“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB.
Life in the universe of grace is closely intertwined with gratitude. It is a gift culture, not a labor culture. If you live in a labor culture, there is not really much place for gratitude, because the way to significance is to work hard, to work smart, and to thereby prosper. Gifts are largely unwelcome because they interfere with the ongoing aim to prove one’s worth.
We see this with the silly things that people say in gift-giving situations. People say “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” Or, “how could I ever repay you?” Or, “I don’t deserve this!” Or others might say (and I’ve heard this), “you really deserve this!” What we’re really saying in these circumstances is that we are unused to grace, and we feel awkward receiving a blessing that we didn’t earn.
Gratitude is a profound and sophisticated act. It acknowledges the sacrifices others make on our behalf, the love that others act on towards ourselves. Gratitude is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus, because He is on the lookout to bless us at every turn whether we deserve it or not. When we cultivate gratitude, we grease the gears of grace to operate, because in expressing gratitude we remove the burden of seizing favor and manipulating circumstances by our own labor and cleverness, and allow for circumstances and powers quite beyond ourselves to operate on our own behalf. If I must deserve everything I get, then everything I get must depend on what I do – and I am limited in my knowledge and resources and power. When I cultivate a habit of gratitude, I allow that good things can be given to me, that I can be blessed, by the love and sacrifice and concern of those who are beyond my own power or een my merit.
In our family, we have on occasion gone back to Philippians 2:4, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” If I only look out for my own personal interests, the I have only one person looking out for me – ME. If we all look out for each others’ interests, then we have six people looking out for our interests. The way to foster this is live in a culture of grace, which includes gratitude as a response to blessing which is not earned.
In expressing grace to one another, it is important that we do not expect or demand gratitude. It is not a law, and God does not withhold favor because we do not perfectly express thanks. This is a subtle back door to gracelessness. Gratitude is a gift, in that it is a sweet joyous natural way to respond to a gift that does not spoil the oil by promising repayment. Such promises are nothing more than an attempt to drag the beautiful gift of God or of someone back to the world of law. Gratitude simply receives and says, You love me, isn’t that wonderful! It allows us the freedom to serve one another wherever the need arises, realizing that not only could we never pay God or anyone else back for anything, but that it doesn’t matter anyway because we live under a new and better and more powerful paradigm now. It strips life of interpersonal politics and owing people favors and being enslaved because you accepted a gift. Gratitude and grace fit together like a hand and a glove. It makes it easy to live because the only expectation is to give from love, and the only response ever expected is thanks.
The church is used to living in a gift culture. We do not charge to come to church. We give to the ministry of the church. We are used to giving away worship music for little or nothing. We feel the incongruity when a church goes astray with these things. This is because grace and gratitude and the whole gift culture are the warp and woof of the Christian life, even for graceless churches that refuse to understand this.
Grace says, “I love you!” Gratitude says, “thank You Lord! I love you too!” It is as simple as that.