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Why U.S. Churches Should Learn to be More Thankful

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “Life Together,” though penned decades ago in a different time and culture, has meaning for the church today.

“Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts,” he wrote.

I’ve known about this book for some time, yet I have only now been able to work through its pages.

This has had additional meaning for me as I’ve been leading a group of men in our church through a discussion on Bonhoeffer and this classic book on Christian community.

It’s a small book, but going through and sorting out the implications of Bonhoeffer’s words for the 2018 church has been a challenge.

Perhaps the central lesson thus far from reviewing these pages is that the U.S. church has a whole lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is the freedom we have to gather and worship as the people of God.

I admit I can’t comprehend a context in which the church couldn’t meet freely and without fear, yet Bonhoeffer did and indicated the value of community especially in a culture where persecution existed and could be expected.

When he wrote, “When Christ bids a man come to him, he bids him come and die,” in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” This was not merely a “spiritual” kind of death. It was very real and personal for him, and Bonhoeffer’s bravery in the face of his arrest and ultimate execution is something that should convict all of us.

I’m not a Bonhoeffer expert by any means, so it’s been rewarding to work through this book alongside men who have a similar viewpoint of this theologian and martyr.

We’re learning through the reading and shared time together that the church doesn’t do a very good job of celebrating little victories or expressing gratitude for what we have been given.

I’m still unpacking his challenge of “giving thanks for the little things” as a precursor for being given larger blessings.

However, it rings very similar to Jesus’ admonition to “be thankful in the little things” in order to be granted access to the greater things.

It can be frustrating being the pastor of a local church. Unhappy churchgoers voice any number of complaints, criticisms and unmet expectations.

Sometimes, I admit, these unpopular critiques can weigh on me, especially when so much exists (in my view) to be thankful for as God’s people.

I’m reminded that the church needs to distinguish between being inconvenienced and being persecuted.

A lot more of the former exists and very little of the latter. And, I wouldn’t count going through another round of “the war of Christmas” in a few months to qualify as being persecuted.

Bonhoeffer didn’t know what it was like to live in a free church in a free state. He risked, and ultimately lost, his life by leading the confessing church rather than compromise with the Nazi government.

The church at that time sacrificed its prophetic voice in order to secure its existence. As is always the case, anytime the church becomes associated with the government, the church loses every time.

We can’t wait until things get better or more to our liking in order to make a difference for Christ.

The only time we have is the present, and now is the most important time we have because we aren’t guaranteed another day.

Based on what I’ve read so far, it is evident that Bonhoeffer recognized a time of persecution and crisis as an opportunity for the church to be a witness for Christ.

The U.S. church doesn’t have that hardship to be concerned about, so it’s entirely possible and likely that we don’t realize the little things that are given to us each and every day.

The church definitely needs renewal; a good step in that direction would be revisiting the value of practice of being thankful. It would transform us as the body of Christ.

We would appreciate more our unity in Christ rather than our political biases; less grumbling would exist about “not getting our needs met” and more gratitude about the time we have together as the people of God.

We would have less critique about the kind of music or preaching we experienced in worship and more celebration that we had the freedom to be together in the first place.

Life together. It really is a challenge, but it truly is a gift. And it’s worth it. Let’s not take it for granted.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Chisholm’s blog. It is used with permission.

Danny Chisholm

Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri.