending June 30, 2000 were outstanding. Our revenue was $95.4 million, a 27% increase over the previous year's revenue of $75.1 million. We ended the year with an operating surplus of $2.37 million, which is dedicated to major new building programs including a large new nursing home at Carlingford to provide superior care for frail aged people." Currently we have more than 40 new projects and buildings in hand worth $45 million and some very big plans for future expansion.
This past year we opened 36 new units at Frank Vickery Village and a large state of the art auditorium, and 24 more units at Alan Walker Village. We became the only church to achieve an international standard of accreditation in quality management through ISO 9002. We "opened 39 centres with 230 additional employees on one day. This would probably be a record for any church any where in the world. We purchased more than 50 additional motor vehicles in one month. We appointed six new pastoral staff to help us in our expanding pastoral care. We established Wesley Palmdale Funeral Service to provide low cost funerals for average Australians, with no money at all going to shareholders or proprietors. We built a 60 bed multi-million dollar new Lodge at Vision Valley."
"Over three million people this year have read my sermons on our Web Site. Once again we had the lowest cost of operation for any major charity in Australia and were supported by some of Australia's most prestigious corporations who have developed a partnership in community service. We have increased our full-time staff to in excess of 2,500 paid staff with more than 3,500 unpaid volunteers who are trained and committed in helping us with the ministry of Word and Deed. We express deep appreciation to the honorary officers of the Mission, the members of all of our congregations, Boards, Councils and support groups; to our General Managers, staff, ministers and volunteers, and all who have made Wesley Mission Sydney, the primary example of successful urban ministry any where in the world. We give thanks to God for His constant blessing and for these achievements." Wesley Mission gives thanks to God.
3. EACH PERSON NEEDS TO EXPRESS GRATITUDE.
The most appropriate words to us, as leaders, members, staff and volunteers of Wesley Mission are in Paul's letter to some Greek Christians in modern Salonica. 1THESS 5:12-18 "Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Those Christians had a mutual responsibility for making sure their work for God was efficient and effective. The entire church was to cope with practical situations and advise the lazy and errant member. They were to "encourage the timid" and "help the weak". They were to "be patient with everyone" and when tempers run short, the whole group has the responsibility for seeing that no member "pays back wrong for wrong." Jesus emphatically set the tone for his followers in forbidding personal revenge. Paul here writes a constructive alternative to retaliation: "Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." We are expected to "be joyful always." That is a characteristic of the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount Matt 5:10-12 the Lord Jesus taught us the secret of constant joy. The challenge is not for us to have moments of joy, but to develop a constant joyful outlook.
Part of the secret of constant joy is incessant prayer. That is the only way to cultivate a joyful attitude in times of trial. Uninterrupted communication with God keeps temporal and spiritual values in balance. Paul concludes saying we should "give thanks in all circumstances." No series of happenings can be termed "bad luck" for a Christian. God is in everything that happens and is able to use everything for our good. Rom 8:28 Therefore the Christian can be thankful in every circumstance. Paul has given us three brief commands: rejoice always, pray often, give thanks. "For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" Nothing can overcome a Christian whose attitudes are joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Great gratitude is living!
I found confirmation of this in the current edition of Charter, the magazine of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. A leading strategist, Margot Cairnes, indicates that leadership is based on possessing a good IQ - Intelligence Quotient, matched by a good EQ - Emotional Quotient. EQ accounts for more than 85% of exceptional achievement. Such a person has Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Social Skills hence are motivated, self-disciplined, aspire to excellence, continually seek reskilling and learning, and add value. But the most outstanding leaders also have SQ - Spiritual Quotient. Those with SQ have the capacity to question, think creatively, to see the bigger picture, to be co-creators of the world, which we live. This makes them alive, dynamic, sociable, innovative. Isn't that the kind of person you should be? A person whose intellect, emotions and spirit are in balance? Why not get your spiritual life right with God here and now? Accept Christ as Lord.