I am thankful that once again this year we have this extra Sunday between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, because it gives us a chance to just breathe deeply before the crush of holiday activities. Next Sunday we will begin an advent journey that will lead us to finding the hope, love, joy and peace that comes with the light of Jesus, and I hope you will join us and invite others to be part of this adventure, but for now, we can simply pause for a moment and give thanks.
What are you thankful for? I hope you were able to think of 2 or 3 things immediately when I said that, and I hope that you took some time these past few days to give thanks for family, food, friends, faith, fun and all that God has given us to fill our lives. Here is the amazing thing about gratitude – once we start to practice it, it grows exponentially. Once we start giving thanks intentionally and consistently – the more we see in our lives and world for which we can give thanks. Gratitude really does grow exponentially, and God made it this way because gratitude literally rewires our brains so that we become more and more grateful.
Studies have shown that even a simple gratitude exercise, like writing down what we are thankful for, builds lasting neural sensitivity to more positive thinking. This means that the more we practice gratitude, the more we default to thinking positively and seeing more things for which we are grateful. And the benefits are long lasting. A Harvard Medical School study said “in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Gratitude grows exponentially, and it improves our lives dramatically.
Last year in a series on the good life, we learned from research by Dr. Robert A. Emmons that people who kept a weekly list of what they were grateful for ended up being healthier. They exercised more, had fewer physical problems, and illnesses, felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic. Young adults who kept lists of things they were grateful for reported being more alert, enthusiastic, determined, and attentive to what was going on around them, and they helped others more often. Children who practiced giving thanks daily had more positive attitudes toward school and their families. And listen to this, a study done on people who were sick, both physically and emotionally, found that those who intentionally gave thanks for 21 days ended up with better moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, and they slept better. They were healthier. Gratitude doesn’t just grow exponentially in our hearts and minds, helping us see more things to be thankful for, it expands outward and improves every area of our life.
Learning to be grateful helped people place less importance on material goods; they were less likely to judge in terms of possessions accumulated; they were less envious of others, and they were more likely to share what they had with those in need. Less greedy, less envious, more giving; practicing gratitude makes us more and more like Jesus. Every time I read an article or hear about a study about the power of gratitude, I am amazed at how something so simple can make such a profound and lasting difference. And all we have to do is take one small step toward gratitude and God will take it from there. I like to think that this is what happened with King David when he wrote Psalm 103.
As we read this psalm, I get the feeling that David just wanted to say something simple, like thank you God, but once he said that, his mind began to go from one thing to the next. His gratitude started to grow, and then it was like a floodgate opened up and his gratitude for God grew exponentially. Psalm 103:1-22
David starts by saying don’t forget all that God has done for you. Don’t forget to say thank you to God for his forgiveness, and then he adds, and for his healing, and because he rescues us from adversity, and how he satisfies us with so many good things, and how he works for justice and righteousness for all those who are oppressed, and for his hand that has guided us since the days of Moses, and for his compassion and love, and once again for his forgiveness, because God literally removes our sin from us, which means there is no sorrow or shame connected to our sin – forever. And we need to give thanks that God formed us, which means that God knows we are weak at times, and frail, and need his help. And we need to give thanks that God’s love is always there for us, and how he is faithful to all his promises. And if that isn’t enough, David goes on and says, and we need to give thanks that God is eternal in heaven, and that all of creation, heaven and earth, will worship him.
David started with a simple – let’s thank God, and that step toward gratitude exploded in David’s heart, and mind, and life, and it grew exponentially. And this is what happens when we practice gratitude – it grows in us, and it changes us, and it can change every one of us because gratitude doesn’t depend on everything in our lives going well. Gratitude is not just saying thank you when we get some big gift, it is appreciating what we see in life as being meaningful. We can train ourselves to constantly be grateful for the little things we have and value in life. We can train ourselves to give thanks to God, daily.
Each one of us is different, which means, we each might grow in gratitude in different ways, so let me give a few different ways we can learn to build gratitude in our lives.
