Gratitude or thankfulness is a spiritual condition and not something we can originate from within ourselves. Let me explain. Like all spiritual realities such as peace, love, faith and hope, gratitude is one of those atmospheres that simply cannot be created from within. It has to be planted, to be sown, to be imbued. We convince ourselves that we can create these states of being by our own efforts. For instance, to find peace, we try to control our circumstances and situations and futures; to find love, we do too many things to mention; to find hope, we create scenarios in our minds or goals of a “better tomorrow”. But truth be told, we are actually quite horrid gods! We can no more create these sustainable conditions than we can predict the future.
So how do we live in gratitude? How do we function in the atmosphere of thankfulness? Let’s start with how NOT to pursue it. First of all, comparing yourself to another is an awful and temporal fix. Secondly, comparing our present circumstances to differing circumstances is folly at its very best, poison at its worst. We sometimes say, “I should be grateful because so-and-so has it worse off than I do.” Or we say something like, “I am thankful for today because I have a good job and a great family!” This is what some folk’s call “stinking thinking”. We simply must resist the attempt to birth gratitude within ourselves by comparing our situation or state to another person or a worse state. This is flawed reasoning for so many reasons, the primary proof of which is life here on planet earth is always in a state of flux, we are always changing and the world around us is always changing. So what worked today will not necessarily work tomorrow. Situations change, circumstances change, and eventually we die…that is one heck of a change!
I’m not saying that we should not be grateful for things such as our circumstances or situations; I’m simply saying that this is not the true foundation of thankfulness. They are secondary, sometimes tertiary shoots from the trunk of true and rooted gratitude. I am thankful to live in America, but honestly, it becomes more and more difficult to be thankful for a country heading at turbo-speed into the history books as “a failed experiment”! I am thankful for my wife and children, but in the future, I will lose them or they will lose me. What I’m trying to do here is lay the groundwork for an awesome Truth. The painful reality of spiritual growth is that sometimes we have to completely obliterate our existing systems or paradigms to see Truth. This is difficult because some of us have had these faulty systems for many decades! Sometimes, before laying the groundwork, we have to destroy the façade of “what we have always assumed”. The wonderful news is that this Truth we are attempting to build and embrace is not temporal, this gratitude does not fade away, this hope does not disappoint. That is what I want; this is what we all crave, a permanent solution rather than a temporal one. Trying to reinvent our gratitude every morning is an exhausting affair. But there is a way to wake up every morning in the atmosphere of joy, thankfulness and a grateful heart. Am I there yet? Almost…
Several phrases should be removed from our thoughts, our sermons, our teachings, and our self-evaluations; those phrases are “we should be”, “we need to be”, and “we have to be”. Why do I make this startling statement? I make it because the logic is flawed! A statement like, “We should be grateful” assumes we have the ability to produce gratitude; a statement like, “We need to be joyful” assumes we can pull joy out of our backsides; a statement like, “We have to love our enemies” assumes we possess a love that powerful inside of ourselves! But you may counter, “Hey, wait a minute! All of those statements are almost straight out of the Bible…I thought you were a Christian teacher…shame on you.” Cut me some slack here, gentle reader; remember, we can’t…but God can. The slippery slope of pride starts with us assuming we can render unto our God anything that He hasn’t already given to us. Trust me on this one. Let me prove it to you and it will change your attitude.
Let me offer a quick example of faulty thankfulness. Sally gets up on Monday morning with a hectic schedule ahead of her: the kids have to be up, dressed, fed breakfast, and at the bus stop for school by 7:30am. In order to pull this off, Sally has to be up by 5:30am to shower and get dressed for work. While in the shower, she remembers that today is an audit day at her firm. She gets to look forward to mountains of paperwork as soon as she dons the doorway of the company. On her commute in traffic, she finds herself stressing out. Sally is a Christian, so she says a calming prayer, “Lord, give me the strength.” Then she feels guilty about not being thankful and at peace, so she begins the mental gymnastics of making herself feel grateful. It sounds like this: at least I have a job; it’s better than being broke. I should be thankful for my beautiful children. I need to be grateful for the house I live in…some people live on the streets for goodness sakes. At least I am respected at work, live in a free country, etc. Now let’s look at Tuesday.
Sally wakes up Tuesday morning with the same routine, but this time the circumstances have changed: She wakes up late and exhausted, one of her kids has contracted a nasty virus, Monday afternoon she was scolded by her supervisor for not finishing her part of the audit, her husband stayed up late watching Monday Night Football and was no help this morning, and to top it off, there was another shooting on a college campus just hours away that left three people dead. Now, by Sally’s own spiritual technique, she has to rewrite her internal monologue! The same old guilt comes knocking and now she has to really stretch to find gratitude. This cycle goes up and down and up and down in her life. This eventually will cause Sally to become spiritually depleted. We all do this in one way or another until we find the true answer!
