Thankful is a wonderful word; it has a rich meaning and a pleasing sound. When I find a word I particularly enjoy or that is on my mind for one reason or another, as in this case, it is my inclination to tear that word to pieces. While this tendency irritates those who appreciate prose or lyrics in their simplest form, the process can be very enriching. The journey into the history and innards of a word or phrase almost always brings a greater depth and understanding not only to that word but life in general. It is as if I prod and squeeze the words in order to get every drop of nuance and meaning. If you allow that to mull and age until all of the flavors have muddled together you end up with a much richer meaning than you could imagine a simple little word could contain. I am a word vintner!
While I may justifiably be accused of "reading into" a word a bit too much, I don't think that is true in this particular case. The meaning of thankful is so commonly known, that you may find it difficult to define. Most simply, it means to be "full" of thanks or thanksgiving. That of course makes me wonder about the meaning of thanks. My good friends, Mr's Merriam and Webster define "thank" as to express gratitude (1). More simply, I would say "thank" means to recognize and give credit to the source of your positive state (happiness, wellbeing, etc.), Interestingly, "thank" comes from the same root as 'think' (2). This seems appropriate as "thanks" or "thankfulness" is a product of thinking or, rather, it should be. True thankfulness is always be a product of reflection. Superficial thanks, often the result of a social compulsion or other self-serving motives, has little value because it is not really the result of true reflection.
"Thank-you," has become a common and empty phrase; time and thoughtless use have leached away nearly all of its meaning. As I go through the day, I interact with hundreds of individuals each day and this phrase passes both their lips and mine nearly as many times. I am embarassed to say that it is usually without a moment of thought. Several times I thank those I'd rather scold. While it is not always necessary to say everything that you think and mean, it is important to think and mean everything that you say (which may be especially difficult for those of us who suffer from excessive word use).
To be thankful has a deeper meaning than simply giving thanks. To be full of thanks is to dwell upon, to thoughtfully reflect, on your current state and then to recognize and acknowledge its source. We should be familiar with this process, at the very least we do it on the fourth Thursday of every November. We may also do it on the last Monday of May or on other red-letter days throughout the year. But thankfulness, especially for a Christian, ought to be a characteristic not a temporary state. Not only does the word of God specifically say to give thanks several times, but 1 Thess 5:18 says to give thanks in everything. Psalm 100:4 says to enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise; to be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
I love that chorus that says, "I'm forever grateful to You. I'm forever grateful for the cross. I'm forever grateful to You, that you came to seek and save the lost." It would be much easier to stay in the place of constant thankfulness if we were to remember that, regardless of our current state, God has come to seek and save the lost.