What Gratitude Is and Isn’t

By Rev. Tim Yee

November 25, 2018

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 4:15


In 2 Corinthians 4:8-18, Paul emphasizes the connection between grace (charis) and gratitude (eucharistia). Thanksgiving is crucial to Paul’s ministry and, I would argue, is just as critical to your life as well.

A smiling boy.Yet Paul had a lot of reasons to not be grateful. He was writing to the Corinthians, a church which he founded, because other leaders posing as pastors had infiltrated their church and undermined Paul’s authority. They were saying that Paul wasn’t a good speaker, that he lacked authority, and that God wasn’t blessing him. This is not what a pastor wants to hear: bad speaker, bad leader, bad Christian. These false leaders were saying something like, “If Paul is God’s chosen leader then why is he suffering so much?” Paul was suffering greatly—physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually—and yet he was encouraging others to “not lose heart” (4:16).

Personally, I have a hard time with gratitude. I don’t even like to send thank-you cards! But I’m learning more about what gratitude isn’t, so I can understand what gratitude is. Gratitude is more than saying “thank you” when someone gives you something. In fact, very often, we say the words “thank you” when we have no gratitude in our hearts. The difference is having the feeling of gratitude in your heart when you say the words.

When I was a kid, when I opened my Christmas gifts to find school clothes, I may have said “thank you,” but, in my heart, I was saying, “thanks for nothing!” But when I got my Star Wars X-Wing Fighter with R2-D2 onboard, I really meant it when I said “thank you!” I had real gratitude, because it’s a feeling you can’t will into existence.

So gratitude is the experience that comes from a gift you delight in. But it’s more than this. Because even if I am happy for a gift, if I walk away and don’t think about the giver, then I’m not really grateful—I enjoy the gift but have no gratitude. Gratitude must be directed toward the giver.

Also, gratitude grows the more undeserved the gift is. I will be grateful for my social security payments when I retire (if any are left by that time!), but I’m not going to write a thank-you note to the government each month I get a check. I paid into that fund and so, in a sense, I have done something to earn this benefit. But when a parishioner offered his family’s vacation home for my honeymoon years ago, we had immense gratitude for this generous and unexpected gift!

Gratitude is the feeling of joy you feel toward somebody who has shown you some underserved kindness. Who else but God deserves the most gratitude of all?

Something to Think About:

At the cross, the Great Exchange took place: Jesus took his riches and gave them to us. He took our poverty and placed it on himself. He didn’t do this because we worked for it. Our salvation is not some kind of paycheck for us going to church or being moral or giving to the poor. These good things never could earn God’s gift of grace. So our hearts well up with gratitude toward the Giver because of his gift of grace. Our lives are simply a response to this constant flow of God’s grace to us.

Something to Do:

Note which of the following stuck with you most regarding gratitude:

Gratitude is the experience that comes from a gift you delight in.

Gratitude grows the more undeserved the gift is.

Gratitude must be directed toward the giver.


Lord, help me, today, to apply an aspect of gratitude in my worship of you and my service to others. Forgive me for being a poor receiver of gifts. I repent of my entitlement. I confess that my thankfulness can be empty words and my gratitude can neglect the giver. I want to feast on the reality of your grace in my life and live generously toward others because gratitude is so close to my heart. Thank you for your continued grace and patience with me! Amen.

Rev. Tim Yee

Contributor Emeritus & Pastor

Rev. Tim Yee is Pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles, a 100-year-old church in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo District where he serves a diverse church of professionals, internment camp survivors, artists and homeless. He serves on the Board of Union Rescue Mission where he leads the P...

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