Hint: YOU CANNOT GUILT-TRIP YOURSELF INTO GRATITUDE
I heard a wonderful sermon recently that pointed out all of the times the Apostle Paul brings up thankfulness in his letter to the Colossians. I will cite the verses; believe it or not, Paul harps on this theme six times in this short letter! Right off the rip, Paul hits us in the first chapter, the third verse: “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” The second mention is in the same first chapter, the twelfth verse:”…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” The next is found in the second chapter, the seventh verse: “having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” And moving along, we find it yet again in the third chapter, the fifteenth verse: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” And the very next verse, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And finally in the fourth chapter, the second verse: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;”
Whew! That was an onslaught of exhortation wasn’t it? “Give thanks to God…giving thanks to the Father…overflowing with gratitude…be thankful…have thankfulness in your heart…and have an attitude of thanksgiving.” I wonder what the theme of this letter could possibly be?
Truth be told, Colossians is deep and mysterious, inspirational and magnificent, steeped in theology and divine principles. But, I’ve been told I have a knack for breaking things down into simple terms; so, that’s what I intend to do! However, I do encourage everyone to read and study this powerhouse of an epistle because the Spirit has a personal blessing for each person who studies His word. Let’s take a little journey together…shall we?
When you read and study the Bible, going back to the original language does not make you a scholar, going back to the original language does not offend King James, going back to the original language is not as difficult a task as it used to be, and going back to the Greek here sheds unimaginable light into this mystery we call gratitude or thankfulness. I use many online sources where the Greek is a “click” away! Usually from a Strong’s Concordance, there will be additional tools there to go deeper. In case you were wondering, here are a few that I use the most often: www.blueletterbible.org, www.biblehub.com, and www.studylight.org.
So let’s look at the actual Greek verb for being grateful or being thankful. The word in Greek is eucharisteō. This word means “to be grateful or to give thanks.” Duh! So why do we need to go back to the Greek? The reason is that if we trace the origin of the word, we find an incredible truth. Let’s look at this word one more time and notice the bold letters that I will highlight: eucharisteo. See the highlighted part of the word? You see, the verb for being grateful is a derivative of the root word charis. And charis is the Greek word for…wait for it…wait for it…that’s right…GRACE! If we deconstruct the word for being thankful, we find its origin. How important are origins? They are really, really important. Remember when I told you in the beginning that YOU cannot muster up gratitude or thankfulness? I was hinting that YOU are NOT the origin of this spiritual offering. Something else or Someone Else is indeed the origin.
By completely deconstructing the word eucharisteo, bear with me here, we find the richness of what it actually means. Our Greek word for being thankful is a verb; it is derived from an adjective and that word is eucharistos which means “mindful of favors, grateful, thankful”. Still no additional light yet. But here is where it gets juicy. If you go back to the construct of eucharistos, you find the beauty; this word is a combination of two words: eu meaning, “to be well off, fare well, prosper” and charis which means grace. Now defining grace is a job in and of itself, and I won’t go there now. Suffice it to simply give you the definition as found in the lexicon. Charis (grace) is defined as “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, and loveliness.” So the reconstructed meaning of being thankful is “to be well off and prosper” because we have been “afforded joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, and loveliness.” Another definition that you can look up, and I’m not stretching here I promise, is “the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace.”
Did you catch that? Let’s repeat it because it is so ridiculously magnificent: Being thankful is a spiritual condition of one governed by the power of grace. So the logical conclusion is that we cannot be truly thankful until we have received grace. And grace is the most incredible gift know to humankind. Grace comes from our Lord with no strings attached. The only “catch”, if you will, is that you have to receive it.
Now there’s more to it than that. We give thanks to God. Giving thanks to God is a spiritual offering, it brings Him glory, He craves it…seriously, He literally craves it! The amazing part is that He SO deserves it! Our response to His amazing grace is thankfulness and this blesses our Father.
Quick side note: I just love Dad…don’t you?! Words escape us most days when joy overwhelms us. If we are not daily overwhelmed by our Lord then we haven’t taken the time to pray and worship Him! Simply meditating on Scripture can lift us to intoxicating heights. And yes, the first three chapters of Colossians will do that for you…every time.
So how do we give thanks? Let’s break this down as well. Let’s pretend that you are a homeless person who could really use a helping hand. While you are sleeping, someone unknown comes by and slips a hundred dollar bill under your cot. You awake and discover the lovely gesture. Are you thankful? Absolutely. How about another scenario? You, still being a homeless person, are walking along an alley and discover a hundred dollar bill but this time the monetary gift was unintentional; meaning, no one directly gave it to you. You simply found it. Again, are you thankful? No doubt. If you were a Christian, you would think to yourself, wow, thanks God. But if you weren’t a Christian, you would think, today must be my lucky day!
Another example. Let’s say you are a farmer and your wheat crop is suffering from a drought. Just as you think you will lose your entire investment because of the drought, a weather front moves in out of nowhere and rains on your crop for three days. Are you thankful? Sure. Excusing my repetition, if you are a Christian, you will thank God for the impromptu rain; if you are not a Christian, then you are simply thankful that Mother Nature “hooked you up”!
