A THANKFUL HEART DOES MANY THINGS
Enter his (God’s) gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:4-5
During the Great Depression, a pastor named William Stidger was in a coffee shop with a group of minister friends. They were talking about the terrible things that people in their congregations were suffering because of the bad economy. They were also concerned, with Thanksgiving coming up, about what to say to their congregations about being thankful. There were no quick answers given, but when Stidger got home, he felt God prompting him to scrap that question and instead give thanks to some people who had had blessed him in life over the years. So he began to write some letters to people who had touched his life.
The first was to an English teacher who had inspired in him a love of literature and poetry that had affected the way he wrote and preached. So he told her how much her teaching had impacted his life. A week later, he received a letter in reply. It said, “My Dear Willy, I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am now in my 80’s, living alone in a small apartment, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of autumn lingering behind. You’ll be interested to know that I taught school for more than fifty years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing had done in many years.”
Stidger said that he tends not to be very sentimental but he found himself weeping over the note. His pastor friends had asked what they as pastors could tell their congregations about how to be thankful in such a tough time. But it was the wrong question! It was expressions of thankfulness to others that might do the trick. So he continued to write off letters of true appreciation to people and the response tended to go the same way. For example, he wrote a letter to a retired bishop who had been a mentor to him, thanking him for all the care and help and telling how it had shaped his ministry. Stidger knew that the bishop had recently lost his wife, and so he included a word of thanks for what she had meant to his wife. A week later, he received this reply, “My Dear Will, Your letter was so beautiful, so real, that I sat reading it in my study, with tears of gratitude falling from my eyes. Before I realized what I was doing, I rose from my chair and called my wife’s name to share it with her, forgetting that she was gone. You’ll never know how much your letter has warmed my spirit. I have been walking around in the glow of your letter all day long.”
Psalm 100 tells us to lift up our thanksgivings to God, not because God needs to have his heart warmed but because thanksgiving warms our hearts and spirits. And, as we see in this illustration, it has an effect on others when we thank them for what they have done. When we focus on what we have to be thankful for - rather than on what is wrong in life - it changes our perspective, pushing away our sorrow and pain. So give thanks to the Lord, and give thanks to those who have helped you and touched your life. Both your hearts will be warmed by your words of thanks.