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.