Did you know there is a difference between gratitude and gratefulness, versus thankfulness? We so often use them interchangeably we don’t really give it much thought. We will be celebrating Thanksgiving next week, this has me thinking about gratefulness and thankfulness.

We know being grateful is defined as being “appreciative of benefits received.” Thankful on the other hand is defined as “conscious of benefits received” and also “well pleased.” So those are the technical definitions, but that doesn’t really help a whole lot in how we think of these two terms.

Being thankful is generally a one time action, such as saying thank you for something that has been done or said. When it comes to gratitude, or being grateful, it is really an emotion that runs much deeper. A person who expresses gratitude tends to do so in multiple ways and it extends to more parts of their lives.

“Gratefulness can be the result of many small, positive actions that come together to ship a mindset of appreciation. Some examples may be:

  • After hearing about a sick friend, you may reflect on your life and feel grateful for your health.
  • If you have to reschedule a meeting at the last minute due to a family emergency, you will probably feel grateful for the other meeting attendees if they’re understanding of your last-minute crisis.
  • If you go to a third world country, surely you will feel gratitude for your access to clean water and fresh foods.
  • If you have tough day at work, you might stop to be grateful that you have a job, unlike the many who are unemployed.”

Thankfulness is a conscious act you engage in after you receive some sort of benefit. Thankfulness, as opposed to gratitude is commonly associated with materialism, which is not a characteristic of people who practice gratitude. “Thankfulness is the response you have after someone does something specific for you or gives you a specific gift. For example:

  • Someone holds a door for you
  • Someone gives you a Christmas or birthday present
  • Someone tells you that they like the shirt you’re wearing.”

Thankfulness then is most likely more fleeting and not as long lasting as gratefulness. An attitude of gratitude has the ability to grow over time and have longer lasting benefits to our lives and how we approach the world around us.

Religious movements such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism teach living with a sense of gratitude is critical to leading and living a good life. I’m always interested in how we and others practice prayer. It seems many of us employ prayer in a thankfulness mode. We thank God for what God has done for us. We ask God for something, then we thank God for providing what we asked for. Islam, as you are probably aware, offer prayer 5 times a day! Every time I consider that practice I’m in awe of their devotion to prayer. Much more intentional than myself. What I’ve learned is, those five times of prayer are not employed to ask for something for the one praying. The prayers are intentional in their act of gratitude, the supplicant is actually practicing gratitude, thanking God for what God has done and is doing. As an aside, my friend Moussa is coming next week from Central Africa for a visit. I look forward to seeing him and observing him as he engages in his acts of prayer. I sit quietly while he prays and I myself pray and thank God for Moussa being here. I’m thinking I need to pray with more gratitude for ALL God is doing in my life, Moussa’s life, the lives of those who I’m privileged to live among, and for the wonders of this life.

Even though thankful and grateful are synonyms, and the Bible speaks more of thankfulness than gratefulness, we would do well to adopt more gratitude in our lives. Colossians 3:15 says “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” But Hebrews 12:28 says “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” We are to be thankful every day for what God gives us, but our lives should be lived in such a way that they exude gratitude, our lives should show our gratitude with each thought, each word, each action. The way I see it, our very lives are lived in a constant prayer of gratitude.

What would our lives look like, be like, if we acted out of gratitude? Would we be more giving of all we’ve received, including our time, our talent, our service, our witness, as well as our treasure? Would how we live reveal our gratitude to others? I grew up in a family where it was important to say I love you. As I’ve grown older and learned from so many others, its even more important to show my love. The same, I believe, is true for thankfulness and gratefulness. Its important to say thank you when we’ve received something, or something has been done for us. That’s proper and in order. Its even more proper, more in order, more important for us to show our thankfulness through the grateful way we live.

May all that we do, be a reflection of our gratitude to you, O God. May our lives be lived in a prayerful way that reflects the core of our gratefulness.

Your fellow traveler on the Way,
Pastor Tom

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