Grace and Gratitude
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor so that by his poverty your lives might be enriched.2 Cor 8:9
What it is
Grace is gift with no strings attached. It is a genuine ‘free lunch’. Grace gives without expecting anything in return, and gives for the sake of the one given to rather than the sake of the giver. Grace gives regardless of how much or how little the receiver deserves it. It is radically counter-cultural as it challenges the me-centeredness encouraged by a consumer society, and runs against good business or economic sense. But it is central to Christianity.
Gratitude is the proper response to grace. When our gratitude is directed towards God for God’s grace to us, it becomes a form of worship – and is thus again radically counter-cultural, since it involves worshipping something other than ourselves.
What it isn’t
Grace is not doing acts of service because it makes us feel good. The problems with that attitude are writ large in the effect it has had on third world communities, and similar effects can be seen on a smaller scale with any such human interaction. We are not gracious for the sake of our own wellbeing – if we were, it would no longer be freely given.
The Grace of God is completely different to a ‘reward’. The essence of God’s grace is that it is freely given, undeserved and unearned.
Gratitude in Christian terms is not a general feeling of happiness or relief that something is good, but thankfulness directed at God and others.
What makes it a Christian value?
- We are conditioned to believe that we get what we deserve, and if we don’t, the world is unfair. Grace, then, is completely unfair. God gives abundantly more than we could ever deserve or earn.
- Beginning to understand grace can begin to free us from the deep stresses of expectations and failures and fears of unworthiness. We cannot earn God’s love, but we can know that God gives it freely, regardless of whether or not we think we deserve it.
- Gratitude, also, frees us. It takes our focus away from the prison of our inward wrestling with needs and concerns, and makes us look outward; lets us breathe the freshness of thankfulness.
- Gratitude is recognised as an important element of “wellbeing”, but again we do not do it because it is good for us. If that is our focus, we are still imprisoned in ourselves. Instead we are grateful because that is a natural response to grace. If it improves our wellbeing, that’s a great side benefit! It is one example of the biblical principal that we are to “Seek first God’s Kingdom and all these other things will be given as well.”
- A great thing about Christian gratitude is that we have someone to whom to be grateful. To whom or to what is a materialist grateful for a mountain or river or tui or sunrise?
- In living out grace in our own lives, Christian teachings challenge us to explore what it means for something to be truly freely given.
- Are we doing it for ourselves or for the other?
- Are we willing for no-one else to know about it? Jesus said, “Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” when performing acts of service or love. Richard Foster recognised how difficult this is. “The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honour and recognition.”
- A Christian understanding of grace and gratitude, taken seriously, is therefore extremely challenging to students and adults in our New Zealand culture.