What does it really mean to be ‘thankful’?

We realize that this blog tends to focus on the negative…pointing out evil and absurdity, as we see them; they are far too easy to find.  

Here’s some respite, some thoughts which focus entirely on what is positive.  


I didn’t grow up saying grace.  I didn’t grow up thinking ‘grace’.  I didn’t understand grace, and I couldn’t define it.  But after nearly thirty years of adulthood, and being an active Christ-follower, I was pretty sure that I could define “grace” in a pinch.

Until recently.

I was reading Colossians in my Greek Interlinear New Testament.  (Don’t be too impressed…I only know enough Greek to be dangerous.)  I was looking at the word translated as “thanksgiving” or “gratitude.”  It looked like “eucharist.”  That can’t be right.  Eucharist has to do with communion, I thought.  I never was sure, in my liturgical childhood, exactly what the word meant, but I assumed it meant ‘communion’…and by communion, I meant the Lord’s Supper, the bread and the cup offered to the congregation.

So, thanksgiving is eucharistos?  And then it occurred to me (for the first time!) that the root word ‘charis’ is embedded in ‘eucharist’.  I knew that charis means grace.  “God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense” floated into my consciousness from the mental sermon file.  I remember being taught that grace is ‘unmerited favor‘:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

 (Ephesians 2:8-9)

It makes sense, I thought, that our celebration of communion is a recognition of God’s undeserved favor.  But if charis is what God gives US…why are we offering it back to Him as thanksgiving?  He DOES deserve it.  What was I missing?

Two hours and several reference books later, I was a bit further along:  Grace has several aspects, and it looks different from the giver’s and the receiver’s points of view.  But in general, grace connotes “pleasure, delight, beauty, joy, favor.”  Nothing in the definition requires it to be unmerited.  The person who is gracious is communicating grace to, or showing favor to, or giving something pleasurable/delightful/beautiful to someone.  That’s the closest I can come to a definition of what it means to extend grace to someone.  (Nowadays, when we say we’re giving someone grace, we’re cutting them some slack, a “grace period”…helping them avoid a penalty or punishment.  Which is what God did in Christ–He took our punishment for us.)

Now, if the giver of grace happens to be God, Creator of the Universe…then it stands to reason that ANYTHING He decides to give us, by way of pleasure, delight, joy, beauty, favor will be undeserved.  By definition, humans are undeserving, fallen.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

And what is our response to be?  Gratitude, thanksgiving.  Grace.

Imagine that a dear friend suddenly appears at your door with a package.  It is beautifully wrapped in paper of your favorite color.  She smiles as you let her in, amused by the baffled expression on your face.  It’s not your birthday, it’s not Christmas.  You’re not pregnant or retiring or leaving town. So why the gift?

gift box good“No reason!  It just made me think of you!”

So you open it, feeling slightly guilty and excited at the same time.  I so don’t deserve this, you’re thinking. I didn’t even get her a birthday present this year.    And inside the box is…well, let’s just say it is your heart’s desire.  She  knows you so well.  This gift is perfect beyond words.   Finally, while patting your pockets for a kleenex, you manage to croak out, “Thank you!”  And she grins. Your faces shine on each other; whose glow is original and which is reflected?  Impossible to tell.  You are grateful and she is gratified.  She has graced you, and you are grace-full.  Your delight is boundless, and so is hers as she basks in your joy– it’s all she wanted, the motivation behind the giving simply to give you pleasure.

So–God has graced us, has He not?  The entire world is filled with delightful things, and He has given us the senses to not only survive but to thrive and to experience pleasures without end.  This is grace:  we don’t deserve to live in such a world, where beauties crowd each other to compete for our awed appreciation. “Field and forest, vale and mountain, blooming meadow, flashing sea…” call us to respond.  And what does the Giver of every good and perfect gift want from us?  Grace: our welling-up of  gratitude and delight in the gift He’s given.   Simply acknowledge that He gave it, and let Him know we appreciate its value and our undeserving.

Ultimately, that is also a definition of worship.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”   (John Piper)

3 responses to “What does it really mean to be ‘thankful’?

  1. Greek is a highly nuanced language. I may not know enough Greek to be dangerous, but whenever I translated the word charis as grace at the Latin-Greek Institue in NY, my pagan instructors would always remind me, “NO! That’s your thing. In classical literature it means favor.” OK. Apparently, they thought it was dangerous.

    In the context of the New Testament it obviously means grace (as you put it, unmerited favor — from God — in the NT context) Yet kecharitomene in Luke 1, is generally translated as “highly favored” rather than full of grace in most versions of the Bible. Nuances.

    Eucharizein, the verb “to thank,” appears in the Last Supper narratives when Jesus breaks bread, blesses it, and gives thanks, before giving it to his apostles. That would be the contextual reference for calling Communion the Eucharist.

    The beauty of reading Scripture in the original Greek is that you can pull out these nuances, as you did regarding eucharist, thanksgiving, and grace, in a prayerfully meditative way. I had the habit of reading the Greek NT for 15 minutes a day. It kept my Greek fresh, but more importantly, it enriched my prayer. I got lazy (I mean too busy…) and lost the practice somewhere around 2 years ago.

    Thanks to your post, I’ll pick it back up again before I go to bed tonight — I’d forgotten how good it is.

  2. godsbooklover

    Wow. Thank you for those insightful nuances! I’ve never taken a NT Greek course…it’s on the bucket list, however! Transliterating is as far as I get…as I said, enough to be dangerous! I’m grateful for lots of good study tools.

  3. livinrightinpgh

    EXCELLENT post, GBL! You’re on a roll! First the Chik-Fil-A post, and now this B-E-A-Utiful piece! Kudos!

    I had the honor of learning under several devout Biblical scholars when I was in college. It’s truly an “awakening” to learn those “nuances” in the original Greek, or “Koine” Greek. SO MUCH of the intended meanings of words and phrases was lost in translation, particularly in the pressure filled times of 1611 when the Anglican Church held so much sway over the translation of the KJV. You see this in words such as what we now read as “baptized”. The original word was “baptiðzw”, translated baptizo, and ultimately “baptized”. In the original Greek, it CLEARLY meant “to immerse”, but that wasn’t the practice at the time, so instead of saying “immersed” which was the translation, the word “baptized” was created.

    But, I stray….

    To the point of your post: We know love, because He taught us the meaning of the word. For that, we should be forever grateful, thankful, and give praise.

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