“I feel so clean.”
“I had a hole in the center of my being. When I ran to Jesus, he filled the hole.”
Over the years, as my husband and I have witnessed numerous people in our ministry take that faith-emboldened step toward salvation, we’ve seen relief-filled faces and heard exuberant comments. Sometimes the responses come as the person emerges from the baptistry; other times, they realize the significance of what has happened to them months, even years later as they personalize the head knowledge that Christ died for them.
I remember Gentry. She seemed old to my 29 years, but in retrospect, she was probably around 60. Jack had visited in her home several times, comforting and praying with her husband, Chuck, who had terminal emphysema. The couples’ church attendance became more regular. Then one day, out of the blue, Gentry asked to be baptized. A shy woman, fearful that people might wonder at her request, she wanted a private ceremony. Jack, Chuck, and I were the only ones who witnessed her baptism. She was the one who said, “I feel so clean,” her face lit with joy. We didn’t know from what she was cleansed, but she and her Savior knew and that was enough.
I accepted Jesus at the age of 11. It was a joyful moment, as I recall. Yet I was consumed with working out my faith with fear and trembling. Aware of my own dark spots, I had the misguided notion that if I worked hard enough in the church, God would finally accept me. Then in an off-site seminary class Dr. Jack Cottrell explained the essence of God’s grace—that I could never do enough to warrant God’s acceptance. God only required that I take him at his word, that my acceptance of his payment for my sin was enough to guarantee my salvation.
I danced back to my apartment. My husband found me twirling in the small living room, shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!” I never wanted to be entangled in the grip of the world’s expectations again.
Realization of what Jesus did for us might come at baptism or later when the pieces of knowledge about Jesus finally fit together in a cohesive pattern. Regardless, the feelings are the same. Release. Realization of forgiveness. Hope for a second chance at life. The warmth of being loved like you’ve never been loved before.
We never want the joy to leave.
Yet somehow, as we reenter the everyday routine, life reminds us there are chores to do, bills to pay, and relationships to maintain. We struggle against a world hellbent on pride, ambition, and self-satisfaction. It’s easy for the feelings of exhilaration over our salvation to blink off as fast as Christmas lights after New Year’s Day.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Is it possible to retain our gratitude for this huge thing that Christ has done for us? Is it conceivable that our excitement and wonder about this life-changer could grow into a gut-deep gratitude that carries us through the worst of this earthly life?
Yes, it is. Here are ways you can cultivate your gratitude to the Savior for what he did for you.
Growing Your Gratitude
Stay anchored to God’s Word. Create a list of Bible verses that capture the gospel message (such as Romans 5:8; Titus 3:4-7; John 3:16,17; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; and Colossians 1:13,14). Meditate on the verses often. Tell yourself, “This is what Jesus did for me.” Read through the Old Testament, reflecting on God’s holy nature. Catch a picture of his zero tolerance for sin and how he chose to make a way for us to come back to him anyway.
Maintain an active prayer life. Each time you make a request of your heavenly Father, remember that the God you approach has the power to raise you to new life and secure your future beyond the grave. If he has the power and love to rescue you from the clutches of Hell, will he not also graciously give you all things (Romans 8:32)? Each time you witness his intervention and provision, ponder how this God had the power to rescue you from sin and restore you to better life than ever before.
Listen to transformational stories. We need to hear over and over that God is real and that he changes lives. As we witness the old story become new for yet another believer, we’ll think back to the day when we experienced the same release from the power and punishment of sin, and we’ll be refilled with glory and gratitude.
Remember when. Dare to observe the lives of those who still walk in the darkness of their sin. Consider what life must be like to live through the consequences of their choices. Like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, put yourself in a parallel universe. Imagine what your life would have been like without the power and presence of Christ. Whisper “Thank you” and ask the Lord how you can share your treasure with the next person.
Become intentional in articulating the gospel message. Paul made this connection clear when he told Philemon that when we are active in sharing our faith, we will deepen our understanding of every good thing we share in Christ (Philemon 1:6). Every time I tell someone what Christ did for me, the feelings of freedom, release, and thanksgiving grow and bloom.
Use prompts. An undiagnosed torn retina caused my vision to deteriorate to the point that I could not see the individual cups in the Communion tray passed each Sunday. Since surgery restored my sight, the ability to see the cups on the far side of the tray fills me with joyful gratitude for God’s gift of healing. My brain quickly connects the miracle of renewed vision to the greater miracle when God removed the blinders from my soul and brought me from darkness into his glorious light (1 Peter 2:9).
God gives each of us living object lessons that connect daily life to the miracle of our salvation. Use those memory prompts to wonder and worship once again.
Keep growing. Elaine was baptized when she was 25 years old without understanding the importance of that event. Thirty years passed before a leader at a women’s retreat helped her visualize Jesus’ acceptance of her. The love of Christ filled and sealed the hole in the center of her being. Under the guidance of a mentor, Elaine began to teach a women’s Bible study class. “It was the constant learning, reading, and teaching that helped me grow in my appreciation for what Christ did for me,” she said.
Second Peter 3:18 tells us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. As we become intentional in understanding the depth of God’s salvation gift, our level of gratitude will continue to increase. We won’t be able to keep quiet, and then, as we share what God has done for us, we’ll see other lives changed. The joy of our salvation will just keep growing.
Karen Wingate works beside her husband Jack to serve a small church in Western Illinois. She blogs regularly at www.graceonparade.com.