Not so long ago our congregation was favored by the visit of one of our long-time members who had returned for the sad occasion of burying her beloved husband. It was good to see her again and embrace her in her grief. And it was also a time to reflect on the positive impact that this couple had on the life of our congregation. This gracious lady would certainly dispute that statement in her humble way and demur that “we didn’t do that much.” It is true that their last years here they were already past their ‘prime’ and weren’t heavily involved in volunteer work. Yet this couple generously contributed one of the most important assets that any congregation can receive: the gift of appreciation.
Many of us can relate to the remark by Mark Twain: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Sadly, the opposite is also true – a diet of criticism and complaining can sap our energies and leave us feeling discouraged and defeated. Probably nowhere in the Bible do we hear this more clearly than from Moses, the greatest figure of the Old Testament, who for forty years had to endure the grumbling of those who God was miraculously sustaining after delivering them from slavery in Egypt. In Numbers 11, Moses seems to have reached his breaking point when he addresses God:
“What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? … They keep wailing to me … the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me…”
The pain of Moses’ frustrated plea to “just kill me now,” though extreme, finds an echo in the New Testament as St. Paul devotes quite a bit of his letters to defending himself from critics. Dealing with criticism seems to be part of the ‘cross’ that disciples bear while following Jesus. And truth be told, leadership in the Church should be held accountable – and that is not always a pleasant business, even when done in love.
But let’s turn our attention from outright complaining to a behavior that is perhaps even more devastating to the vitality of a church: indifference.
There are few things more sapping of energy than when a group enthusiastically plans and prepares an activity and nobody shows up! Or when all of the hard work of preparation is rewarded by deafening apathy. Why even bother when no one seems to care?
And that’s why this couple added so much to the life of our church! They were regular participants in the routine activities: congregation meetings, educational opportunities, fellowship events, etc. But they not only participated, they always managed to express their thanks to the organizers and workers – not in any grandiose way, but in a gracious and sincere manner that made one feel appreciated. And their appreciation wasn’t limited to thanking for church-related work, it also extended to other areas of life they knew about. Without ever saying it in so many words, this couple had a quiet way of telling you that they appreciated you – that they were glad to know you as a brother or sister in Christ! You felt loved!
We live in a fast-paced and demanding world that expects results and freely criticizes. We bring a variety of expectations and gifts to our body of believers. It would be a wonderful thing if we were all uniformly and consistently gifted and effective – but that of course isn’t the case. Truth be told, we each mess up a lot and our efforts often fall short of the mark. But each of us walks in the glory of the empty Cross – and when we look at each other we see another “work in progress” being readied for God’s eternal home. So when we show our patience and appreciation to each other as fellow disciples, we honor and praise the One who chose us for His service.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)