1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.
There are many practical and life-changing verses in the Bible, and this is one of my favorites. It is a formula for living a happy and abundant life. We are asked to be thankful, joyful, and in tune with Spirit through prayer, moving our awareness inside. Again, in Colossians 4:2 we are instructed: “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” If we followed that advice, our lives would be different, better, and more fulfilling.
Not only does the Bible ask that we be grateful, but science recommends it. Research tells us that an ‘attitude of gratitude’ is associated with: Greater happiness, more optimism and positive emotions, new and lasting relationships, better health, more progress toward personal goals, fewer aches and pains, more alertness and determination, increased generosity and empathy, better sleep, and improved self-esteem.
Many people believe it is happiness that makes us grateful. But that would be incorrect. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. As author Amy Collette wrote, “Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness, it’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”
Gratitude is an important key to finding success and happiness in the modern day. Knowing what we appreciate in life means knowing who we are, what matters to us, what makes our days worthwhile, and places us in a positive frame of mind. Research demonstrates that focusing on what we are grateful for is universally rewarded by feeling happier and more fulfilled.
Gratitude is an attitude; it is a choice, and gratitude is a habit that benefits us emotionally, spiritually, and physically. When we consciously practice being grateful for the people, situations, and resources around us we begin to attract better relationships and results. The habit strengthens as we apply it.
The spiritual law of attraction says that we attract into our life the things we think about and focus on. When we are consciously aware of our blessings, and are grateful for them, we are focusing more clearly on what we want in our life - and are attracting those things to us.
Being thankful builds relationships. Think about the people who appreciate us and let us know it. How do we feel about them? Does their appreciation positively impact our relationship? Yes, and those feelings flow both directions: We can be grateful for people, their contributions, their talents and their actions and let them know how we feel.
Gratitude reduces negativity. It is hard to be negative about our situation when we are thinking about things for which we are thankful. One of the fastest ways to improve our mood or outlook is to count our blessings.
Despites the disappointments we experience in life, God’s blessings flow to us through unlimited channels. Timothy 4:4 teaches, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” When we can understand that God is making all things work together for our good, we can receive everything in our lives with a grateful heart.
Gratitude helps us learn. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Behind every problem lies an opportunity. Being grateful for our situation - even if we don't like everything about it - allows us to be thankful for the opportunity to learn something new and improve our skills.
There is a connection between gratitude and giving, hence the word ‘thanksgiving’. When we see the blessings in our lives, we are filled with appreciation and are inspired to give back. It is a Divine Circle – to receive and to give. We are inspired to give back to God because of all the wonderful things we have received. We are inspired to give in almost every situation because of the gifts of love, joy, peace, appreciation, and acceptance we have been given.
My dad had a brother, Gene, who had two kids, Marilyn and Susan. I had lost track of my cousins for many, many years. Recently, they sought me out – I’m not exactly sure how, but I think it was through social media. We reconnected and I shared our church website with them.
Along with my aunt Katherine, they have been enjoying the videoed services. This week Susan sent a gift to us, really to the church. She made this beautiful macramé out of gratitude for what she has experienced spiritually. In her note she said, “I am so thankful for you and your church as it has rekindled the fire that I once had for God and Jesus. I am including a picture that I made for you and Mary and your church family.” ‘Thanks’ and ‘giving’: These two words are spiritually-bound.
There is also a connection between prayer and giving thanks. A quick and powerful prayer is, “Thank You, God”. For just a moment, every morning and every evening, we can utter that simple prayer along with any other thought that we hold. That simple habit can help us maintain an open and grateful heart, and from there our awareness grows to the blessings in our lives.
Who are we thankful for? I encourage you to let them know. Verbalize it, write it, or email it. Let them know you appreciate them. It’s easy to be thankful for the loving, giving, kind family members. But what about the ones that have hurt us or who push our buttons? Can we find some way of being thankful for them? Can we find a quality or characteristic for which we can be grateful? If nothing else, how about, “Thank You God for the opportunity to forgive and cast aside judgment. Thank You for showing me that I can make beneficial, loving, and productive choices.” Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love wrote: “You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”
Are we living with someone who means the world to us, but we don’t let them know? Part of giving thanks is expressing it out loud to the person for whom we are thankful. The words may change: I love you. I appreciate you. I thank you – and it remains gratitude.
