Research has shown that practicing gratitude boosts the immune system, bolsters resilience to stress, lowers depression, increases feelings of energy, determination, and strength, and even helps you sleep better at night. In fact, few things have been more repeatedly and empirically tested than the connection between gratitude and overall happiness and well-being. Experts confirm, over and over again, that those who would consider themselves happy are those who also consider themselves grateful.
Even though there is a preponderance of evidence for the benefits of thankfulness, most people do not practice gratitude. In a survey done by Janice Kaplan for her book The Gratitude Diaries, she found that while “more than 90% of people think gratitude makes you happier and gives you a more fulfilled life … less than half regularly express gratitude.” When was the last time you said anything more than an obligatory “Thank You” to the waitstaff at a restaurant or a wave of appreciation for the kind soul who held the door open for you at the bank? Have you experienced the benefits of a lifestyle of gratitude?
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16
The words of Paul tell us that those who have been transformed buy the good news of Christ will be singing to God with gratitude. This act of singing may be figurative, or it may be a first century way of saying what the researchers of today contend: gratitude brings a melody to mind. It is quite possible that Paul knew the same link between happiness and gratitude that Kaplan has now written about. It is likely that the God who created us, in all our complexity, inspired the Apostle to pen the connection between singing and gratitude woven into our DNA.
Perhaps you would accept a challenge, an experiment to test the veracity of modern sociology and ancient biblical interpretation: we could practice expressing our gratitude with the objective of placing a song on our lips. We could be thankful, to God to others, for the blessings they bring into our lives. We could show appreciation for the acts of service friends and strangers perform on our behalf. We could return kindness when we experience it. We could discover whether or not these disciplines of gratitude make us happier and allow us to feel greater contentment. We could be happier.
In this season of harvest, we have much to be thankful for: most of us have more than we need, whether it be as little as a bed instead of a dirt floor or as much as a home with as many bathrooms as inhabitants. God has orchestrated all the functions of nature to allow our bellies to be filled and our bodies to be useful. We, each and every one of us, have reason to express gratitude. It is a good time to give thanks unto the Lord.
Happy belated Thanksgiving. There is just something special about spending this holiday with loved ones. One of the things that make the fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving is tradition. We all have traditions: some prepare a fresh turkey and others roast a frozen one (or, God forbid, a ham); some will eat white meat while others will choose dark meat; for many families, it is anathema to make anything other than cracker stuffing, oyster stuffing, bread stuffing or dressing (whether it is in the bird, in a casserole dish or by stove top); even the vegetables are traditional, with a specific assortment of corn, turnips, pearl onions, green beans, squashes or peas; we will have cornbread, rolls or breads, but never all three; desserts are equally particular, with some preferring apple, blueberry, or squash pie and others wanting pumpkin or mince – and that is just questions about the food. Is it your tradition to play football or watch the parade before dinner or watch football or take a nap afterward?
No matter what we enjoy at the table (as well the joys of companionship before or after), there is something different about Thanksgiving and that difference is categorized by one word: abundance. When I was growing up, I was raised by a single parent who could afford few luxuries. We always had sufficient, but rarely had more … except on Thanksgiving. We always had a large fresh turkey with mounds of mashed potatoes and bowls of veggies. There were pies for dessert and ample leftovers for sandwiches later in the day. I have vivid memories of the bounty that my mother provided on a fixed budget.
You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. Psalm 65:11
As we think of the abundance we have experienced, it is fitting to express gratitude to God. While our culture celebrates abundance once a year, God bounteous goodness is presence every day. The psalmist declares that at His table our cup overflows. One of the prophets declared that the heavens contain greater blessings than we could ever store. In his parables, He tells of a wedding feast where there is no shortage of food. One of Christ’s most treasured promises is that he came to us to give us a life of abundance. One aspect of God’s divine nature is His grace, His unmerited favor, abundant and free. And because of His abundance, we respond with gratitude.
Give thanks to God for His provisional abundance, we who live in the wealthiest region in the world. Give thanks to God for His spiritual abundance, we who have His word as near as our smartphone and His Spirit even nearer. Give thanks to God for His sensational abundance, we who have a richness of experiences in sound and sight rivaling any other time in history. Give thanks to God for His informational abundance, we who are blessed with the digital super highway and the best scholars at our fingertips.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!
Part of my responsibility as the pastor of a ‘city church’ is meeting with people on their toughest days. I am regularly greeted at the doors of the church by individuals who are in need; some needs are basic (transportation, baby formula, rent) and some are more complicated (train fare to a distant hospital, airfare to a distant funeral). So I offer some assistance. What else can I do? Because of the limited resources we all have, we occasionally are found reaching into our own pockets to offer some compassion hoping that we are helping those with a genuine need.
Despite my rigid scrutiny, I have recently been duped by people with convincing sincerity and carefully crafted pleas. One person came asking for a loan of a few dollars, promising that when the direct-deposit was made in the morning he’d return to repay the kindness…he must have forgotten where the church is located. Another person called from a legitimate-sounding advocacy center saying that a client of theirs was in need of a public transit pass and that their funding was delayed, but certainly a voucher has been submitted to reimburse me for the expense of the assistance…pray for that legitimate-sounding advocacy center as they’ve been unfunded now for weeks. It is enough to make a person calloused to the real and present needs of the community.
I want to shake my fist and dismiss anyone who comes for help. Who takes advantage of the kindness of God? Well, me.
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
According to Doctor Luke, the Most High – God Almighty – is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Certainly, some of those that come to the church doors with a tale of woe are among the ungrateful and the wicked. Certainly, some of those that come to the church doors and enter to worship are likewise ungrateful (and, by extension, just a bit wicked). I know that I am.
To be honest, I am not perfectly appreciative of all that God allows me to enjoy. I do not delight in every sunrise or offer grace at every meal. I do not recognize every answered prayer or use every good and perfect gift appropriately. I occasionally think that I can do what I want with what I have with no regard for how I acquired it or from whom it was acquired. I, too, come to the Lord with hat in hand, promising to do whatever it takes to gain what I need, without gratitude or goodness. God showed me kindness.
We all are faced with an option in life: Love your enemies, do good and lend, or don’t. When we refuse to help those around us, we may miss out on the blessing of sharing God’s grace with others who genuinely need God’s assistance. When you do, your reward will be great and you will be reflecting your adoption by God. If you decide to help, a few people will take advantage of your kindness (just as some take advantage of God’s) but others will be helped and glorify our father in heaven.