The Power of Gratitude

How naming that for which you are thankful reduces stress and increases peace, hope, and joy.

I’m forcing myself not to watch. You know how hard it is to look away when something violent or unseemly is happening on TV. That is kind of how it feels to watch “the news” right now. But I’m really trying not to look.

It is not just watching cable or network television coverage of politics. Twitter is downright hostile. I don’t scroll Facebook much, but I understand the atmosphere there is tense, too.

Sometimes it can feel as if we have no control over the stimuli our minds receive. We can’t help but watch and scroll. What if we had an option?

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I’m not saying that it is wrong to watch or scroll. But if we watch and scroll without seeking other input, our hearts may begin to wither from discouragement and despair, and can become fertile ground for anger, self-pity, and even self-righteousness as we huddle in various political camps. It is okay to eat junk food now and then, but if I live on it, things will not go well. The same is true with what we consume with our eyes and ears.

Given all the negative input upon which we are inclined to focus that stirs the stressors, it may help to let the Apostle Paul share some guidance. In Philippians 4, he provides some practical steps for dealing with anxiety. In verses 6-7, he encourages to cast our cares upon Jesus in prayer, and in verse 8, he instructs us to fix our minds on the good.

Here is the text:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

If we tie these two applications together, I think we have a powerful tool for living through a year that feels dominated by bad news. First, we confess that God is sovereign over all the uncertainty, unfolding his providential plan day by day. Second, we set our minds on things for which we are grateful. The theme of thanksgiving has already been mentioned in verse 6 as an important aspect of prayer. Now, we have tangible things for which to be thankful: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Ann Voskamp wrote a book entitled, One Thousand Gifts. The point is that while brokenness and hardship surround us, so do gifts that we may not see unless we begin looking for them. Paul is telling us to open our eyes.

I wonder what it would do for my soul if I got up in the morning and contemplated things for which I am grateful. Simple things. And not that many, but just a few. Say five things that I could name, dwell upon, and give thanks to God. How might that practice affect my heart?

For example, as I looked out into our backyard this morning and gazed into the woods, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of leaves just starting to turn, with the tips revealing shades of yellows, oranges, and reds that will soon color the landscape. In years past, I’ve not noticed the changing of the season but have just looked up, and boom, it was fall. I’m grateful for our woods and for the opportunity to reflect that God is as work, slowly, progressively, but as surely as the leaves are changing.

I’m thankful for a wood-burning fireplace, a wife who loves me, children, food in the pantry, electricity, and clean running water. Of course, I want to be mindful of the greatest gift in Jesus, knowing that if I lost everything else but had him, I’d be okay because he is the greatest good. The love of the Father in the gospel is most true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

For the believer, everything is grace. I do not deserve the warmth of my home or the food in my fridge. In my lost, sinful, rebellious condition, I was an object of wrath without hope and deserving judgment. But God, in his mercy and all by grace, gave me new life, causing me to be born again to a living hope with eyes to see Jesus as my crucified and risen sin-bearing Savior-King.

Even thinking about and writing these things is warming my heart with peace, contentment, and the bubbling up of joy. I suppose there really is power in gratitude. So, with disdain of entitlement, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, trusting him as Lord and thanking him for the thousand undeserved gifts which he has freely given.


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