Growing in Gratitude
Mirroring the Early Church’s model of service and sharing
In a soft yet firm voice, a congregant shared his testimony with the church: “I thank God for my family, our health and our life. God is good!”
These simple words of gratitude, which had been translated from French to English, were deeply moving because we knew his story.
As a recently resettled Congolese refugee, Sawa (name changed) came to America with a handful of family members. Just prior to his arrival, he lost most of his loved ones due to the war. He nearly lost his own life when a militant choked him, causing permanent vocal cord damage. But Sawa never stopped praising the Lord.
So, when Sawa shared how thankful he was for his family, his health and his life, we knew he meant every word. Afterward, there was a moment of reflective silence followed by applause.
If this man can give thanks to God after all he has endured, it seems I ought to be grateful in every season (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Yet I grumble ... too often.
This has led me to wonder, How can we increase gratitude in our lives — and in our churches? As I examine the Book of Acts, two verbs come to mind: serve and share.
After the Day of Pentecost, the Early Church became a flourishing community of people who encouraged, cared for, and served one another (Acts 2:42-47). They did all this with “glad and sincere hearts,” praising God, who “added to their number daily those who were being saved.” I believe today’s churches can grow in gratitude by mirroring the first-century model of service.
A 2016 study from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that serving others brings neurological benefits, such as decreased stress, that contribute to well-being. In fact, researchers discovered the rewards were greater for those serving than for those receiving service.
This is consistent with Paul’s teaching. In Acts 20:35, he reminded the Ephesian church of his example of service and urged them to remember the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” People who participate in global missions often have a greater appreciation for the blessings in their lives because they have witnessed the struggles of those in other parts of the world.
If people do not hear about God’s wondrous works, they can never anticipate them, let alone be grateful for them.
Of course, suffering and brokenness exist in every nation — and every neighborhood. Engaging the local church in community missions will help increase gratitude as members live out God’s compassion daily.
One way to do this is by working with schools, law enforcement, hospitals or social service agencies. Such strategic partnerships exponentially increase the capacity to serve the targeted demographics.
Sawa’s family relied heavily on community support for the first year after arriving in the U.S. Now they help other refugees learn their new normal. Sawa has always been a grateful man. But his gratitude increased when he was able to serve others as the Lord enabled him.
The Early Church faced opposition and persecution. The Church could easily have dissolved after witnessing the death of Stephen for his faith in Christ (Acts 7). Instead, they continued growing, and even multiplying — carrying the gospel beyond Jerusalem, as recorded in the rest of the Book of Acts. God was with them everywhere they went, helping them, empowering them, and confirming the message through signs and wonders.
Sharing the good news also means sharing our own miracle stories, as Peter did in Acts 12:17. In fact, the testimonies of Christians provide some of the most convincing evidence of God’s divine power, sustaining grace and steadfast love. Our stories can edify the body of Christ, expand God’s kingdom, and increase faith and gratitude. How does your church steward those valuable testimonies?
Incorporating testimonies into services is one way to highlight God’s work in the church. In every congregation, there are broken people who need divine intervention in their situations. Telling the stories of what God has done for others increases their faith as they anticipate miracles in their own lives.
Sharing impromptu testimonies during a main service may be challenging for larger churches. However, a pastor can still increase gratitude in the church’s DNA by publicly celebrating answered prayers or creatively communicating the congregation’s testimonies via social media platforms. The point is, if people do not hear about God’s wondrous works, they can never anticipate them, let alone be grateful for them.
In All Circumstances
As you guide your church to have an increasingly grateful heart, remember that Jesus gave thanks to His Father during the Last Supper, knowing He would soon endure the agony of the Cross.
Model gratitude at all times — especially in the face of trials — and your congregation will learn to do the same.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of Influence magazine.