Gratitude is relational and strengthens our relationships, a Christian leader has said.
Tim Thorburn, Executive Director of the Perth Gospel Partnership, believes that gratitude is one of the hallmarks of Christianity.
Today is World Gratitude Day – created by the United Nations Meditation Group in 1965 – with the purpose of the day being to express appreciation for good things done by individuals and groups.
Mr Thorburn believes the day is a good opportunity for Christians to “count their blessings”.
“A Christian is someone who knows that God has blessed them and God will bless them, and those blessings come in all sorts of different forms and fashions,” he told Hope 103.2.
“The key to counting your blessings is to see that that’s not just blind fate; It comes from the hand of a God who cares about us (and) has provided richly for us.”
“Gratitude is about thanks for others, it takes our minds and hearts out of ourselves… thankfulness is the opposite of selfishness,” – Tim Thorburn, Executive Director of the Perth Gospel Partnership
Gratitude is relational
Several websites promoting World Gratitude Day are drawing attention to the benefits of gratitude to our mental and physical health, however, Mr Thorburn believes it’s about more than that.
“Gratitude is about thanks for others, it takes our minds and hearts out of ourselves, but the way that the websites I looked at saw it was it was actually for my benefit that I give thanks,” he said.
“I thought that’s a little bit twisted; yes, it does bring some benefit to me, but… thankfulness is the opposite of selfishness.”
Rather than focusing on how gratitude can benefit ourselves, he thinks we should be looking to others.
“I think what a Christian understands is that gratitude is a relational activity. If I say thanks to someone, I’m acknowledging and rejoicing in something good that comes from them,” Mr Thorburn said.
“It draws us into a positive personal relationship or, if there is already a relationship there, it deepens that.
“If you think about a child giving thanks to their parents, if they never give thanks, the relationship becomes transactional, it becomes distant.”
“A Christian understands is that gratitude is a relational activity – If I say thanks to someone, I’m acknowledging and rejoicing in something good that comes from them,” – Tim Thorburn
Giving thanks to God
Mr Thorburn said our relationship with God is also like this.
“The Bible sees a lack of thankfulness to God as being part of the effect of sin in our lives – we refuse to give thanks to God, I think, because we know that it has that relational element and we don’t want that relationship; we want God to keep his distance.”
One way to give thanks to God is to just “say it”, he said.
“If you go down to the beach on a beautiful morning… the sun’s coming up and life just feels good.
“I think everyone has this sense of ‘who do I give thanks to for this?’ It’s almost like a dead end, I feel thankful but it doesn’t draw me into the relationship with the person who’s responsible.
“I think that Christians know that it’s from the hand of God Himself and we know that He’s done much more than give us sunrises and sunsets, He’s given us His own Son, which is stunning and unbelievable but true.
“I think Christians have the great advantage of knowing who it’s from and, therefore, giving personal thanks is actually saying thank you to God and rejoicing with Him in His goodness.”
Showing gratitude to others
When it comes to thanking others, Mr Thorburn believes it still comes back to God.
“In the Bible, when people give thanks for what other people do and have done… there’s always an element of thanks to God for what those people have done,” he said.
“It draws us into the reality that what we are able to do for each other… still has its origin ultimately in God and His goodness, it’s His gifts that we use in blessing each other.
“And, so, the biblical practice of giving thanks to God for the good things other people do, it is thanks to them but it acknowledges and rejoices that God is in that as well; it’s not just an isolated me and you.”
However, showing gratitude to others doesn’t come naturally for us, he said.
“Maybe I’m being a bit harsh but I think Australians, by and large, are grumblers and complainers,” Mr Thorburn said.
Being more intentional in his approach has been helpful for him.
“I’ve been deliberately seeking to show gratitude, to recognise from God and from others almost anything that’s worth celebrating,” he said.
“And not just celebrating, not just having some joy in it myself, but sharing that joy by expressing gratitude.”
Mr Thorburn has been encouraged by people in his life who are showing gratitude.
“They’re looking for the good things that God might be doing out of any and every situation and just expressing that.
“And they’re not doing it to show anybody else up, it’s just their mindset… because they’re convinced of the goodness of God and, therefore, they’re looking for the evidence, and when they see it, they share that.”
“The biblical practice of giving thanks to God for the good things other people do, it is thanks to them but it acknowledges and rejoices that God is in that as well,” – Tim Thorburn
Where to start
Although people may find it hard to show gratitude, Mr Thorburn said they should just give it a go.
“I think it is just making it a habit that whenever somebody does something that you appreciate, of expressing thanks to them, it doesn’t have to be a big thing,” he said.
“For me, I’m trying to do that with people who are just doing their job; I expect them to do it and they’re not owed thanks; they’re getting paid to do their job.
“But as I say thanks to them, I acknowledge them and their labour, whatever it is, instead of treating them like a servant who’s just there to make life better for me.”
Who are you thankful for today?