A Sea of Gratitude

“Science has proven what people of faith have experienced for thousands of years. That is, that in addition to glorifying God, gratitude’s benefits are huge — in both a spiritual and nonspiritual context.”

gratitude

“As they continued onward toward Jerusalem, they reached the border between Galilee and Samaria, and as they entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, sir, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go to the Jewish priest and show him that you are healed!” And as they were going, their leprosy disappeared. One of them came back to Jesus, shouting, “Glory to God, I’m healed!” He fell flat on the ground in front of Jesus, face downward in the dust, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a despised Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the nine? Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19

Gratitude reflects our disposition to the gifts we’ve been given, a disposition that is either positive, indifferent, or negative.

In a way, the ease and frequency with which we experience and express gratitude reflects our attitudes towards God. Either we are humble, aware, trusting, and inclined to experience gratitude, or we feel entitled, distrustful, self-centered, or betrayed by God and less aware or appreciative of the gifts we’ve been given. In part, our ability to experience and express our gratitude is a measure of our self-centeredness. In part, it is a a measure of our faith. Failure to feel gratitude for the simple or most profound blessings in our lives is a warning sign that we may be suffering spiritually. Lack of gratitude is the telltale sign that something in our relationship with God is seriously amiss.

In other words, our ability to feel gratitude is often a reflection of our awareness that we are loved by God, that He is good, that His love is generous, merciful and pure, and that God watches over us and desires to be an integral part of our lives. In particular, gratitude is a measurement of our understanding of, and personal interaction with, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Science has proven what people of faith have experienced for thousands of years. That is, that in addition to glorifying God, gratitude’s benefits are huge — in both a spiritual and nonspiritual context. When we are grateful to God, we are more likely to be grateful to those around us as well.

In a nonspiritual context, research has established that gratitude benefits interpersonal relationships. Not only is expressing gratitude considered morally correct or a courtesy in most cultures, expressing thanks to another person tends to make the other person more likely to desire an ongoing relationship (whether in business or personal), leading to new opportunities and enhanced relationships. From a purely business standpoint, one Gallup study concluded that expressing gratitude to key customers can build stronger business relationships, and in one study resulted in 50% higher revenue/sales and 34% higher profitability.

Gratitude has proven health benefits too, both in a physical and emotional sense. In particular, sincere gratitude has been shown to reduce toxic emotions such as envy, anger, and regret. Gratitude can increase happiness and reduce depression, it can contribute to healing, and it can contribute to a sense of well-being and one’s longevity. Specifically, gratitude has been proven to be a major contributor to resilience to trauma, stress, and certain illnesses. Promising research is suggesting a possible correlation between gratitude and the onset of early Alzheimer’s. Recognizing and acknowledging the things we have to be thankful for fosters emotional well-being, optimism, and gives us resolve and strength – even during our darkest hours.

Gratitude also has been proven to enhance empathy and reduce aggression. It has been demonstrated to improve sleep, enjoyment of life, and contribute to improved self-esteem. In our highly competitive world, acknowledgment of our blessings and gratitude for them also helps us to reduce social comparisons and to appreciate one another’s accomplishments — without diminishing our own sense of self-worth.

The ability to feel grateful is itself a gift from God. It is something that can be innate, taught, and learned. It is something that can be practiced until it becomes a habit and state of mind. Absent medical or drug-induced conditions that diminish mental capacity, gratitude – including the expression of thankfulness — is voluntary. It need not be  — should not be — coerced or limited to a single day or event. It should be encouraged as a way to celebrate life, facilitate our relationship with God and other people, and to give testimony as to God’s goodness.

Studies show that gratitude becomes habitual through voluntary repetition. The more we choose to be grateful, the easier it becomes to feel blessed, and the more we thrive – as do all those who observe our example. We have only to “practice” looking for the many ways God blesses us in order to find them. From life itself to the air we breathe, to the food we eat, to the water we drink, to warmth of the sun… we are blessed in countless ways that many of us take for granted.

When we set aside time for reflection and giving thanks, preferably as we begin each day and regularly throughout it, we glorify God and become better versions of ourselves. In the context of prayer, gratitude enhances our communication and relationship with God – during bad times as well as the good.

Of course, not everything feels like a blessing at the time. At times, sadness, tragedy or hardship will befall us. Bad things happen that may challenge our faith. Yet, in spite of all the “crushing troubles and hardships” that occur from time to time (2 Thessalonians 1:4), we are instructed to at all times be grateful to God:

“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This means being grateful even when we don’t see the good in a situation as well as the bad; when we are overwhelmed by the evil and sin we see around us; and, this means having faith that even sinful acts or natural disasters can be used to serve a bigger plan that we may not always — or ever — understand.

Perhaps Jesus demonstrated best the importance of gratitude in the face of hardship when, within hours before the horror of His pending crucifixion, He gave thanks to God at least twice in the presence of His disciples: “Then he took a glass of wine, and when he had given thanks for it, he said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come. Then he took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke it apart and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in remembrance of me. After supper he gave them another glass of wine, saying, “This wine is the token of God’s new agreement to save you – an agreement sealed with the blood I shall pour out to purchase back your souls.” (Luke 22:17-20)

Throughout the ages, Jesus’ example has served as a reminder of the importance Jesus places on gratitude to God — even in our darkest hours. His story reminds us that, with faith, prayer, and gratitude, through God’s love and mercy we can conquer any challenges that this life presents to us — in accordance with God’s plan. It also reminds us that the challenges and hardships we face are only temporary, but that God’s love for us and promises are everlasting.

 

REFERENCES:

Morin, A. (2017, November 27). “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round.”

Presentation by Pastor Rhonda Blevins on November 12, 2019. Blevins did her doctorate thesis on the “Power of Gratitude.”

 

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