Steven Kurtzahn
September 6, 2022

Today’s personal growth and development leaders talk quite a bit about gratefulness. I’ve heard expressions like this on several different podcasts: “I’m grateful for all of you listening today.” Personal growth mentors teach that you should be grateful when you succeed in life.

I don’t understand why they don’t use the term thankful

“I’m thankful for all my readers.” 

“I’m thankful for my listeners.” 

“Thank you for being my client.” 

“Thank you for purchasing my development material.” 

“Thank you for signing up for my coaching program.” 

There is indeed a difference between the two words. Gratitude is a state of being, while thankfulness expresses that attitude. Gratitude is about feeling and thankfulness is about expression.

We certainly should be grateful and thankful for all the successes and blessings we have in life. But as children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, our thankfulness should ultimately be directed to God, who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Matthew 5:45. God is the source of every blessing—“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,” James 1:17. And so we pray with the Psalmist, often at mealtime: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever,” Psalm 136:1.

But God’s blessings are not just found in the seemingly “good” things of life. Difficulties and challenges can motivate us to find solutions to problems that we face in business or in our personal lives. Problems, difficulties and challenges can also be blessings when they drive us into the loving arms of our Savior in his Word, the Bible.

A wonderful example for us to follow when it comes to expressing thankfulness—even in the midst of problems and difficulties—is Job in the Bible. Satan was allowed to test Job to see if his faith was genuine. He lost his possessions, his means for making an income and all of his children. He eventually lost his health. His wife wanted Job to curse God and commit suicide (Job 2:9). But what was Job’s response?  


"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised," .Job 1:21.

So how can we express our thanks? We can certainly say “thank you” at every opportunity where it may be appropriate. Today, when folks take so much for granted, we don’t say “thank you” enough! We can send personal, handwritten thank you notes. Today, when everyone seems to only text on their smartphones and e-mail, it makes a big impression when a client or customer receives a handwritten note in the mail.

When it comes to expressing thankfulness, I have been especially impressed with John Ruhlin, author of the book Giftology. John has made a business around gratitude. He makes special gifts for entrepreneurs and executives to give to their customers and clients. What really impresses me about John Ruhlin is his major point that giving gifts should not be used for marketing purposes—like giving pens with your company logo emblazoned on them—but giving useful and attractive gifts that simply express your thankfulness, with no strings or marketing ploys attached.   

But what about expressing our thankfulness to God? We can certainly thank him personally in our prayers. We can’t send him a thank-you note in the mail, but we can show our thanks to God by the way we live. This is what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1. ESV

God’s mercies—which he has especially revealed to us in sending his Son to be our Savior—are our motivation for living God-pleasing lives. This is our spiritual worship. This is how we express our thankfulness. “We love because he first loved us,” 1 John 4:19.

As I’ve heard and read about gratitude and thankfulness by current personal development leaders, I sense that some are using this attitude and emotion solely as a tool for personal gain. I don’t get this feeling from all of them but from many. It reminds me of my branch manager when I worked for a major brokerage firm as a stockbroker. He wanted me to join a large affluent church near our office so I could gain clients from my church relationships. In other words, don’t join a church where you agree with what they teach and where your faith can be nourished, but join a church where you can eventually make more money for yourself! Needless to say, I joined a church where my family and I were fed with the solid food of God’s Word!

Unfortunately, I’ve gained the impression that many personal growth gurus are using gratefulness and thankfulness in the same way as my old boss in the brokerage firm—as a mere tool to ultimately increase the balances in their checkbooks. If that’s why you want to express your thanks for those who have benefited you, you need to reexamine your motives as well as your heart. Most folks can spot a fake a mile away. If your customers and clients—not to mention your friends and family—sense that you’re only trying to use them or manipulate them, they’ll have a great deal of difficulty trusting you and doing business with you.

Express true and heartfelt thankfulness to others. They will definitely appreciate it. And what a wonderful way to give thanks to God in heaven!

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