Words Mean Things

An "Attitude of Gratitude"?

by Mary E. Stephens
Nov. 2017

Revelation 7:11-12 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

Every once in awhile a Christian cliché comes along that ends up getting way overused in a general sense. There have been others over the years, particularly Christmas related ones. However, one that I remember from the 1980s was "What would Jesus do?"  It was conveniently shortened to WWJD and then plastered all over all kinds of merchandise that had nothing whatsoever to do with the question or with Jesus Christ. Thankfully, at some point it mostly died down of natural causes - mainly too much exposure.

A recent cliché or platitude that has been overused in some situations is the little phrase "attitude of gratitude." It is worked into different comments, devotionals, sermons and so forth. I suspect the reason for its overuse is that it is "catchy", it is a hook that tends to grab attention. I believe this is primarily because of the way it rhymes, rather than its depth of thought. At any rate, I have grown weary of hearing it.

I think there are several reasons why I find it bothersome:

The first is obvious. It is has been overused. Anything that is used too much can become tiresome. Even some scripture phrases and verses have had this happen, sad to say.

For some reason, certain clichés inspire people to use them until they are tired and squeaky. Even in the world we see this happen quite commonly. This particular phrase feels like one of them to me. I've heard one preacher in particular use it every time I've heard him preach or listened to one of his sermons. This is really disturbing because it begins to sound like he just throws it in for the "fashionable" aspect without giving it much thought. It doesn't help that I have a pretty strong aversion to cliché enriched preaching. I like the words of God and (more or less) original thought. Clichés and platitudes are not that.

What is a platitude? A platitude is "a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful." [Source] This is exactly how I feel about this expression - it is a moralizing comment that has lost its interest and thoughtfulness by overuse. The first few times it was used it may have had some level of inspiration, but now it has gone flat.

Someone may be getting their feelings a little hurt by now. I understand that. But, I believe we should try to avoid living by clichés and clever sayings. Christianity has been dumbed down too much, and reducing it to clever platitudes is not helpful and does not make us seem to be thinking people. We have something far better, after all. First and foremost we have God's word. Secondly, we have the words of the wise.

Jeremiah 15:16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.

Psalms 119:24 Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.

Proverbs 22:17 Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.

Ecclesiastes 12:10-11 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

My second complaint regarding this platitude is the actual words.

I think one reason it rubs my fur the wrong way is because of its "rhyme-i-ness". "Attitude of gratitude." It delights my word-loving brain that it also rhymes with platitude! :-) The platitude, "attitude of gratitude." That is so fitting. Although I love poetry, I don't always find rhyming sayings or "jingles" to sound attractive. Personally, it think they belong more in advertising common products than in speaking of spiritual topics.

What interested me particularly is that my husband found that "gratitude" was in common use in Middle English at the time the King James Version was translated, and yet the translators did not use the word in any of its forms. We'll see why that may be shortly.

"Gratitude" means "the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness." [Source] I wonder what is wrong with saying "thankful" or "thanksgiving"? Those are a good KJV words, and are in a lot of other translations as well, not to mention common English usage today.

The word "attitude" is not in the Authorized Version either. "Attitude" has its uses, but it has been somewhat overused all by itself. It also tends to have that preachy aspect because there is so much said about having a "good attitude" or "right attitude", and so forth. It seems like the "attitude of gratitude" is an extension of that.

This brings me to another thought.

I think because of the way this expression is used, whether in preaching to others or in self-examination, it tends to have a "preachy" aspect to it. We're admonished to have this kind of attitude, as if it is our duty. It is spoken of as if it will change our lives if we'll just adopt it. OK, but what's wrong with being thankful, as the Bible says - many, many times? (Too many verses to list here!)

Psalms 50:14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:

Psalms 105:1 O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.

Colossians 4:2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

Personally, I find the idea of having a thankful heart and letting that define our lives much more attractive than an overused platitude. Here is a verse that I think speaks so poetically:

Hebrews 13:15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.

Ah! Now there is something you can sink your teeth into, spiritually speaking. There is a place to set up camp and live.

"The sacrifice of praise" is something so much bigger and grander than a puny little "attitude of gratitude." Notice that it is a sacrifice - not a boring duty based on a hackneyed cliché. Sacrificial living is always more interesting than an attitude, but - may I say it?- it costs more too. It is, after all, a sacrifice. This involved more than a readiness, but also action as well.

It also involves speaking with our lips, not just having this internal "attitude" going on in the background.

Psalms 50:23 Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.

Luke 6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

And here is my final and most important point.

The sacrifice of continual praise to God involves our lips giving thanks to His name. It is active, not passive! "Having an attitude..." is passive. "Gratitude" is "the quality of being thankful and being ready to..." which also tends toward the passive. "...Our lips giving thanks to his name" is active. The whole concept of "thanksgiving" is active, in fact - the giving of thanks. A truly thankful heart will result in a thanks-giving mouth; it speaks, which is an action not just an attitude, and it is a sacrificial action.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

Let's use the words that mean bigger and grander and better things - active things that bring glory to God. Let's not settle for the humdrum, passive, overused words that sound catchy and clever, but don't mean as much. Let's avoid expressions that imply they may be done without sacrifice or active giving of thanks to God.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The word "quick" here has the meaning of being alive and active. God's word is alive and powerful and it does amazing things. It is immeasurably better than trite little expressions. Let's stick with the word of God. It is where the power is, and if you want something to live by and strive for, something that will keep you acting and thoughtful, that's what you want - the power of God.

Luke 4:32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.


Related links on this page:

The Blessings that Remain - by Annie Johnson Flint

A Thanksgiving - by Annie Johnson Flint

A Thanksgiving for Hard Things - by Mary E. Stephens

Background, photos, and graphics by Mary Stephens