“Thank you”: if you stop and think about it, that is such a weird thing to say – what does it even mean? Well, it’s a truncation of the phrase “I thank you”, but what does “thank” mean? “To express gratitude” is what most dictionaries will read under the entry for this word, but how can we more fully understand it?

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary (Etymyonline), “thank” has its roots in words from several medieval languages. The Old English root words þancian/þoncian (pronounced “thankian”) flesh out the concept of thanks quite helpfully. They mean: "to give thanks, thank, to recompense, to reward”. To recompense is to provide just/appropriate compensation for something received. You see this exemplified in the offerings outlined in the book of Leviticus. Some offerings were essentially ways of saying “I’m sorry”, such as burnt offerings, while others were effectively ways of saying “thank you”, such as grain offerings. The example of the grain offerings completes the concept of thanks by virtue of them being neither obligatory in nature nor transactional in purpose.

The root of thanks, then, is giving. It is a voluntary response of giving back prompted by a gift received that can range anywhere from words of acknowledgement to tangible tokens of appreciation to full reimbursement. It’s no wonder that many academics, including subject-matter-expert, Professor Robert Emmons, have found that gratitude is positively correlated with generosity. When you’re well practiced in giving back, it’s only a small step to give forward.

The substance of gratitude, i.e. being thankful, is taking to give. This is the principle on display in the night vision of Zechariah 4: the two olive trees take what’s needed to photosynthesize and give golden olive oil to the bowl; the bowl takes the golden oil and gives it to the lamp; the lamp takes the oil and gives light to its surroundings. The ultimate source of these blessings and thus object and One worthy of gratitude is not the universe but God as “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” James 1:17. Although not immediately obvious, gratitude is crucial to the free-flowing operation of this circuit of beneficence. The human heart (the bowl) that cherishes the grace of God (the oil) will see value in sharing it. Only by constantly imparting God’s grace to others will we receive fresh supplies. Then it can be truly said of us, “ye are the light of the world”. Thus, when we practice gratitude appropriately, we are well on our way to being who God created us to be.

To have an attitude of gratitude is to be surrounded by an atmosphere of grace. Everyone loves a generous person; God loves a cheerful giver; it’s heaven to be in the presence of such people; and it all starts with saying: “thank you”.


Wrriten by Omari J A Norman