1. Keep A Gratitude Journal.
Write down what you are thankful for. Keep a gratitude journal or list and every day write down what you are thankful for. The more we see what is on that list, the more we will see what can be placed on that list. It was this simple practice that researchers often used in their gratitude studies, and it was this simple practice that led to people feeling happier, healthier, and having stronger relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
2. Take Time To Rest And Reflect.
Many times, in order to see what we can add to that gratitude list we have to slow down and take time to rest and reflect. We need time and space to see what we have been given by God, to see the blessings of our lives, and to have our hearts opened by God. God built rest and reflection into our lives for a reason when he gave us the Sabbath. When God rested at the end of each day, what he did was reflect on his work and call it good. He saw the value of it, he gave thanks for it. If we take time rest and reflect, we will being to see all that we have been given and give thanks.
3. Power Down And Turn Off
In order to give thanks, we might need to power down our computers and tablets and turn off our phones. When we can disconnect from all that tries to distract us in this world, we are able to see the gifts and opportunities God has given us that can enrich our lives.
4. Live Simply
It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the less we have – the more we have to be thankful for, because we begin to see those things that are really important, and those things that really matter. This is an important practice to keep in mind as we move into this holiday season. If we can live simply through the holidays, and maybe spend less with our money, we might be able to give more of what is really valuable, like our time and service. When we see what is truly valuable in life and go after that, we will appreciate so much more, and give thanks.
5. Look For The Positive In The Negative
While we don’t give thanks for the bad things that happen, within every difficult situation there is something positive we can find. The Bible says that God works for the good in all things. Not all things are good, but God works for the good in all things, which means there is something positive in all things, and if we will look for the positive, we will find it and when we find it we can be thankful.
The devastating fires we have seen in CA are not good, but we have seen people give, and share with those in need, and we have heard victims of the fires who have lost everything give thanks that they have what is ultimately valuable, their lives and families.
6. Share With Others
You can take this two ways. We can share what we have with others, that will often make us more grateful for what we have, but what I really mean here is that we need to make it a priority to share with others what you are thankful for. Ask your children, or grandchildren, each night what they are thankful for as you put them to bed. At a family meal each week ask people what they are thankful for. Don’t make this a yearly Thanksgiving tradition but a weekly family tradition. Maybe you can post on social media each day one thing you are thankful for, or make it a habit to do a Thankful Tuesday and post what you thankful for near the beginning of each week to help others see what they have as well. The more we share, the more our gratitude grows and the more we help others learn to be grateful. This is another way gratitude grows exponentially.
7. Write A Letter
Let me close with a quote from a study by a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. He found that when a person wrote and delivered a letter of thanks to someone they had not previously thanked, this what happened: Participants immediately exhibited a HUGE increase in happiness scores. This impact was GREATER than that from any other intervention, with benefits LASTING for a month. In other words, writing and delivering a letter of thanks increased gratitude exponentially.
Maybe that is what David was trying to do in Psalm 103, write a letter of thanks to God. Maybe the letter we need to write this week is to God. Maybe the letter we need to write is to our parents, our spouse, our children, a teacher who made an impact in our lives, a friend we have never properly thanked, a neighbor who inspires us, a veteran who has served, a manager, a coworker, or an employee. Is there someone we need to thank for their role in our lives that we have never thanked? If we can write, and deliver that letter, it might make all the difference in our lives, and our future.
As we prepare for this busy and full holiday season, what can keep us calm, joyful, focused and faithful is allowing gratitude to grow exponentially in our lives. It can absolutely happen because God wired us in such a way that if will just take that first step toward gratitude and find some way, a new way, another way to practice gratitude, it will grow in our lives exponentially.
Read Psalm 103.
List all the things that for which David was giving thanks.
Review this list every day to spark your own gratitude.
Choose one of the following to help cultivate gratitude this week.
Start A Gratitude Journal
Take Time To Rest And Reflect
Power Down And Turn Off
Simplify Your Life
Look For The Positive In The Negative
Share Your Gratitude With Others
Write A Letter Of Thanks
Join us next week as we begin an Adventure, following The Star.
Invite Someone To Join You!