Last week, I spoke with a long-time supporter who has been faithfully giving to Kingdom causes for many years. As she told me about a major outreach effort in her area, I sensed a real joy in her.
The conversation reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about lately as I work on a book I’m writing, designed to help readers integrate their cross-cultural encounters into their ongoing lives —
After a Vision Trip to Africa earlier this year, I met for a reflective lunch with one of the travelers. “It’s strange,” she confided. “Before our trip, I thought I’d feel guilty for all that I have when I got home. But I didn’t feel guilty. Instead, I felt grateful!”
Often, when someone says that their primary response after returning from an encounter with the extreme poor is gratitude for what they have, I cringe inside. My mind immediately thinks of the old saw, “There, but by for grace of God, go I.” In other words, I have shoes. I have health-care. I have air conditioning. I’m so very grateful I don’t have to live like those poor suckers we just visited!
I’m not satisfied by a response to poverty which is focused on thankfulness that I don’t share their plight. I don’t mean to suggest that guilt is any better reaction (even though guilt might at least cause us to actually do something). But gratitude for my possessions is a terrible place to stop, as we see in Jesus’ parable of the fat-and-happy farmer who built bigger barns because of his sheer pleasure in possessing such an abundant harvest.
“You fool” is how Jesus refers to that guy. I don’t think Jesus was a fan.
But I could tell by my lunch partner’s countenance that there was something different about her comment. There was some active energy to it, and as I probed further, I discovered what it was: She had been moved by what she had seen, and was grateful that she could do something about it. She was thankful for what she has been entrusted with, because it would allow her to make a difference for others in ways that she otherwise would not have been able. Yes, she has accumulated material means, and increasingly she has been drawn toward using those to lift the marginalized, those who didn’t win the Accident of Birth Lottery like you and I did.
Suddenly her opening comment made perfect sense to me: she was grateful for the accumulated resources that were at her disposal to allow her to make a significant impact for the Kingdom of God and for those in need.
Gratitude, I discovered, though not an adequate response to the needs of the poor, can be a terrific place to start. And I’ve never been more thankful to hear an initial reaction of joyful gratitude.
Then last week, this same joy of grateful action flooded over the phone line as I spoke to a dear octogenarian giver. Her delight spilled over as she told me of a local outreach effort she has been able to launch, simply by providing the initial funding. Hundreds of people will be coming together in a few days to work together on this effort, and as she related the details to me, I could sense her humble wonder and elation.
A year earlier, she’d simply been sitting at her kitchen table with a friend, and they began discussing this outreach idea. She blurted out to the friend, ‘I would sell [an asset] to help make that happen!’ Now, what she has catalyzed—through a resource as benign as money—has turned into a city-wide undertaking! She was humbled, and she was grateful—grateful to have the resources to make a difference, and grateful to have had the courage to respond with generosity. I rejoiced with her in her joy. After all, we all want to make our lives count.
It’s really rather amazing thatturning our thanks into givingcan turn our giving into joy.
As we approach Thanksgiving and contemplate ‘What I’m thankful for…’ let’s not answer that question with “…for what I’ve been given” but rather “…for what I’ve been entrusted with.” That’s the Kingdom mindset, one which allows us to respond to the Spirit’s promptings, the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of others, to make our own lives count.
And when we do this, gratitude isn’t the end of the story. It’s the beginning of the adventure.
With gratitude for you,