Tuesday, November 26, 2013
“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
The Bible is not subtle in its calls for thanksgiving. Repeatedly, urgently, and throughout its many books the reader is urged to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,” and “in all things give thanks.” In both Old and New Testaments, both Gospels and Epistles, we are urged to consider our blessings, and the character of the One from whom they flow, and to offer praise and thanks in response.
Centuries later, Martin Luther described gratitude as “the basic Christian attitude” and the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards asserted that a spirit of thankfulness to God was an indicator of one’s spiritual state.
Why, one might wonder, is thankfulness so important?
The act of thanksgiving requires both memory and humility — both reflection on the causes and sources of gratitude, and the recognition of the blessing as a grace, rather than an entitlement. As such, a spirit of thanksgiving is incompatible with pride and distracted self-absorption, two of the greatest threats to spiritual life. It is virtually impossible to be thankful when one is distracted or indignant; thankfulness requires a laying aside of slights and irritations to focus on one’s unearned blessings and their source.
A century ago, Henry Ward Beecher observed that: “Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grows. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.”
Recent studies have actually provided empirical evidence in support of the spiritual truth that a spirit of thanksgiving also reduces materialism (which is itself linked to reduced well-being and higher incidence of mental disorder) and self-absorption – and leads to greater generosity.
And indeed, the last decade has brought a flood of research showing that an “attitude of gratitude” enhances one’s relationship, career, love life, productivity, optimism, resilience, sleep, energy levels, immune functioning, and propensity to optimism. Thankful people live longer, have more friends and stronger marriages, are more likely to volunteer and donate, are less likely to be depressed or addicted, find it easier to forgive and bounce back from disappointment, navigate transition, and have a clearer sense of their life’s purpose.
Such research is a simple reminder of the truth that we were made to be thankful. In giving thanks to the source of our blessings, we are not merely healthier and happier, but closer to who we were made to be, and what we were made for: to glorify God, and enjoy him forever. Ultimately, the act of thanksgiving is not only a call to worship, but an invitation to joy.
Recommended Readings & Resources:
Amit Amin, “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Don’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life,” Happier Human.
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, Zondervan, 2011.
Isak Dinesan, Babette’s Feast, The Trinity Forum Reading, 2010.
Victor Hugo, The Purchase of a Soul, The Trinity Forum Reading, 1995.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Trinity Forum Reading, 2011.