Gratitude

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Paul says in Romans 16:3-4, "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks."

Gratitude is Like Salt - a Little Bit of it Goes a Long Way.

Something that has had a huge impact on my life happened to me when I was working at Outback Steakhouse during my first few years of college.  The owner of our store, Greg, was a good businessman who ran a tight ship.  He expected a lot from us as employees, but he also was generous in return.  When I was a busboy, I was basically the store's "do anything we tell you, whenever we need it" guy. One of the things Greg expected the busboys to do was to pick up all the trash and gum that people spit out as they were walking to or from their cars. This, needless to say, was tedious and gross.  Most of the busboys would just walk around and act like they were doing it, but, for some odd reason, I did what Greg asked.  On more than one occasion Greg looked out through the window to see me picking up gum in between rocks, called me into his office, said "thank you," and told me to bring my girlfriend in for a steak and lobster dinner on the house.

Those two little words - "thank You" - have a lot of power.  You know this if you've ever had a boss go out of his way to thank you for a job well done, if you've had a parent send you a card to thank you for being their child, if you've had a coach thank you in front of the team for all your hard work, or if you've had a leader thank you for something nobody else noticed.  These two words, when used genuinely, are powerful because they let us know we are noticed and that we are valued.

Great Leaders Express Gratitude 

In Rom.16:3-4, the Apostle Paul demonstrates the truth that great leaders not only feel gratitude, but also express it.  William Arthur Ward said, "Failing to express gratitude is like wrapping a present and not giving it." When leaders don't express gratitude they express the opposite message - "I could have done this without you."

Expressing gratitude, however, lets people know they are noticed and valued.  This in turn produces more generosity. After my boss said "thank you" and bought me a dinner, my work ethic forever changed.  From that point forward I wanted to work hard for him, not because I wanted another dinner (although those were nice) but because I felt valued as an employee. Great leaders know that a little bit of gratitude goes a long way.

The Enemies of Gratitude

Two enemies stand in the way of leaders expressing gratitude - busyness and selfishness.

Busyness is the first enemy of gratefulness and our culture is ruled by it.  Don't believe me? Next time you are to a room full of people, ask some individuals how they are doing and count how many say they are busy (especially if they are leaders). Or better yet, count how many times you are tempted to say "I'm busy" when somebody else asks you how you are doing.  Busyness rules us, and it prevents us from expressing gratitude. As leaders we are often so focused on the task at hand, or on what is ahead, that we fail to look behind.  We are like motor boats speeding forward to the destination ahead of us, forgetting that we are leaving a huge wake behind us. That wake is filled with people who are helping us reach our destination.

Selfishness is the other enemy of gratefulness.  This almost goes without saying. To be grateful for anyone requires that you take a moment to focus on others. This is impossible if you are only focused on yourself.  Busyness and selfishness stifle gratefulness.

Awareness is the Friend of Gratefulness.

In the above verses, the Apostle Paul displays his awareness by publicly expressing gratitude for specific people and their specific work. The entire book of Romans exhibits Paul's awareness of God's role in his life and ministry, but Romans 16, the final chapter, exhibits Paul's awareness that his ministry could not have been accomplished without help from fellow believers. I am confident that his awareness of God, specifically the person and work of Jesus, produced an awareness of others.

When we get close to Jesus, our busy hearts find rest, and our selfish hearts find humility. The closer we are to Jesus, the less busy we feel, because he puts into perspective what really matters: God and people.  The closer we get to Jesus, the less selfish we become, because in the presence of the Creator of the universe, the Controller of all events, and the Sustainer of all things we realize our lives aren't in need of that much attention. Furthermore, when we honestly gaze at Jesus emptying himself to be crucified in our place, our only response is to be grateful, and when see him dying for others too it becomes extremely clear that other people matter just as much as we do.  In many ways, our gratefulness is tied to our closeness with Jesus.

So take a moment to pause and reflect on what God has done for you.  Ask God to reveal one person you need to thank, and do it! A little bit of gratitude goes a long way.

Some Tips for Expressing Gratitude 

Expressing gratitude in a meaningful way can be tricky.  Here are some things that help me:

  1. Be specific - The more detail the better.  A general "thank you" is nice, but it means more when we thank people for specific ways they've been helpful.
  2. Write it down – A verbal "thank you" is often forgotten, but written ones last forever. Keep a stack of cards nearby, so when something comes to your mind you can write it down.  This also expresses that you were grateful enough to take time out of your day to put some thought into the thank you.
  3. Link it to God's work - It is so easy to get bogged down with the idea that our lives have no purpose. It is a great encouragement when people point out ways they see God working in our life.
  4. Be honest - Don't thank people for things you're simply not grateful for.  Be honest, it will mean more.