Thursday is Thanksgiving. Most of us will be privileged to gather with family and friends to enjoy a hearty feast and memorable visits around the table. And either in our morning quiet time, or the prayer before the meal, we will give thanks for our many blessings.
As one of our treasured holidays, Thanksgiving is a day set aside, not only to give thanks, but to remind us of the ongoing importance of gratitude. In I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, Paul encourages believers to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As we grow in our walk with the Lord, we discover more about the hidden power of gratitude. Experiencing and expressing gratitude throughout the ever-changing seasons of life has a way of re-shaping our perspective and re-formatting our attitude.
In my journey of faith, I am discovering that gratitude has encouraging power. When I am frustrated and tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, I find that the practice of “counting my blessings” infuses me with encouragement.
The daily discipline of expressing gratitude also tends to build staying power within me. Years ago, in a discipleship course called Masterlife, I was challenged to pray using the acronym, ACTS, a way of framing my prayers to include adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. While each of those facets of prayer are important, thanksgiving is the one dimension that seems to fortify my sense of determination and perseverance.
And I am convinced that gratitude unleashes healing power. That does not mean that gratitude brings instantaneous healing, nor does it make me immune from viruses or exempt from accidents. But I do believe that a heart of gratitude promotes spiritual, emotional, and physical healing in at least a couple of ways. First, gratitude trumps toxic negativity and complaint, cleansing our perspective and renewing our focus. And second, gratitude seems to put us in a positive frame of mind which allows our body to better produce and release antibodies and restorative enzymes that work to promote health and wholeness.
A detailed report on a study of the psychology of gratitude is found in Robert Emmons’ book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Dr. Emmons and his colleagues at the University of California-Berkeley found that those who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits.” The study revealed that individuals who regularly keep a gratitude journal report fewer illness symptoms, generally feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future. This led Dr. Emmons to conclude that gratitude is both a personal choice and healthy response to our life experiences.
Ultimately, gratitude strengthens our serving power. Gratitude is not about counting my blessings just to make me a happier consumer. Genuine gratitude motivates me to share my blessings. For me, the quality of life is best measured, not by how much I have, but how effectively I use resources I have been given to serve.
With good reason, the scripture encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” For the believer, thanksgiving is not just a day of feasting and festivity. Thanksgiving, the genuine expression of gratitude, is a daily spiritual discipline, a personal practice that steadily transforms us from the inside out.