Thankfulness here is based on circumstantial or situational parameters. The key to true gratitude is not gratitude for the situation or circumstance, but rather to whom the thankfulness is directed. You see, without the gratitude directed toward the object of that gratitude, it simply makes you feel good. To direct your gratitude or thankfulness is the key to giving thanks. But in the above examples, the giver is unknown and therefore impossible to direct the appreciation. As a believer, you will give the Lord thanks but it could have been a kind stranger that gifted the money, an unlucky stranger that dropped some money, or a scientifically explainable weather front.
Let’s take it to a higher level. What if you are the husband/father of a middle-class family that runs into hard times; your family is suffering and the bills are piling up. A stranger knocks on your door on a Saturday morning and out of the blue, offers you ten dollars. You probably appreciate the gesture more than the actual sum of the gift. What if the same stranger offers you a hundred dollars? Does that make you a bit more appreciative? What if the stranger offers you a million dollars? Our first reaction would be one of questioning the motive of the giver and wonder what strings are attached! We would simply not believe in the sincerity of the supposed gift. But what if it was a friend that you knew you could trust? And what if this friend is not a millionaire? What if this friend just hated to see you and your family suffer and sacrificed greatly to appropriate such a wondrous gift? Now you would feel guilty about accepting it, wouldn’t you?
Here we find new land mines in our field of pseudo-gratitude. You now have a person to give thanks to, but with some strange contingencies! The small sum receives a small level of gratitude; in fact, most of us would probably be insulted. The larger sum of $100.00 would receive a higher level of appreciation. The massive sum of $1 million would cause a plethora of differing emotions and “catches”. We have a person to give thanks to, but we are not sure of how to feel. Guilty, skeptical, indebted, embarrassed, offended, or just take the money and run! Until we know a person is sincere and we understand the motive of a gift, our giving of thanks is not pure. What looked to be a blessing could indeed end up being a curse.
Now let’s bump it up one more notch. You are a Christian living in Northern Iraq. Islamic extremists discover that you and your family have converted to Christianity from Islam. Late one evening, you hear a crowd surrounding your home and then your door is kicked open. The mob of evil has now yanked you, your wife, and your two young children out of bed and have you all kneeling on the bedroom floor with your faces staring at the floor. They tell you to renounce Christ and live or refuse and be beheaded. They will start with the youngest child, so you can watch the carnage; then they will slay the second child, your wife, and lastly you. Your convictions are so pure and faith so solid, you refuse to renounce Christ. You have sealed your own fate. Your youngest is set before the remaining family members, the knife is wielded, and the execution is about to commence. Suddenly, a man comes running through the door screaming and interrupts the proceedings. He pleads with the terrorists, “Please, please, don’t hurt this precious family! Take me instead.” You look up and realize that the person offering himself up is none other than the spiritual leader of your village, the man of God that actually shared the good news of Christ with you and your family. The terrorists have been looking for this man for days and days, hoping to murder him and therefore, “cutting the snake off at the head”. The exchange is accepted and you and your family are spared. How grateful are you now?
Now you have a person to give thanks to but they are gone. How can you thank him now? The terrorists just accommodated the man in meeting his Maker! Grateful, yes; able to give thanks, no. You might thank God for sending this man to save your family, but the ramifications could be unspeakably difficult. Wouldn’t you feel guilty? What would life look like moving forward, living under the weight of this tragedy?
The ultimate expression and offering of thankfulness, where it becomes a state of the heart is two-fold. The first part is that the gift is overwhelming in its power; the second part is having a living person to offer the gratitude. The overwhelming gift is grace and the living person is the Lord.
The gift of grace by its very nature changes us, and therefore, causes us to be full of thanksgiving; you simply can’t help yourself! Thankfulness becomes a natural reaction, not something you have to do or contrive! As natural as breathing air, is this state of being. It isn’t forced or demanded; it is an expected reflection of the gift. Assuming you understand the gravity of grace.
For good measure, I will point out that Paul knew of this Truth and lived in it. He destroys our false notion of thankfulness when he pens the following: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV, emphasis mine)
Just as the moon has light because it reflects the sun, so is gratitude a glorious reflection of the light of grace. The moon has no light that it possesses; it does not emit any light whatsoever. So are we without God. If we are not thankful and full of gratitude, it is because we surely do not understand the gift or have not completely embraced the Truth that sets us free. Falling completely into His arms and into the freedom of grace is all that is required of us, a complete surrender to the One who so dearly loves us. The leap of surrender is the only requirement and thankfulness washes over us as He catches our fall.
In the follow-up to this teaching entitled, The Gravity of Grace, I will expound on the immensity and reality of the gift of grace. But I hope I shed some light on this subject for you. Maybe you have more questions than answers right now and that’s Ok. Take it to the Lord in prayer, open your Bible and read about these spiritual truths, and definitely return to read the conclusion of this teaching.