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A Season of Gratefulness, Not "Just" Thankfulness

  • Cliff Young Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jan 18, 2012
A Season of Gratefulness, Not "Just" Thankfulness

This period around Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a time of year that causes me to reflect upon those moments or people whom I am thankful for, or is it grateful for? I always seem to get those terms mixed up and I hear them used interchangeably all of the time.

According to Merriam-Webster’s, thankful means “conscious of benefits received” and grateful is “appreciative of benefits received.”

Both still seem rather analogous, however, after much thought I see a clear distinction which has caused me to use each term very differently from here on out.

Being conscious of something means being aware of. So, thankful is being aware of something you have received. 

Appreciative is showing some sort of action as a result of, even as minimal as it may be (i.e. a smile, a verbal response, a hug, a reciprocating gift, etc.). Therefore, grateful is acting upon something you have received.

Many of us will probably be receiving some form of gift or sign of appreciation this Christmas season. No matter how “off the mark,” “unattractive” or downright ugly it may be, a majority of us will, more than likely, react graciously and show thankfulness (in a “literal” sense).

Confidently, most of us will have the heart to find opportunities to be grateful, where we can show some form of gratitude to others for their thoughtfulness and generosity, but that is not a pre-requisite if we are only thankful.

The Bible tells us to “be thankful” for many things (Colossians 2:7Colossians 3:151 Thessalonians 5:18Hebrews 12:28), and it would be difficult to find a believer who is not “conscious of benefits received” from belief in God or his Word.

The Bible also calls us to be grateful (Deuteronomy 26:11Ecclesiastes 11:8) and in lieu of what we have just learned, I have to wonder how many of us truly are and how often do we in fact act upon what we have received.

To put it in another way, I believe we are all thankful for having the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We have heard the Good News, learned of how God sent his Son to die for our sins, been repentant of our wrongdoings and accepted him as our Lord and Savior. We have received eternal life. For that, we are thankful and we are well aware of what we have received.

However, are we grateful? Our immediate (and correct) response is, of course I’m grateful! But are we appreciative and can a person see some form of action we take as a result of what we have received? Do we live our lives every day in gratefulness for the gift God gave us? Is there some sort of “fruit” being produced from our lives?

Stating it in that way, many of us are possibly just thankful a majority of the time.

It’s easy to “fall back” into a season of thankfulness, where we recognize the gift we have received and the knowledge of where we are going, nevertheless continue to go about living life for ourselves and for the things we want or thought was important.

Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'  'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet'" (Luke 14:16-24).

Have you ever given something to someone you knew (or thought) was perfect for them, yet days and weeks later you saw no sign of it? What did you want to do—ask them about it or ask for it back?

How are you handling the gift Jesus gave you, recently or several years ago? Is it like a present from the past—broken, shoved away in some closet, doesn’t fit anymore or lost? Or do you wear it thankfully and gratefully each day like the first day you received it?

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43).

Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).

We have received the most wonderful gift to which we are all thankful; however, I have discovered being thankful is not enough.

As I struggle this month to complete a project, start a new one to finish before the end of the year, as well as face a list of many other “things” I want to get done before the holidays, I need to slow down, or in my case, I have to stop and reevaluate what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. Unless my actions are showing gratitude for what I received and producing fruit, what good is it?

This may be a season of thankfulness, but our lives should be in a perpetual season of gratefulness.

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (ARose Books), as well as the monthly column, "He Said-She Said," in's Singles Channel.  An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback?  Send your comments and questions to