Tagged ‘Colossians‘

Giving Gratitude

I want to challenge you to try something with me. It is a habit I developed a few years ago. Now it is a part of my day to day life. I am blessed by it, but more importantly, others are blessed as a result. It is the habit of expressing gratitude. Now, it is one thing to be grateful. I should have an attitude of thankfulness when I consider how blessed I am. But it is another thing all-together to express that gratitude to others. This is what takes it to a whole new level.

This idea began a few years ago on a Sunday morning at my home church. We are a portable church. This means we do not have a permanent building to call home. We currently meet in a high school gym. Every weekend, around eight hundred people attend one of two services. Because we are a portable church, it takes a lot of volunteers to set it all up and to take it all down. Plus many serve as ushers, greeters, child care workers, teachers, security, and hospitality. On average it takes about eighty volunteers each week. It is remarkable.

Each week I make a point of greeting as many volunteers as possible and thanking them for their service. I want them to know how much I appreciate what they are doing. They have made a big commitment to serve, and I want them to know that I appreciate it. I wander the halls before the service starts and thank as many as possible. I look each one in the eye and say, “Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.”

When I first started doing this, I was taken aback by how they would respond. Usually the volunteer would look a bit surprised, smile, and then thank me for noticing. I could tell that it made a difference. They appreciated that they were appreciated.

After seeing how much the volunteers appreciated those words, I decided to try this expression of gratitude throughout the week with anyone who served me. I looked for those who were paid to serve me and tried a few words of appreciation. Again I would say, “Thank you for your service. I really appreciate it.” This is where it got really interesting. I was astonished by the way people responded. Most times, folks would stop what they were doing and look me right in the eye. After a slight pause they would say, “Thank you. That is so kind of you to say.” I remember a clerk at a department store whose eyes welled up with tears when I told her I appreciated that she was working so hard to take care of me. That is the power of a kind word.

So here’s how it works. I look for opportunities to share gratitude for service wherever I find it. Most commonly I use this with cashiers, bus boys, waiters, stock clerks who help me find an item I am looking for, automotive repairmen, postal clerks, my postman, and the man or woman on the phone with customer service. When I am traveling for a ministry event, I thank TSA workers, flight attendants, rental car clerks, hotel check-in staff, and on and on. Multitudes of people serve me on any given day. I want them all to know I appreciate them.

I do this because they are a blessing to me. I am humbled when others serve me. They are working hard. Many are on their feet for hours at a time. I appreciate that they are working so hard to take care of me. I do this because I love them, even if I do not know them. I see each one as someone who was created by God to have a relationship with him. If all I can do is share a snippet of God’s love with them, then that is what I am going to do. Out of the overflow of God’s love in my life, I love others as I love myself. I appreciate it when others show value to me. So, I give love to others by letting them know they have value to me.

One day I was checking out my groceries. The cashier was busy sliding items across the scanner, and he was quickly working through my pile. I spoke to him as he focused on the items with his head down. “Thank you for serving me today,” I said. “I appreciate it.” Suddenly he stopped. It was like his whole body was frozen in space. His eyes stared off into nowhere. The beeping of the register stopped. The conveyor belt stopped. For an awkward moment we both stood there in silence. Finally he turned his head and looked at me. “No one has ever thanked me before,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.” I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was completely stunned that his hard work was appreciated.

Paul wrote these words to the church in Colossae, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15, ESV). The word he uses for “thankful” carries with it the idea of being mindful of the kindness of others, of being grateful. Interestingly, it is the only time this word is used in Scripture. It comes from a root word that implies action, as in doing something, showing yourself grateful, to give forgiveness, to pardon, to give graciously and freely. It is giving to others the gift of your gratitude. It is literally giving thanks to others, not just for others.

I challenge you to express gratitude to those who serve you. Start with the clerk at the store when you are shopping. When you check out, look the cashier in the eye and say, “Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.” I promise you will be amazed at the response you get. You get bonus points if you take the time to look at their name tag and then address them by name. Huge bonus points. Then look for others who serve you, and do the same thing for them. Start a movement of gratitude.

Be mindful of the kindness of others. Generously give thanks to others. Be thankful. Learn this phrase and use it frequently: “Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.” Go on, give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how folks will respond, and you will fulfill the teaching of Paul at the same time.

At my home church, a funny thing happened. One day one of the volunteers walked up to me, shook my hand, and looked me in the eye. “Thank you for your service,” he said. “I appreciate it.” All I could do was smile.

Be thankful.

This article was originally published in the November 2016 Newsletter.

Life is Worship

On a personal level, I often struggle to balance the responsibilities of ministry with the responsibilities I have in other areas of life. I’m referring to the responsibilities of owning and maintaining a home, a car, and all the other things that crowd into my life. I imagine many of you can relate. As a single adult, I don’t have a helpmate to assist me with the multitude of things that need attention in a home. If something needs to be taken care of around the house, I’m the one who will do it. I’m the one who mows the lawn, empties the dishwasher, vacuums the floor, dusts the furniture, pays the bills, checks the mail, trims the bushes, reconciles the bank statement, washes the windows, cleans the toilets, cleans those little bits of dried toothpaste out of the sink, checks the oil in the car, buys the groceries, and cooks the meals. If you are a single parent, you can multiply this list by one hundred. I feel your pain. I do all these things and more while trying to maintain a ministry career that often takes me away from home for extended periods of time. It can be a bit overwhelming. The grass doesn’t stop growing while I am gone.