Are there other people for whom we are thankful – friends, associates, people who open a door for us? It is customary to smile and say, “Thank you”. But often we don’t say it. We’re embarrassed or think it is unnecessary, or not politically correct.
I don’t know why people don’t say ‘thank you’ more often for the blessings they receive. Perhaps it is just that we are not aware of the blessings in our lives – the small moments, gifts, and actions that we receive. We focus on large happenings, but not the small.
We feel gratitude when we receive something of value that is freely given. It is a gift that we haven’t purchased, or worked for, or traded anything for. When this occurs, gratefulness spontaneously arises from our heart. So, we may not feel gratitude if we don’t value what we have been given. Our awareness is too limited or worldly based.
For some of us, we may not feel gratitude because we feel like we deserve it or are entitled. For others, I think it is fear. Some of us are afraid to say ‘thank you’ because it reveals too much about us … a softness or weakness. Maybe we will be asked for money or be taken advantage of because of a vulnerability.
But I have found that when I open a door for someone and they look at me and say, ‘thank you’, it reveals their personal confidence, wholeness, and willingness to express God through them. I feel good. If someone shyly says, ‘thank you’, and doesn’t look at me, or they say it because it is what we are supposed to do, there is no God energy; it feels incomplete and vacant. An opportunity is lost.
If someone does something nice for us, Spirit whispers to us to look them in the eye, smile, and say “thank you”. Sometimes we become so focused on our own lives and our own needs, we ignore others and are self-absorbed. To say, ‘thank you’, whether to God or another person, is to acknowledge something outside of ourselves; it takes our focus off ourselves for a moment and places it directly onto someone else.
In addition to people, what things in our life are we thankful for? What conditions? It is so easy to dwell on the negative, the lack, the uncertainty, the pain, the injustice, and certainly it is important to offer all that to God in prayer, and then the rest of the time focus on what is right in our life. Did we wake up this morning? Did you know that according to the World Fact Book (CIA) 153,424 people worldwide didn’t wake up today? But we did. Thank You, God!
What is right in our life, what is good and productive? What would we miss if it was removed from our life? A sunset, a budding flower, a rainbow, a laughing baby, the moon rising. A shooting star, a good book. The telephone and other technology we have. What would we miss? A warm bed, warm coat, our favorite shoes, our house, our refrigerator? Be grateful for the simple, obvious, and overlooked things. There is completion and wholeness and perfection in showing our gratitude. There is God-flow.
Some people will tell us their lives are miserable, and they always have been. We often hesitate to ask these people how they are, because they just might tell us! What these hurting people can’t acknowledge is that they have enough energy to speak and clarity of mind to share their opinion. They are clothed. They probably ate breakfast or lunch. They may have bathed and slept in a bed.
There are times when we dwell in self-pity, when our ego is totally in control and blocks the light of God. We are critical of ourselves and will not admit to anything good in our lives. We are anxious about everything and do not take the time to be thankful. Indeed, there is no room in our hearts for gratitude when we are filled with self-pity, fear, and negativity. Although we will all visit that state of mind, we don’t have to live there. We can challenge that critical inner voice. “I hear you; I acknowledge you, and enough is enough. Be quiet now.” When life gives us 100 reasons to cry let us respond with 1000 reasons to be grateful.
This does not mean that we will be grateful for everything. Certainly not the loss of a friend or loved one. Or for war, violence, pain, exploitation, and oppression the other frailties of the human ego. So, we don’t focus on the negative; we deal with it, handle it, and move on. We do not obsess over the darkness.
In the Bible, peace and contentment are often the fruits of a thankful heart. When we are grateful, we experience more peace. Things don’t bother us as much, because we start to see how all things fit together to make a whole; we are part of the completeness, and what we experience is part of the wholeness and perfection of God. When we can release our anxiety about anything and give thanks for everything, then we will know the peace that transcends all understanding.
1 Chronicles 16:34 teaches: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
I pray that this week and all your days are filled by Christ with calm, peace, contentment, and thanks. My prayer is that we realize that every moment is a gift, given freely to us – unearned and without purchase. Through that awareness may gratitude spontaneously arise, continuously filling our hearts and minds, so that we not only have grateful moments but live a grateful life, in a constant state of gratitude. I pray for each of you a spectacularly happy Thanksgiving Day.