“Dear Jesus, Thank you for Mommy and Daddy and my brother and my books and the one about cats and my stuffed animals and my warm pjs and that I have bed and fuzzy blue blanket and playing with the dog today and getting to play with legos today and….”
Have you ever heard a young child pray? It can be a long experience. The grateful heart in those prayers will humble and convict the most battle-hardened prayer-warrior.
We rotate family prayers each night. Our five-year-old warms my heart as he prays for others and begins to grasp the gospel. Now our three-year-old prays with eyes open. He thanks God for everything his little mind can think of as he looks around his room and processes back through his day. His prayers are a lot like the one above. The power of his gratitude overwhelms me.
See, we have explained to our children that “EVERY good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17b ESV – but view in light of surrounding verses — gifts may not be what you think they are), and our children listened. When you opened a Christmas gift from a friend, you were sure to thank your friend, but did you thank God? Your good gift is from the heavenly giver, not just the earthly one.
Thankful, Grateful, Blessed
As I wiped down my family’s dry erase board at the end of November, I paused at the top right corner where we fill in the goal for the month. For November, I had written, “Be Thankful.” Looking back at November and forward to December, I erased the word “Thankful” and replaced it with “Grateful.” These words are fairly synonymous and quite difficult to separate. I could find no scholarly articles on the subject in a cursory search. Merriam-Webster is less than helpful. Most articles try to differentiate the two with no sourcing as both words go back to the Latin word gratus.
So let me explain what I was telling myself. During November, we are thankful. We count our blessings. The focus here is on the things, people, etc that we are thankful FOR. In fact, for several years of high school and college, I would sit down around Thanksgiving and fill pages of my journal with everything I could think of for which to be thankful — from the earth-shaking (salvation) to the mundane (cheese). During December, I wanted to remind myself who gave me all the things I was thankful for in November. I wanted to be grateful to the gracious Giver of life and breath. I wanted to be like my child.
Overflowing with Gratitude
Where does gratitude come from? It is the natural response of every Christian for his very salvation. We did not and cannot earn salvation. It is a gift from God. We are grateful to God for his free, undeserved mercy. Imagine being released from death row because someone who committed no crime offered to serve your sentence for your crime. That’s salvation. Our daily response to his daily grace is that: gratitude.
He never stops loving us so we must never stop thanking him. Our thanks don’t earn his love; it is responsive to his love. Colossians 2:6-7 lays this out: So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude. How do we get to the gratitude part? Start at the beginning of those verses. Gratitude flows from us when we:
- Continue – You started down this path. Don’t turn around. Keep going.
- Walk – Putting one foot in front of the other. Not planning, but walking. One step at a time. Do the next thing.
- In Him – You have to rely on Him. Walking in your own strength will fail, collapse, and fall apart. When he orders your steps, you stay on the path.
- Rooted in him– Like a tree planted by the water be rooted in God’s word. Those roots will hold you when the storms come. They will feed you in the drought.
- Built up in him – Built on the foundation of the Gospel. Our builder is a Jewish carpenter – the author and finisher of our faith.
- Established in the Faith – Following Christ is not a flippant decision. It’s not something you do one day but not the next. Your faith is established in your life. It’s the creation of a totally new you.
- As you were taught – We were designed from the beginning to live in community. The Christian faith is not meant to be walked solo, not just because we get lonely. Jesus taught his disciples. His disciples taught others. We walk together to teach, learn. We lovingly call out each other’s sin and learn compassion from each other’s struggles.
What Comes in Must Go Out
The natural outflow of gratitude is generosity. When we see that everything we have is from God, we loosen our grip on all the things that are “mine.” Everything is from God, it all belongs to him. He is generous with us so that we may be generous with others.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses giving and the motivations for it. As you read, note any common words from the passage above from Colossians.
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others… Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!2 Corinthians 9:11-13, 15
The words thanksgiving in these verses is the same root word as gratitude in the previous verses. Surprised that both also used the word overflowing to talk about gratitude? Gratitude should be the pattern of our lives, our speech, and our actions.
Here, Paul is encouraging the Corinthian church in giving. God has supplied their needs. The overflow of gratitude is generous giving, which produces gratitude in others. When we receive, we give glory to God. When we give, others give glory to God. We receive to give. We do all things to the glory of God.
Thanks be to God!
As we close a year that has provided plentiful reasons to complain, I want to be thankful for my many gifts and grateful to God, the giver.
For a slower pace to take it all in. Thanks be to God!
For time with my children I would have missed. Thanks be to God!
For friends who laughed and cried with me. Thanks be to God!
For pain that pushed me where I would not have otherwise gone. Thanks be to God!
For the loud giggles, the piles of laundry, and yogurt smudges on my window that fill my home with life. Thanks be to God.
May I always remember where my gifts come from— and give generously so others may thank God, too.
Grateful in 2021.