One of my seminary professors recently referred to gratitude as “an overlooked apologetic.” With this he posed a vital question: “What if the world was inundated with Christians who were incredibly grateful for all the benign things in life?”
What if we could do that? How might gratitude play a role in daily Christian witness?
Known by Our Love
Believers are to be known by their sheer distinction from the rest of the world around them. Think of the old Christian hymn: “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.”
These lyrics were taken directly from the lips of Jesus Christ: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35) He also commands it: “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” (Jn 15:12)
What better way did the disciples learn to love than from Jesus’ own actions? “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”(Jn 15:12–13) This example of love came to a climax in the cross event.
Just as he paved the way for his followers to understand true, self-sacrificial love, Jesus also served as an example to his disciples in showing gratitude to his Father.
A few examples include his feeding of two great multitudes, where he gave thanks before breaking and distributing the bread and fish; and the Last Supper, where he even exhibits gratitude just before he is to be handed over to be crucified (Matt. 14:19; 15:36; 26:26–27).
If Jesus commanded that his disciples love one another as he had loved them—and that by this unique love, they would be known as his disciples—ought anything that is uniquely Christ-like set the believer apart as one of Christ’s own?
Gratitude as Witness
Just as Christians shall be distinguished and known by love, we also should be known by our gratitude. And if we are known by our gratitude, then gratitude serves as a form of witness.
If gratitude is a form of witness, it must become clear that its opposite, ingratitude—just as failing to display Christ-like love—is harmful to the Christian witness.
If onlookers know that you claim to follow Jesus but you showcase the same kind of ingratitude that is reminiscent of the world, such ingratitude can be a notable detriment to your witness. It can essentially invalidate your claim to being a Christian.
Christ in you, the mysterious hope of glory, ought to bring about newness of life that will make God known to a watching world. A putting off of the old ways, and a putting on of the new. (Col. 1:24–27 and Eph. 4:22–24)
If our actions fail to distinguish us as Christians, then neither will they distinguish our professed Christianity (nor our Christ, for that matter).
Relevance for the Workplace
The epistles are full of imperatives for thanksgiving, but one stands out as particularly relevant for the workplace:
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Eph. 5:4)
This verse is especially relevant for the workplace because it highlights thanksgiving as an important alternative to the ordinary, everyday banter supplied by everyone else.
Paul asserts that believers are able to shine brightly by 1) refraining from joining in with filthy, crude talk, and 2) by exhibiting an attitude of thanksgiving. The stark contrast should be evident, as light shining in darkness.
Recall the last time your coworkers mouthed some juicy gossip—maybe you were already part of the conversation, or perhaps merely within earshot. What you choose to do when such conversations arise is monumental.
Refusing to mirror such unsavory dialogue is only part of the obedience for which this verse calls. Attending to the last part of the verse, actively exhibit gratitude by turning the gazes of those around you to goodness, truth, and beauty.
“Did any of you see the sunrise this morning? The colors were magnificent!”
“Steve, that panini looks delicious—isn’t it incredible how many unique flavors there are in the world?”
“Paula, didn’t you visit your grandkids last weekend? They must be such a blessing—how did you enjoy your time with them?”
There is no explicit giving of thanks in any of these statements, but the savor of gratitude is clearly evident. Harking back to the words of my professor, it is living out an example of being “incredibly grateful for all the benign things in life.”
This will certainly look different in each person’s unique place of work, but the essence is an authentic gratefulness to the Giver of all good gifts. (Jas. 1:17) Like St. Ignatius of Loyola, it lies in viewing all of life “as gift.” Nothing is deserved, but all is to be graciously received with a thankful heart.
Know that developing a habitual attitude of gratitude will not happen overnight, but it is vital and it can be done. Bottom line: The world needs grateful Christians—the Christian witness depends on it.