Living Fully, Living Gratefully: Why Giving Thanks Matters

By Mark D. Roberts

February 25, 2020

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:3 (NRSV)


Yesterday, we began a new Life for Leaders series I’m calling “Living Fully, Living Gratefully.” In the next few weeks we’ll be looking closely at the New Testament letter to the Colossians. This small letter speaks more intensively about gratitude than any other book of the New Testament. It invites us to live fully through living gratefully.

After his opening greetings to the Christians in Colossae (a city in western, modern-day Turkey), Paul writes, “In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). Why does Paul begin with reporting on his prayers of thanksgiving? In part, this was a common literary convention. Letter writers in the first-century Greco-Roman world would often begin by offering thanks to “the gods.”

But Paul begins with thanksgiving for reasons beyond those having to do with this common literary practice. Thanking God highlights God’s sovereignty, presence, and care. Thanking God frames all of human life in the context of God’s will and activity. Thanking God points to God’s grace and goodness. Thanking God is foundational to the Christian life. It’s a practice Paul seeks to model for the recipients of his letter.

From the instruction and example of Scripture, we know that giving thanks matters. It matters a lot, actually. But, as it turns out, recent psychological research also underscores the value of gratitude. One of the world’s leading experts on gratitude is Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. For years, Emmons has done extensive research on gratitude and its influence in our lives. He has written several books, dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles, and many more popular pieces on this subject. In his fascinating article, “Why Gratitude is Good,” he cites research that shows that people who practice gratitude experience the following benefits: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, more joy and pleasure, more compassion, and less loneliness. Harvard Health, reporting on Emmons’s research, notes that people in one of his studies who wrote down things for which they were grateful “were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

Gratitude isn’t only helpful for our personal lives. It also seems to make a difference at in the workplace. In “The Science of Gratitude,” researcher Summer Allen, Ph.D., writes, “Though there has not been a great deal of research explicitly focused on gratitude in the workplace, a handful of studies suggest that gratitude may help employees perform their jobs more effectively, feel more satisfied at work, and act more helpfully and respectfully toward their coworkers.” I know that when I express gratitude for my work I feel more satisfied. I expect I also act more helpfully and respectfully toward my coworkers!

Giving thanks matters most of all because it is a vital element of a healthy, engaged, grace-filled, and Christ-centered relationship with God. But it also matters because it helps us live better. After all, God created us for gratitude. When we abound in giving thanks, we experience more of the abundant life God offers to us through Jesus Christ.

Something to Think About:

If you were to receive a letter that began with thanks to God for you, how would you respond? How would you feel? What would you think?

As you consider your own life, why is giving thanks important? What difference does it make for you?

Do you regularly thank God for aspects of your work? If so, why? If not, why not?

Something to Do:

Set aside a few moments today to offer specific thanks to God for your work. This assignment does not assume that everything in your work life is good, by the way. You should certainly feel free to be honest with God about what you really experience at work. But even if your work situation is not ideal, there are probably aspects of it that are good. Be sure to thank the Lord for these.


Gracious God, today I’m reminded that giving thanks matters. It matters to me. It matters to you. It matters to our relationship.

Help me, I pray, to grow in my understanding of gratitude. But, even more, help me to grow in my expression of gratitude to you and to others. May giving thanks be as common to me as breathing. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
Practicing Gratitude (Devotional)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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