I wrote earlier this week that much would change in our lives if we practiced the art of gratefulness. Today, I want to explore how gratefulness can become the best motivation for following the Lord.
In my many years of working with college students, I have seen a mixture of motivations for their involvement in campus ministry. Many come with the motivation to find a good group of friends which they think is more likely if they are involved in a Christian group. Some are looking to replicate their church youth group experiences. Others have in mind their résumé; their involvement will look good to potential employers. Still others are motivated by their sense of obligation, to their parents, siblings, or to their own consciences; someone will be pleased if they become involved. Most, however, do not begin their involvement as a result of their gratefulness to God. And, often, their involvement tapers off in their junior and senior years because they are, as a number of students have told me over the years, burned out.
It really is not that different among most people who are involved in church. The motivations are more along the lines of the students I’ve experienced. I think this explains why giving money is such a challenge. The average giving of a church attender in the US has hovered around two percent for decades. I think this also explains why most church leaders find it difficult to involve people in much more than weekly attendance; everyone says they’re too busy. And why, too, many drop out of church involvement altogether because they’re just burned out.
I can remember the early days of my walking with the Lord. I was so excited and wanted to be involved in my campus ministry. I eventually became a student leader and loved it. I think that was because I was so grateful for what the Lord had done in my life that he had saved a wretch like me! However, when I look back on my early years of leading a campus ministry, I see how my motivation shifted from gratefulness to obligation. I remember times when an early morning prayer meeting was scheduled and no one showed up, I wouldn’t stay to pray, but would go out for breakfast and read a newspaper. I felt obligated to be there, but my heart wasn’t motivated to pray alone. I think if in that moment I would have had the attitude of gratefulness, I would have stayed and poured my heart out to God on behalf of my students.
Gratefulness is a wonderful motivator. Just look at any dating couple who are in love with each other and looking forward to marriage. They normally aren’t too busy to see each other and do things together. And when they are forced to be apart, they long for each other. When either is with friends or family, they freely and enthusiastically share about the other. They are just grateful to have the other in their lives. But most of us know from experience that often after a few years of marriage, the attitudes of gratefulness fade. Couples take one another for granted. They get caught up in careers and child-rearing. The passion of romance that once motivated them loses steam, and it shows. And, sadly, some couples burn out and leave their marriages, having lost the gratefulness that led to them.
The gratefulness that faded early in my ministry, I recovered when I faced some very trying times. I realized how much I was loved by God even when my affection for him had grown stale. He was faithful even when I was unfaithful. That ebb and flow of gratefulness has been a constant in my life. Most recently, the combination in a year’s time of beginning a new ministry and meeting my wife, just reinforced in my mind and heart his deep love for me. I in no way deserved the position or to marry such a wonderful woman, but he gave both to me anyway.
When we are grateful to the Lord, when we recognize how much he has done for us, I believe that will change how we live. Like young lovers, we will prioritize time to spend with him and his people. We will be excited to talk about him with others, including unbelievers. We will want to know him, so we will prioritize time reading the Scriptures and praying. We will want to please him, so we will be intent on being obedient to him. However, it is an ongoing challenge. We have to continue to remind ourselves of what the Lord has done, lest our affections for him begin to grow stale.
I suppose one can argue that whatever the motivation, it is better to be involved with the things of the God and the Church. And, indeed he can use those motivations to draw us in to discover a deeper motivation. But the full and abundant life that Jesus promised will not be found in any other motivation than gratefulness to the Lord for what he has done for us. We can go through the motions of Christian activity, but life in those activities is found only when we are engaging in them out of the gratefulness in our hearts.
© Jim Musser 2019