Thanksgiving Day is approaching. I’ve been thinking about what I’m thankful for and times in my life when I felt most thankful. I can’t help but remember the birth of my first daughter. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely grateful for both my daughters. (Just in case they read this!) The tremendous gratitude I felt at the birth of my first daughter was so pronounced because I wasn’t a very grateful person back then and because of my distance from the One whom gratitude was due.
Overwhelmed with Gratitude
My first child was born during a season in my life when it seemed everything was going my way. It seemed I had everything I wanted and I gave myself ALL the credit. I should have had a sore arm from patting myself on the back so much. And then…
Then my first daughter was born. At that moment in the delivery room (after I got over feeling faint), I was overwhelmed! I was overwhelmed with pure gratitude like I’d never felt before in my life. Unlike everything else good in my life, I could NOT take credit for this beautiful miracle of life. It was so obvious to me that she was a gift from God! I had a desperate compulsion to thank God…but I found myself in a crisis of gratitude. I had to thank God, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t thank God because I didn’t know God. Sure, I knew of God, but I didn’t know God in a personal way. I found myself lacking the context of a personal relationship where I could genuinely express my deep gratitude for what He had given me.
There was something about this underserved gift that filled me up with gratitude and keenly drew my attention to God.
The Nature of True Gratitude
The Apostle Paul enlightens us to the nature of grace in his second letter to the believers in Corinth. “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15 (NIV)
The word “thanksgiving” is what drew me to this passage, but it’s really not the best word to use here. Paul says, “It is all for your sake, so that as ‘charis’ extends to more and more people it may increase ‘eucharistian’ to the glory of God.” The Greek word for thanks is built on the word for grace: charis becomes eucharistian. This could have been preserved in English by the use of the words “grace” and “gratitude”. So a better translation might be: “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase gratitude to the glory of God.”
This is important because when we define thanks or gratitude, we discover that it has a very close relationship to grace. We really don’t know what true gratitude is if we miss this relationship. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve, cannot earn, and can never repay.
Now let’s try to better understand gratitude. Gratitude is more than saying, “Thank you,” when someone gives you something. Gratitude is more than an action we decide to do by an act of will power. You can say the words, “thank you,” when there is no gratitude in your heart at all. What it takes to turn the words, “thank you,” into gratitude is the real genuine feeling of gratitude.
Gratitude is a feeling not an act of will power. It’s a very good feeling. It’s a form of delight. But gratitude is more than delighting in a gift. It’s more than feeling happy that you got something you wanted. It’s a feeling of happiness directed toward a person for giving you something good. It’s a happiness that comes not merely from the gift, but from the act of giving. Gratitude is a happy feeling you have about a giver because of his giving something good to you or doing something good for you.
Let’s make one more qualification about true gratitude. Generally we don’t send our employer a thank you note on payday. This doesn’t mean we don’t feel grateful that we have a job, and that we have the strength to earn money, and that our employer pays us fairly. What it means is that the emotion of gratitude generally rises in direct proportion to how undeserved a gift is. Where work and pay are commensurate, we do not feel pay as an undeserved kindness, but as our due, and therefore the feeling of gratitude is not very intense toward our employer. He has not done us a favor; we have traded favors.
The Connection between Grace and Gratitude
Gratitude is a response to grace. A feeling of joy toward somebody who has shown you some undeserved kindness, who has been gracious to you.
The person our gratitude is directed to in 2 Corinthians 4:15 is Jesus Christ and God the Father through Him. The grace that spreads is the grace given by Jesus. Second Corinthians 8:9 defines this for us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Gratitude wells up in the hearts of those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” (Rom 5:17) Author John Piper puts it this way, “This gratitude to Christ, which marks all true believers (Rom 1:21), is more than saying “thank you,” or trying to return some service; it is more than being glad you are free from condemnation; it is being glad toward Jesus for the riches of salvation and the way he made it ours. When the grace of Jesus penetrates the human heart, it rebounds back to God as gratitude.”
Grace that leads to Gratitude for the Glory of God
Paul says “all this is for your benefit”, but he cannot let man, even converted, thankful man, be the end point of his ministry. Yes, his ministry is for man’s sake, but beyond that, above that, and vastly more important than that, his ministry reaches its goal when God’s glory is exalted. When all eyes are off of man and on God, mouths open, holy hands raised in praise, then the apostle’s work is done.
Crisis of Gratitude
The overwhelming gratitude I felt at my daughter’s birth caused a crisis in my life. I knew enough about God to know that he was responsible for this wonderful and gracious gift, but my crisis was I didn’t know God. I had no personal relationship with him as a context to express my gratitude, to reflect His grace for His glory. My crisis ended the day I entered into a saving relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son.
In his book, The One-Minute Manager, author Ken Blanchard talks about “one minute goals, one minute reprimands, and one minute praises”. He encourages leaders to “catch people doing something good and give them a one minute praise”. What if we were to pay especially close attention this Thanksgiving season and catch God extending grace to us? And what if each time we caught Him, we offered up a one-minute praise of gratitude?
During this especially thankful time of year, may our hearts be stirred to look beyond the gift, to the act of giving. May our joy be directed toward the Giver. May God’s grace, as it fills our hearts, rebound in gratitude to the glory of God.
With a grateful heart,
Director of Church Multiplication
(Some content adapted from a sermon by John Piper found at www.desiringgod.org)