As each December wanes, I send out notes to several people whose work was particularly helpful to me in the almost-ended year. I began this habit when I was a journalist—because I knew my work was only possible if people sacrificed their time to talk to me.
Author and Esquire editor A.J. Jacobs had the same idea—although he took it a step further. A thousand steps further.
He set out to thank everyone who had any role in making the most common thing in his life—his morning cup of coffee.
Jacobs found and thanked the truck driver who delivers coffee to his local café. Then he thanked a worker who had paved the road on which the truck traveled. Then he thanked someone who had helped make the asphalt for the road. Then he thanked the woman who does pest control in the warehouse where his coffee is stored.
“This is strange,” the woman said. “But you made my day.”
Jacobs traveled to the farm in Colombia where his coffee beans are grown, and thanked its owners—a family of nine brothers and one sister. He thanked the reservoir workers responsible for the clean water in his coffee. And he thanked the designer of the lid on his coffee cup, which has a specially designed hole that causes the coffee to flow out smoothly, making it easier for our olfactory sensors to perceive the different flavors in the coffee.
“I ended up thanking a thousand people. But if I had the time, it could have been 10,000. Or a million,” Jacobs wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Our modern lives depend on radical interconnection.”
Indeed, Jacobs’ experiment in thanksgiving is a good illustration of how today’s globalized, capitalist economies work. But it’s also a good reminder of how God’s providence works.
Gene Edward Veith opened his book God at Work with this observation from Martin Luther: Jesus instructed us to pray for our daily bread and He faithfully brings it to us—using the work of the farmer, the baker, the factory and warehouse workers, the truck drivers, the stock boys and the lady at the checkout counter. And many others as well.
If God can work through a million people scattered across the globe to bring us a simple pleasure like coffee or a basic staple like bread, imagine what He can do—and will do—to help us with more important matters. Imagine what He has done—and will continue to do—to bring us the good news of the gospel and to use it to grow us closer to Him.
Each one of us is part of these providential efforts—to sustain the world and to redeem God’s people. Our part is small. But our work is great—because it is part of a grand undertaking. An undertaking so vast and complex we can’t fully comprehend it and usually don’t even notice it.
Until we take time to thank those involved in it. And thank the God behind all of it.