Sometimes I feel guilty if I am working on the house while I know there are things related to ministry on which I could be focusing. Frankly, sometimes I get a bad attitude towards it and feel sorry for myself. This is where I found myself last week. I was painting the garage when it happened.

I live with a stewardship mentality. God owns everything, and I just manage what he has entrusted to me. My home is an example of this. I do not own my home. My name may be on the deed, but the reality is that God owns my home. He gave me this home, for this time, for me to live in. I am grateful for it. It is a beautiful place. But it is his, not mine. I merely take care of it for now. At any moment, God could lead me to sell the house and give away all the proceeds. It would be of no consequence to me because it is not my home. When I live this way, I receive an immense freedom to enjoy all that God has given to me. My only responsibility is to be a steward of what he has given to me. I manage it on his behalf, in the way he wants it managed.

Last week I was painting the inside of the garage. It was a project that was long overdue. I had put if off because it really was not that important to me. We’re talking about the garage after all. It was a hot day. The heat index was nearly 100 degrees. As I painted, sweat ran down my arm and dripped off my elbow, spattering the concrete floor. I was tired, and my attitude was sour. Finally I paused and looked around the room, surveying the work that still needed to be completed.

“You know, God,” I said, “If I made more money I could hire someone to do this, and I could be in the house working on an article. I could be working on something that mattered instead of just painting this stupid garage.”

I know it wasn’t fair to speak to him like that, but we have the kind of relationship where we can talk openly to one another. His reply was as frank and direct as my complaint.

“So what you’re saying to me, Tim,” he replied, “is that you think that taking care of my home is not important.”

I was immediately taken aback. It hit me hard because it was true.

I stood there with the brush in my hand and thought about a trip I took a few years ago to Kenya. One day, in the broiling African sun, I served alongside other volunteers painting a large steel gate. I did it with joy because I was serving God as I served the missionary family. It was a privilege! I worshiped God as I worked, thankful for the opportunity to serve him in this way. So what is the difference between painting a gate in Africa and painting a garage in the United States?

In that moment, everything changed for me. I looked around the garage, and I thought about how kind God had been to give me this place to live. That he would entrust me to take care of such a beautiful home was humbling to me. Immediately I hung my head and whispered, “Oh God, forgive me.”

I think for the first time in my life I understood that work could be worship. All these so-called mundane tasks can be moments for worship when I understand that I am serving the King of all Kings in the process. I had made the mistake of separating the work of ministry from the work of living and in the process had missed the wonder of worshiping and serving God in all areas of life.

David wrote,

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2, ESV).

Everything belongs to God. He created it all, so therefore it belongs to him. Everything in this world, even the animals and people that live on it, belong to him. That means your house, your car, your job, your body, your kids, your parents, or your spouse all belong to him. We simply take care of what he gives us to manage.

Paul wrote,

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24, ESV)

Whatever I do, I should do it for God. It does not matter if it is done on the mission field or at home. Everything I say and do should be done in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. I should do it with all my heart, as for the Lord and not for myself or for anyone else. I am serving Jesus when I do this.

It was a profound moment for me, and it changed the way I live my life. Yes, all these tasks still need to be taken care of, but now they are moments for worship. If I am trimming the bushes, I am tending God’s garden. If I am reconciling the bank statement, I am managing God’s money. If I am cleaning the little bits of toothpaste out of the sink, I am making God’s bathroom sparkle. I’m doing it for him, not for me, and that changes everything. I’m doing it for someone I love dearly. What a privilege it is to serve him in the mundane things.

Worship is no longer just an event on Sunday. It is that moment on Monday when I am emptying the dishwasher. It is that moment on Tuesday when I am cleaning the house for a small group meeting. It is that moment on Wednesday when I am grocery shopping, and I consider his faithfulness to provide food for me to eat. It is that moment on Thursday when I am writing a devotional. It is that moment on Friday when I am sharing an evening with friends. It is that moment on Saturday when I am fishing from the shore and marveling that I get to live in such a beautiful place. Every moment of my life is an opportunity for worship.

Friend, what is it in your life right now with which you are struggling? Perhaps, like me, you find yourself in a place where you are having a pity party over some challenge you are facing. That person, problem, or situation belongs to God, not to you. Our responsibility is not to balance all the competing needs, but to remember that they all belong to God alone. We are merely serving God in the process.

I close with the words of the psalmist David who wrote:

Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:2-4, ESV)

That day in my garage, I turned on some worship music and continued to paint. The sweat still dripped from my elbow in the heat, and my arm was still tired from dragging the paint brush across the concrete block, but everything had changed. Suddenly that humble garage had become the temple of the Most High God. I was painting his temple. I was painting his home. I was humbled by the privilege to serve him in this way, and I was worshiping him in the process. I was no longer trying to balance the work of ministry with the other responsibilities in life. All of my life had become ministry. All of my life had become a moment to worship, and I had been changed as a result.

Life is worship. Worship is life.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 Newsletter.