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Cultivate Generosity through Thankful Living

Courtesy Photo.
Courtesy Photo.

We regularly sing about living lives of thankfulness. Gratitude is on our lips in some way during virtually every worship service, and then we are sent into the world to love God and neighbor, to care for the poor, and to seek justice. And then what? Well, basically life happens, and the loudest voices vie for our time, resources, and attention.

What if we focused on a simple “thanksliving” practice either individually, as a congregation, or both?

Can the church compete with the clamorous claims of contemporary culture? Are we equipping disciples to live each moment with an awareness of God’s abundance and to respond generously? How are we transmitting Jesus’ great love command and our call to live out these words to the best of our ability by grace and through the gift of the Holy Spirit? In what ways are we encouraging families with children to foster gratitude and thankfulness that will counter the individualistic messages of consumer culture?

We can no longer depend on the days of Sunday school faith inculcation. Never again dare we assume that folks are absorbing basic tenets of discipleship as part of the prevailing cultural norm. We are in new territory that demands creativity and boldness in tandem with persistence and mindfulness.

As people of faith who gather as the body of Christ, we have abundant resources to help us live and model a grateful, generous life of discipleship, including the greatest story ever told. At our best, we offer communities where people can experience belonging, spiritual growth, opportunities to make a real difference in the name of Christ: in short, a real reason for being and drawing breath. It’s time we stopped hiding our light under the proverbial bushel basket, being painfully modest about our faith, and making excuses about why we have increasing trouble making a case for support of the church’s mission.

Scientific proof now exists that human beings are hard-wired to be generous. It’s part of our very core of being. Researchers in psychology, neuroscience, and sociology are finding compelling evidence that children — infants even — are predisposed towards altruism and kindness. Our Creator God has lovingly equipped us to be faithful stewards, to care for one another and for creation, but this happens in real life, not in some once-a-year, slightly desperate and uncomfortable effort that’s tied ball-and-chain to a budget. People want to make a difference, and we are willing to be generous when given the right opportunities and reasons for doing so.

What if we focused on a simple “thanksliving” practice either individually, as a congregation, or both? Imagine how worship might be shaped if everyone came holding one thing for which they are thankful and shared that one thing. Imagine how your own ministry might be shaped by writing one handwritten thank you note every day for a certain period of time. Contemplate the possible results of a 40-day initiative to sow seeds of gratitude at home and in the beloved community. Dream big. Be bold. Tell everyone what God has done. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Want to dramatically improve stewardship in your congregation? Then by all means don’t start with the annual fall stewardship campaign! Open pocketbooks and generosity happen through changed lives and hearts conditioned for discipleship.

story by Sharron Blezard, a pastor in the ELCA, who passed away in July, 2021, following a three-year battle with breast cancer. In her 15-year career as a ordained minister she served as a parish pastor, an assistant to the bishop, spiritual director, writer and editor for the Stewardship of Life Institute.

This article originally appeared in the June 10, 2014, issue of the newsletter of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary.

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.

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