Have you noticed how often the apostle Paul opens his letters with expressions of thanksgiving for people, specifically the believers?
- I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4 NIV 2011)
- "I thank my God every time I remember you." (Philippians 1:3)
- "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers." (Philemon 1:4)
Such verses have inspired me to start a brand new habit: I now make a point of thanking God daily for His faithful followers. These are the "cloud of witnesses" which surrounds me. And what a cloud! My list of names keeps growing. As I give thanks for them, I write their names on a big cloud that I made with paper. These dear ones are evidence of God's faithfulness to His covenant promise, not just in the present, but in the past, too. Many of them encourage me through their lives and writings. This new habit of thanksgiving is protecting me from discouragement over the relentless skepticism and unbelief which saturates my world. It helps me remember that God is still at work. "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
But I have another reason for this project. Scripture is backed up by science, which proves the health benefits of a positive, thankful attitude. Grateful feelings release health-producing neurochemicals into our body: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. These help us feel good. Of course, you don't need to know all that, but it's surely exciting to see science proving that God knows best! That in itself is a cause for thanksgiving! And more: Thankfulness protects our bodies and minds from the harmful chemicals released by anxiety, anger, and fear. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6). Now, that's a health remedy!
In other words, if we want to be more healthy, we should be generous in giving thanks, not just at special celebrations, but every day. It's about adopting a lifestyle of thanksgiving, for our own good. I dare say, we can claim it as God's health program for us:
- "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything …" (Ephesians 5:20)
- "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus …" (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
- "… overflowing with thankfulness …" (Colossians 2:7)
The psalmists and apostles are wonderful examples. They dot Scripture with expressions of thanksgiving – but not merely for good circumstances. Much of the time they were assailed by troublesome people.
I made another discovery: Gratitude is a visionary quality – because it looks ahead with great anticipation: "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful …" (Hebrews 12:28)
Now that would be a healthy thanksgiving!
Prayer: O Lord, cure us from our bent towards ingratitude. Inspire us to be attentive to the evidence of Your goodness all around us and beyond us, that we may overflow with thanksgiving — always. Amen.