Choosing An Attitude of Gratitude

attitude of gratitude pic

During my college years, my faith was heavily influenced by a little book entitled, Agaperos, written by Grady Nutt. In that book, as in his sermons, Grady emphasized the importance of choosing “an attitude of gratitude.”

Many of us will be privileged to gather on Thanksgiving Day with family and friends to enjoy a bountiful feast and hearty conversations around the table. As one of our treasured holidays, Thanksgiving is a day set aside, not only to give thanks, but to rekindle in us a spirit 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.”

Elie Wiesel contended that, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward 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 a disposition of gratitude enriches life in several ways.

First, 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, and that encouragement spills over into the lives of others. Gratitude has a way of refocusing my attention on the positive and reminding me of how blessed I am.

Gratitude also promotes good health. That does not mean that gratitude brings instantaneous healing, nor does it make us immune from viruses or exempt from accidents. But a heart of gratitude promotes spiritual, emotional, and physical health in at least a couple of ways. First, gratitude serves as the antidote for 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 study of the psychology of gratitude is found in Robert Emmons’ book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. In his research at the University of California-Berkeley, Dr. Emmons 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.

Gratitude ultimately inspires me to serve. 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. Those who serve out of guilt serve for a short while. Those who serve out of gratitude serve for a lifetime.

Choosing an attitude of gratitude is a daily discipline that enriches life. Henri Nouwen wrote, “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

With good reason, the scripture encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Although we do not always get to choose our circumstances, we can always choose our attitude. Not just today, but every day, cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

 

Let the Counting Begin!

count your blessings

As a child growing up in the rural church, I remember singing the old hymn “Count Your Blessings,” written by Johnson Oatman Jr. in 1897. The words of the song urged us to “Count your blessings, name them one by one; And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

At the Mt. View Baptist Church where I was raised, we sang that song all throughout the year, and not just at Thanksgiving. Inadvertently, this taught me that giving thanks is an ongoing daily discipline, not limited to a holiday season. In fact, I Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Thanksgiving is a time of the year set aside for us to re-charge our gratitude by literally counting our blessings, a time to take an inventory of our resources, relationships, and opportunities.

I have discovered that thankfulness is not necessarily a default disposition, but a perspective on life that must be cultivated. William Faulkner describes such gratitude as “a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” So, this week, in a deeper sort of way, as a spiritual exercise, I will count and name my blessings.

The practice of counting our blessings has many benefits. First, counting our blessings enables us to treasure our blessings. Sometimes we take blessings for granted and we overlook them. Taking a personal inventory of your blessings brings your blessings into your conscious awareness, sort of like discovering a forgotten garment hidden in the closet, and returning it to the active rotation of your wardrobe.

Second, counting our blessings reminds us to use our blessings wisely. Our blessings are our real earthly treasures, and we are called to be good stewards or managers of these assets, carefully investing them in ways that help us to fulfill our God-given mission.

Third, counting our blessings encourages us to share our blessings generously. Most blessings were not intended to flow into our lives, but to flow through our lives into the lives of others. We are not human reservoirs created to preserve our blessings; we are designed to be human conduits, channels through which God’s blessings flow into the lives of others, especially those in need.

Thanksgiving is time to take a count of our blessings, and then let that inventory inspire us toward sensible stewardship, cheerful generosity, and faithful living.

Through our feasts and our festivities let us celebrate our many blessings and then let us live our days serving, sharing, and growing. Let the counting begin!

(Barry Howard is retired pastor who lives in Pensacola, Florida. He now serves as a leadership coach with the Center for Healthy Churches.)

Ten Simple Blessings I Never Want to Take for Granted

 

Life’s simple pleasures should never be taken for granted. During this week designated to remind us to count our blessings,  I will certainly be giving thanks for faith, family, friends, and freedom.  But there are a few things popped up in my gratitude inventory that some folks might label as minor blessings.  For me, however, they are a big deal. Some are simple pleasures, others are personal preferences, and a few are stress relievers. These ten represent a longer list of blessings that add richness and meaning to life, serendipitous gifts that I never want to take for granted:

  • A multi-colored sunrise over the bay or sunset over the Gulf.
  • Hugs from nieces and nephews.
  • A timely phone conversation with a friend.
  • Oatmeal laced with honey and almonds on a cool morning.
  • Hot coffee any day of the year.
  • Home-made cards or written notes of encouragement.
  • A song that resonates within my soul.
  • A refreshing nap.
  • An occasional walk for about 18 holes.
  • The privilege of dedicating, encouraging, baptizing, marrying, and even eulogizing others…walking alongside them through all of the seasons of life.

This week, as we give thanks for the big things, let’s also take time to give thanks for the little things that bring joy, fulfillment, and affirmation to our lives.  What’s on your list?

A Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2017

veterans day

On this Veteran’s Day, O God, we are thankful for all the men and women, past and present, who have honorably served or are currently serving in the various branches of our nation’s armed forces.

We are especially grateful for the privilege of living in a land that is rich in resources and resourceful people from “sea to shining sea.”  And we are thankful for every veteran who has paved the way for the unrivaled liberties that allow us to freely make choices about our work, our worship, our political convictions, and our lifestyle. We are forever indebted to these past and present veterans who risked life and limb in the pursuit and protection of these freedoms.

As we observe this Veteran’s Day focused on memories and stories of the past, we are also aware of the challenges and uncertainties confronting us today. As we think about our present predicament, we humbly ask you to forgive our sin and to heal our land. You tell us in an ancient but relevant scripture that, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

On this day, we pray for the leaders of our nation, our state, and our community, that they will rise above the divisive rhetoric of partisanship that they may lead with wisdom, courage, and integrity. And we pray for the men and women who are currently deployed to high risk areas, that they will fulfill their mission courageously and effectively, and return home safely and soon.

Just as we have come to know you as a freedom-loving God, send us into the world to be your freedom-loving people. And may every story and every memory inspire us to live responsibly, serve generously, and sacrifice selflessly, as we pursue liberty and justice for all your children. We pray in the name of One who gives freedom that makes us “free indeed.” Amen.

(Barry Howard serves as a leadership coach with the Center for Healthy Churches, and a pastoral counselor with the Faith and Hope Center. He is member of the Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors and recently retired as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida)