Discovering the Hidden Power of Gratitude

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.

Would Jesus Vote Democrat or Republican?

by Barry Howard

November 2 is Election Day around the country. In the state of Florida where I live citizens will be electing a new governor and a new senator in hotly contested races, and several other important local offices in a variety of cities. In my city, Pensacola, residents will be choosing our city’s first strong mayor, consolidating the positions of mayor and city manager.

During this past month at our church, we have been asking a variety of questions focused around the central question, What Would Jesus REALLY Do? These inquiries have included mostly lifestyle questions investigating what it means to be a follower of Jesus in 2010. These questions have encouraged us to take a deeper look at stewardship practices, social issues, ethical dilemmas, e-communications management, and community responsibility.

Last week we asked, if Jesus were going to the polls on Tuesday would he vote Democrat, Republican, or Independent? While we cannot know exactly who Jesus would vote for, I think it is possible to look at the life of Christ, his emphasis on citizenship, and his ethical teachings, and ascertain a few things that would influence Jesus’ voting habits.

Based on Jesus’ emphasis on civic responsibility, I think we can say for certain that Jesus would vote. Although Jesus did not live in a democratic society, his respect for political authority implies that he would participate in the electoral process and he would encourage his followers to do the same.

And based on what we know about Jesus’ values, I have a hunch that Jesus would vote based on the character of the candidate and not their party affiliation. I can’t imagine Jesus voting according to any party line. Admittedly the Pharisees and Sadducees were more religious sects than political parties. However, in his interaction with them, Jesus seems to have had a thorough knowledge of their practices, and yet he demonstrated an independent spirit in dealing with their agendas. If Jesus were voting in this year’s election, I think he would vote according to his convictions for individual candidates, regardless of the parties they represent.

I am intrigued at the variety of factors that influence how an individual casts his or her vote. Here are a few of the factors that influence voting habits:

  • Voting a straight ticket according to a preferred political party.
  • Voting for the candidate whose name sounds most familiar.
  • Voting against the incumbent.
  • Voting for the one who sent the least political advertisements, or the one who made the least calls to my home.
  • Voting for the candidate who had hymns, scripture, or a picture of a Bible in their ad.
  • Voting for the candidate who talks about family values.
  • Voting according to a voter’s guide.
  • Voting for the candidate who is going to best represent my business or protect my job.
  • Voting based on the gender, age, or race of the candidate.
  • Voting for the candidate who promises change.

This upcoming election is a crucial one, for our country, and especially for Florida and for Pensacola. As this election approaches, l encourage you to join me in exercising the responsibilities of our citizenship in the following ways:

  • PRAY for the candidates and for the election.
  • VOTE your personal conviction.
  • SUPPORT those who are elected.
  • WORK to make our nation, your state and your community a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

While the process of sorting through political motives and deciding who to vote for can be challenging and frustrating, voting is a privilege and a responsibility, and should never be taken for granted. Be as informed as possible and cast your ballot according to your conscientious convictions. I think that’s what Jesus would do.

(Barry Howard serves as Senior Minister of the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)