Learning to express gratitude hasn't been easy for me. And I'm certain I've not expressed enough gratitude to God for the people He has placed as gifts in my life. It's sad really. I do feel grateful, and I am thankful, but I'm lousy at expressing it. Without making an excuse, maybe it's this male thing. I start to feel all squishy and goofy, like what I'm saying is waaayyyy to warm-fuzzy or cheesy or something. So, I tend to say simple, shallow things that communicate some appreciation but remain rather generic and sometimes heartless, as though I'm composing one of those non-descript greeting cards for "all occasions." In fact, it feels rather like a blank card.
Well, I'm praying and beginning to work on changing that. I want to give flowers to people while they are living, while they can smell and enjoy them, and rejoice in the Lord who created them. Today, I want to say a word or two about how grateful I am for one brother in particular, C.J. Mahaney.
Many of you will know C.J. from his books, his preaching, the Sovereign Grace family of churches, and his infectious joy in the Lord. C.J. is perhaps as grateful a person as I've ever met, and I'm thankful to the Lord for placing him in my life.
Things I've learned from C.J. about gratitude for which I am grateful:
1. Gratitude is to be an endearing and enduring mark of the Christian life.
We are to be grateful for the cross of Christ and redemption through Him. We are to be grateful for the evidences of grace we see in our lives and others. And our gratitude to God should spill over lavishly onto others in the form of meaningful and specific words and acts of encouragement and appreciation. C.J. is a bit like a cross between the Energizer bunny and a Hallmark card. He is non-stop, high energy encouragement and gratefulness. And I'm learning that such gratitude should be commonplace for the Christian.
2. Gratitude is to be taught and modeled.
Indeed, this is what C.J. does so well. Not as a show; that would make a mockery of true thanksgiving. But with genuine interest in people, he models what it looks like to hand out flowers to others around you. That's something that is not evident enough in my life and ministry and something I want to change. I once stood with C.J. outside the Covenant Life bookstore, where he introduced me to a number of members of the church. With nearly each member, he told me how long they'd been members and offered some specific encouragement or word of appreciation to each of them. One couple had been with church for 20 years or so. After sharing some specific ways they labor in the church, he turned to me with these words, "These are the kinds of people you can build a church on." How wonderful to say such things to people with no hint of flattery but with sincere appreciation. And the great thing about the exchange was it was not isolated to C.J. Nearly everyone I met that Sunday morning was full of gratitude to God and for others. It's a compelling vision and experience--all churches should be filled with people who ooze gratitude. It's to be modeled and taught.
3. Love your wife.
How many of us pastors need to think more about this one and put it into faithful practice? How many of us have almost shipwrecked our marriages on the rocks of the ministry, giving ourselves to everything but our wives? It's a sad and all-too-frequent occurence. I love C.J. for the way he loves Carolyn. His love for her is obvious. And though I'm sure he'll be the first to tell you of his many woeful failures (after all, he is the guy who wrote the book on humility :-)), one can not be around him long before he expresses in his own way the truth of Prov. 18:22. Our wives are a tangible expression of God's kindness to us, His favor received. How appropriate it is, then, that we should show gratitude to God for them and express that gratitude toward them. I'm not sure I've met a pastor who does that as obviously and faithfully as C.J. I've even stolen some of his lines when he introduces Carolyn. Like this one. "Sweetheart, when you're in the room you're the only one in color; everyone else is in black and white." Yeah... I stole that one. And more than that, he's inspired me to use carefully crafted words of my own toward my Kristie. I need to do more, to show more gratitude. It's good and right and godly that I should do so. And I'm thankful that the Lord has used C.J. to teach me that.
4. Gratitude expresses itself in love for your family.
C.J.'s example doesn't stop with the church and Carolyn. But he is active in his expression of gratitude toward his family. He obviously loves his daughters and his son. He spends time with them. He cares for them. He plans in such a way as to include them, to consider them. I'm a fan because he loves his family so well.
I guess, in short, I'm grateful for C.J. because he embodies so well a deep, passionate love for Jesus, the Lord's church, his wife and his family. He models, by God's grace, this sense of great and appropriate joy in all of life's good and godly pleasures... eclipsed by even greater joy in Jesus. He's grateful for what he has, and yet he seems most often to remember that he has nothing that he has not first received. And the One from whom he received it is greater than all.
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