Gratitude

Note to the reader: In his helpful new book, Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper makes the distinction between saying “I am fine,” and “I feel fine.” We know how we feel, says Piper, but God alone knows how we are. So in world of conoravirus, cancer, and all kinds of other maladies, we can say how we feel, but only God can say how we are. Our feelings are real, but we know they can change, especially in times of uncertainty. Also real is our safety in Christ, if we are his followers. My pastor says that we can be more sure of God’s love for us his children than we can be of our next breath. In Christ we are fine, not because of what we have done, but because of what he has done on our behalf. For that we can be grateful.

Now this week’s meditation:

Gratitude

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
                                                                                                  Colossians 3: 15-17

Occasionally I give counsel to students who are about to join the working world as teachers. As they investigate schools, I tell them to begin by looking at the student handbook. How many rules are there? Is there freedom for teacher discretion in discipline, or does the handbook attempt to define all misbehavior along with its punishments? If the student handbook is extensive it may be that the school’s culture will be weighed down by the oughts and musts of rules. Students may even think that living the Christian life is just about rule keeping.

Why the emphasis on rules? Cultivating student obedience and responsibility are not bad goals, provided the rules are fair. But is producing dutiful, responsible students the main aim of the Christian school? As important as those outcomes are, I don’t think so. In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul chooses to emphasize other attributes besides duty. Wise teaching and admonishing, says Paul, will engender gratitude in the body. Indeed, there’s something about the indwelling word of Christ that leads people to want to sing! They are filled with the peace of Christ. What do students want to do at your school? Are teaching and learning acts of gratitude or acts of duty?

Nicholas Wolterstorff thinks that many Christian schools have emphasized the law of God and have made the obligation to keep the law the main goal of the school. God is the law giver; we are to be law keepers. As a result students are defined by whether or not they function in God’s world in a lawful way. Duty more than gratitude.

What if students were defined by what makes them curious, or by their gifts, or, more importantly, by whom they love? Wolterstorff explains that these things are closer to the heart of what makes a school a Christian school.  ”If we are true to what we are,” he says, “we will be eucharistic [thankful] beings who break out into song and then go forth to perform works of obedience as acts of gratitude.”

Does this sound unrealistic to you? Teachers who model gratitude to God are likely to see the same in their students. I know a teacher who walks into class and says, “The Lord is good!” The students respond: “All the time!”  The teacher rejoins” “All the time!” And students respond: “The Lord is good.” Somehow it is harder to be cynical and indifferent when the class begins with the giving of exuberant thanks. Gratitude more than duty.

O Lord, Help us to make our schools places where students learn to be praise givers more than rule keepers. Help us to learn obedience as acts of gratitude to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College