Monday, September 9, 2013


ESR student Martin Melville recently shared this message in Worship during the 2013 August Intensives:

People often do not give thanks for the blessings they receive. Those blessings can come through other people, directly from God, or is ways that surprise us- -one might say, by the back door. 

The Grace of God is all around us. It is active in our lives. The people whose lives intersect with ours shine on us and we, in return, shine on them. God is also present in creation. Whether that Presence is in other people or in creation, it is right that we express gratitude. If we speak it aloud, it is a way of answering God, a prayer that tells God we see the Presence. Such a spoken thanks may empower the one thanked to continue, deepen or enlarge their ministry. Giving thanks is a spiritual practice, just like learning forgiveness or prayer or patience.

And what is grace? It can be defined as blessings undeserved and unearned. Actively seeking to name those blessings can lead us to more fully recognize how truly blessed we are. This can deepen our awareness of God’s Presence in our lives and in the world, which helps to deepen our faith.

Name some blessings: sunlight, acts of kindness, ESR, classes, friends, rain, ministry, work, love, significant others & partners, fish, parents, home, flowers…. Almost anything you can think of can be a blessing in some form or another. The hardest part is for us to see the truth in that.

Sometimes we get left-handed blessings. Eldering must always be done in the spirit of love, with an eye to personal growth. Sometimes we are eldered by events: our actions are “out of the Light” and things go what we perceive to be badly. Our interactions with others frequently reveal places where our actions and behavior are not aligned with the teachings of Christ. Just as we can offer vocal ministry addressed to ourselves in meeting for worship, we can be given guidance directly through prayer and through recognizing the roots of our own actions as being congruent (or not) with the teachings of Christ.

What is our reaction? Do we offer thanks to those in our lives who serve us or are kind to us? Do we consider that those actions are that of God speaking to us in them, and are therefore worthy of our recognition and thanks? Too often the answer is no. Thanks are in order. What about those times when life seems stacked against us? Nothing seems to go “right.” These times are just as likely to later be judged as blessings. It is in the power of God to carry us over these times whether we offer prayers of supplication or thanks. One effect of giving thanks is a change in attitude. The glass is likely to become half full where it had seemed half empty.

To whom do we owe thanks for these blessings? It is odd that the question even need be asked. Yet given the frequency with which we forget to express gratitude, it is important to. It is a part of the discipline of gratitude. It is a type of mindfulness. Are we thanking the person, or that of God speaking to us through them?

Friends assert that there is that of God in all. If you feel the grace or eldering of others, what should your reaction be? Often we respond angrily, perhaps as a way to cover for our own screw-ups. Through practice, we can learn to give thanks in all things.

Can you say that you are intentional about expressing thanks to those in your life who touch you? For most of, the answer is no, or that we don’t have a very good track record on the matter. There is always the opportunity to be more faithful in whatever spiritual practices we use to grow closer to God. There is an element of humbleness in allowing another to minister to us. When we are served, when we have our feet washed, we should be awed.

Gratitude is a spiritual practice. Emphasis on practice. Most of us don’t just wake up one day and say “gee, I think I’ll give thanks and be glad for whatever comes into my life today.” Give thanks in all things, even if it doesn’t suit you. Many of us have a therapist. We understand that the therapist’s job is to help us. That work is therapy. It helps us “get better.” When things don’t go “our way,” it can cut the stress level if we acknowledge whatever is frustrating us as aggravational therapy. We’re back to that “glass half full” approach.

How can we learn? First, decide it’s important to do so. Whether it’s achieving world peace or driving to Poughkeepsie, deciding “this is something I’m going to do” is the first step. It takes practice. It takes persistence. Don’t be a stranger to prayer. God likes to hear from you. It’s like letters from home.
Second, be present in your life. Friends often refer to this as living in the moment. We aren’t to be worrying about the future. We’re not to be concerned with rehashing the past. We are to be right here, right now. Recognize the gifts that come to you through God’s Grace. Give thanks. Even if they weren’t what you had in mind try saying “well, God, that’s not what I had in mind but OK. Where do we go from here?”
Third, ask. Keep in mind that the answers to your petition may not be what you had in mind. Lots of people grumble that God hasn’t answered their prayers. Maybe he has, the answer was just not what you were looking for. Looking back, all prayers have been answered. We lack the perspective or wisdom or something to see that it is so.

Fourth, persist. No one said faith was going to be easy. The Israelites, the apostles, the early Quakers had it a lot harder than we do. Somehow we think God is like a candy machine. Put in a 25 cent prayer. Get a gumball for being good. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we can be trained to seek the reward rather than do what is desired because it’s the right thing to do.

While it is good both to give and receive thanks for acts of ministry, do not become dependent on the words of people. Do not become an affirmation addict. God knows what is in your heart. While you owe it to God to hear Her speaking truth through others, do not become vain and seek the empty affirmation of others.

All spiritual practices bear fruit in our own lives and in those whose lives we touch out past the horizon. Our goal as children of the Light should be to live as righteously (near to thee) as we are able. The practice of gratitude is one way to work towards achieving that goal.

You can read more from Martin at his blog, Martin's Trees:

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