Grace and Gratitude
Many have said – and I concur – that the core of John Calvin’s theology is the intersection of grace and gratitude. Taken together, grace and gratitude constitute the center of Reformed theology.
Grace – God grants us favor not because of who we are or what we do but because of who God is. It’s all gift, depending neither on our ability to earn it or to receive it. The faith by which we embrace God’s grace is itself God’s gift. In biblical language, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this [faith] is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Gratitude – our side of our covenant with God is to give thanks. In all circumstances! (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It acknowledges that all that we are and all that we have is sheer gift. It’s the only thing of value we have to offer, really. It seems so small, so inconsequential. Yet it is absolutely necessary. God doesn’t need it from us. It is for our benefit, not God’s. We benefit doubly, first from the gifts of God’s grace and then from our response of gratitude.
When we practice gratitude, we become more gracious, more like the One in whose image we are made. It is from the practice of gratitude that the fruit of the Spirit grow in us: Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) They all are rooted in the soil of thanksgiving.
Our culture has become increasingly dour, demeaning, demanding. Graciousness has been displaced by greed, grievance, and grumbling. This arises from the abandonment of practicing gratitude. Amid such darkness, perhaps more than ever, the church empowered by the Spirit can shine like a beacon, a witness for grace and gratitude in the face of culture’s countervailing currents.
Gratitude is about practice more than attitude. It is something we do and say, not just something we feel.
Gratitude is not acquiescence to the status quo. It is quite the opposite, the foundation from which genuine transformation grows. God changes us through grace, not through demand. Similarly, graciousness rooted in gratitude is our most effective tool for healing the wounds of our world.
We are in the midst of a General Assembly, where debates are intense and emotions run hot. We advocate for this or that because we care about it deeply. We believe our concern to be self-evidently just, and we wonder about the faithfulness of those who don’t see what is so clear to us. It is so easy amid fevered disagreement to forget about grace and gratitude. We do so to great peril – to ourselves, to each other, and to the cause of Christ.
Today I express special gratitude for the work of the person who has been behind the scenes of each of my five hundred plus letters our presbytery has sent you each Thursday over the past 10½ years. Cindy Miller has probably read more of my writing than any other human being outside my family. God have mercy on her! Each week she has offered me constructive feedback, making my letter invariably better. Authors of books always thank their editors; today I thank Cindy Miller for all she has done to help my public proclamation be clearer and more effective. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.
This is the last of my letters that she will help move from my desktop to your inbox. She retires next Tuesday after nineteen years of exceptional service to our presbytery. I am grateful for her eagle eye, her heart for Jesus, her ironclad dependability, her deep sense of vocation, and her friendship through the joys and storms of life.
Next Tuesday also brings to a close the season during which Larry Ruby has served as one of our presbytery’s temporary pastoral staff. He has worked with many sessions and congregations over the past eight months, helping them find their best pathway forward, encouraging them always to see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.
Cindy and Larry, servants of Jesus, I am grateful beyond words that the Lord permitted me the joy of walking alongside you for a season in answering the call of Jesus. May our Lord bless you greatly as you shift to new horizons in serving him.
With great gratitude,