Leadership Wisdom – The Upward Spiral of Thanksgiving

By Uli Chi

November 22, 2023

Scripture — 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!


Gift is the wellspring of our gratitude.


Grace before the Meal, by Fritz von Uhde, 1885

Grace before the Meal, by Fritz von Uhde, 1885

As you read this, today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. And as I write this a couple of weeks earlier, I have to admit the news in the world (and the United States) is not conducive to celebrating the holiday. The ongoing war in Ukraine, the recent terror-induced conflict in Israel and Palestine, and the political acrimony and threats of violence at home and abroad—to name but a few—all make me wonder how we are to be thankful at a time such as this.

And then we come to today’s text from the Apostle Paul in the First Century. Paul was no stranger to hatred, violence, and suffering. In the same letter, he recounts in vivid detail his personal experience:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers (2 Corinthians 11:24-26 NIV).

If anyone could be forgiven for a lack of gratitude, it might be the Apostle Paul. And yet, we have this extraordinary declaration—“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”—in the middle of his letter. Somehow, Paul practiced the wisdom of thanksgiving in the middle of a world full of hatred, violence, and suffering.

Why might that be?

To begin with, Paul understood that gratitude and thanksgiving are invariably rooted in our experience of the gifts we have received. To put it the other way around, gift is the wellspring of our gratitude. And in turn, gratitude motivates and expresses itself in generosity towards others. And that generosity leads to the giving of further gifts that begin (and multiply) the cycle once more.

Gift that leads to gratitude that leads to generosity that results in the giving of further gifts is what one might call the “upward spiral” of thanksgiving.

And what might be the alternative?

Instead of a world of gift, we live in a world of obligation or even oppression that finds its ultimate expression in slavery. Instead of a world of gratitude, we inhabit a world of resentment and fear. And instead of a world of generosity, we find ourselves participating in a world filled with greed that seeks to possess and dominate others. The result is a downward spiral: obligation results in resentment, which results in a lust for power over others, which results in further oppression.

Paul understood that there are two different paths, two different spirals which we can travel. One leads to life and flourishing. The other leads to death and despair. And it seems that the world in which we find ourselves this Thanksgiving 2023 seems hell-bent on the latter.

So how do we get off the downward spiral and get on the upward one?

We begin where Paul and his apostolic colleagues began. We begin with the gracious and compassionate God, who is the giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17 NIV). And among the most profound gifts God offers to all human beings is the gift of choice. We have the choice of which spiral—upward or downward—we choose to walk. And that journey begins with either gift or obligation, freedom or slavery.

The Apostle Paul chose the way of gift, the way of freedom, the way of life. And he invites us to do likewise. Then we can join in his exclamation that still reverberates down through the centuries:

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!


What are the gifts that you are thankful for today?


How might you respond today to the gifts you have received?


God our Father,

We pray for all those who suffer hatred, violence, and war in our world. As the author of life and peace, we ask that you intervene in your mercy and deliver us from our downward spiral of despair.

We are grateful that you have given us the gift of life and the gift of redemption. In taking on the sin and evil of the world in your Son, and by sending us your Spirit, you have given us the possibility of beginning again the upward spiral of thanksgiving.

Help us to begin again today.


Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: You Can’t Out-Give God (2 Corinthians 9).

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Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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