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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

The Gratitude Attitude

Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

I Cor. 15:9-11

The Bible tells us that we’re supposed to live differently than the world around us does. But what’s going to motivate us to live differently? What’s going to motivate us to put up with persecution? What’s going to motivate us to keep on going when society around us tends to be going in the opposite direction? What’s going to motivate us to be sacrificial when everything in us wants to be selfish?

There has to be a powerful motivating factor here – and there is! It’s the grace of God – a divine attitude.

You see, God is free to deal with us however He chooses, and fortunately for us He’s chosen to mingle mercy and grace with His justice. What does that mean? Well, justice means we get what we deserve; mercy means we don’t get all we deserve; and grace gives us what we don’t deserve. And God has figured out how to deal with us on the basis of all three at the same time.

How does it work? Well, the Bible tells us that “The wages of sin is death.” So if we’re to get what we deserve – that’s justice – then we have to recognize that death is our payment for sin. But God devised a way where He could justly give us what we deserve, but mercifully give it to us in a way that won’t destroy us. He became one of us in Jesus Christ, and when He died on the cross, according to the Apostle Paul, we were crucified with Him. We died with Him. We were buried with Him. But then God says that He raised us up into a newness of life with Christ. He made us children of God. He gave us eternal life. He has prepared a place for us in Heaven. He gave us the Holy Spirit. And then He gave us a ministry and the privilege of living now for His glory. And all of that was done because of God’s grace. It’s the Divine Attitude!

I took two years of Latin in high school, and didn’t do very well, but I do remember a few things. One of them is the Latin word for grace is “gratia”, from which we get the word, “gratitude.” That’s the key here. Gratia, or grace, is the root from which gratitude grows.

So what’s the powerful motivating factor to help us live the Christian life? It’s to understand the gratia of God, and respond with gratitude. The gratitude attitude comes from understanding God’s grace.

The gratitude attitude is doing things as unto the Lord, because we understand His divine attitude of dealing with us in grace. Maybe what we do for the Lord won’t be noticed by people. We might be misunderstood. We may be misquoted. Everything we do might backfire. We might become discouraged and tempted to quit. That’s understandable – unless we have the motivating power that doesn’t depend on the reactions of people around us. So if we’re praised or ignored, understood or misunderstood, rightly represented or misrepresented, what really matters is this: out of gratitude to the Lord, we do everything as unto Him. That’s having the gratitude attitude.

I like the way Stuart Briscoe tells the story of God calling the Apostle Paul: “Paul,” God says, “I want to deal with you in grace.” Paul is overwhelmed. He’s so thrilled, he says, “I feel a strange sensation within me. What do you call it, Lord?” And the Lord says, “It’s called ‘gratitude.’” “How can I express my gratitude?” asks the apostle, and the Lord replies, “By doing what I want you to do.” So Paul asks the Lord, “What do you want me to do?” “I want you to be an apostle.” “Oh, good. To the Jews?” “No, I have an apostle to the Jews.” “You do?” “Yes, I do.” “Who?” “Peter.” “Peter who?” “Simon Peter.”

“Ha, ha, Simon Peter, Lord? Fisherman. Not particularly gifted. In fact, only gifted in two areas: every time he opens his mouth he puts both feet in it; and whenever he says he’ll do anything, he falls asleep. Put him in prison, he falls asleep. Give him a quiet time on the rooftop, he falls asleep. Take him to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, he falls asleep. He’s a very gifted foot-in-mouth operator, and he’s a very gifted sleeper. And he’s going to be the apostle to the Jews?”

“Right.” “What do you want me to be?” “I would like you to be apostle to the gentiles.”

Now Paul, the true-blue Jew, gags on that one. We have to understand how utterly unacceptable this idea would have been to him! So what happens? Paul becomes the super apostle to the gentiles! He works at it to the point of exhaustion. He keeps giving and giving of himself to the gentiles who beat him up, throw him in jail, and finally kill him. Why? Because the gentiles are so great? No. Because he had such a tremendous love for gentiles? No. Because he thought gentiles were worthy? No. Because the gentiles loved him? No way! So why on earth did he do it then? Because of the gratitude attitude. People with the gratitude attitude keep going because they’re doing things as unto Jesus Christ!

Now let’s look at ourselves for a moment. Do you understand the grace of God? Do you have a handle on it? Does it have a grip on you? Do you know that the thing that keeps you going is the gratitude attitude? If you do, that’s great.

Now, there may be a problem in this. Although out of gratitude you may feel that God is calling you to do some things, you also may feel that you’re running out of gas! If so, the Apostle Paul has a word for all of us on this subject, too. He continues to point out that it isn’t him who’s doing the work, but the grace of God that works in and through him.

In the same way that the Latin word “gratia” helped us to understand grace, so the Greek word will help us here. The Greek word for grace is “charis”. It’s the word from which we get “charisma.” We don’t know what charisma is, but we know if people have it. It’s a gift that’s hard to define – something you have because it was given to you. You’ve been graced with it. Grace has a habit of gifting people.

What does this mean to us? It means that God, in His grace, daily gifts us. He has given us the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit has given us specific gifts. So we’re doubly gifted: first with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and then with gifts to enable us to do what God wants us to do. God didn’t tell Paul to be the apostle to the gentiles without first giving him the Holy Spirit. Nor did He tell Paul to be a great writer of theology without giving him a mind that could grapple with theology. And God isn’t going to give us work to do without giving us the ability to do it. That’s how the grace of God works.

The electricity in this church building is a super energy source. All kinds of things can be plugged into the system. Plug in the microphone and it amplifies my voice. Switch on the lights and they brighten the whole place. Turn on the organ and it’s ready to make beautiful music. It’s all from the same power, but different appliances.

Every believer has received the gift of the Holy Spirit – and the Holy Spirit is like the electricity of God. And all believers have been given their own special appliances to plug into the power source so they can do whatever God calls them to do.

So the church of Jesus Christ is a group of people in touch with the grace of God, and because of the grace of God are motivated with the gratitude attitude.

Every member is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Every one of them is gifted by the Holy Spirit so that they might be what God has called them to be. That’s why the church can and should be a dynamic community? One reason it isn’t, so often, is that we try to motivate people – or even motivate ourselves – the wrong way. The only way Christians can be consistently motivated is to be constantly in touch with what it means to be recipients of the grace of God.

Ask yourself a few questions: Do I really know the grace of God in my life? Is my life motivated by that grace? Do I know that God gives me both the power and the ability to live for Him? Do I set out, day after day, to be to the glory of God what He has called me to be? If you answer “yes” to these questions, you’re motivated by Christ. You’re influenced by the gratitude attitude.

Let’s pray about it.

“Gracious Lord, we thank you for reminding us of your grace. Help us to identify what you want us to do, then enable us by your Holy Spirit to do it in such a way that our lives will be constant hymns of praise, sacrificial offerings, a bringing of ourselves on a daily basis just simply saying, ‘Thank you.’ What a difference this will make to our attitudes, our families, our witness, our lives. Give us a gratitude attitude, Lord. We pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.”

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