Sunday, January 24, 2010

Healthy Habit #2 for 2010: Be Thankful in All Things

One habit I am trying to cultivate this year is a spirit of gratefulness for everything that God allows into my life, whether good or bad.  After all, we are clearly commanded to do so in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

"In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

You may wonder how this applies to my list of healthy habits, but did you know that there is a body of current scientific research that provides evidence to support the idea that gratitude produces health benefits??  The research is summarized in Robert Emmon's book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).  Summarizing the findings, he states that an attitude of gratitude produes emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits and that people who practice gratefulness report fewer symptoms of illness, have fewer repeat heart attacks, feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about their futures.  He also concluded that gratitude is a choice -- one possible response to our life experiences.  

Wow!  I thought that was an astonishing conclusion from a secular "expert."  If unbelieving scientists and psychologists encourage us to embrace thankfulness as a choice, then surely, we who know God and believe he is sovereign should be able to live a life of gratitude and trust!

While it may be easy to thank God for the blessings of good health, a new baby, a job promotion or pay raise, obedient children, days of smooth-sailing, a good church, and a large circle of friends, it is quite another matter to thank God for health challenges, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or a cut in pay, rebellious children, chaotic days, struggling learners, problems at church, and a lack of like-minded friends with which to fellowship.

God wants us to thank Him even when it hurts!  Have you ever noticed how many times the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, speak of "a sacrifice of thanksgiving" or "a sacrifice of praise?"  Instead of grumbling, complaining, crying, and moaning, God wants us to offer Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, as we trust Him in faith to bring good out of every bad situation.  (See Romans 8:28-29.)

"By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." -- Hebrews 13:15

In my daily Bible reading, I have come to one of my all-time favorite Bible stories -- the story of Joseph.  I just love the part when he reveals himself to his brothers and says, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good . . ."   (Genesis 50:20)  We would experience so much more peace and contentment in this life, if we would just remember to have that attitude any time we are hurt or taken advantage of or betrayed.

I know it is not easy.  It goes against every cell in our bodies to thank God for those things which hurt us or make our lives hard!   Yet, the Bible is clear that it is the will of God for us to give thanks in all things.

I love the way my favorite author, Sally Clarkson, explains it in Seasons of a Mother's Heart:
When I pout instead of being joyful, grumble instead of praying, and complain instead of giving thanks, I am in effect telling God that he is mishandling my life and I don't like it.  At that point, I have ceased to put my faith in our sovereign Lord and have chosen to put my faith in my circumstances.  In other words, I am telling God and myself, that if my circumstances change, then and only then can I be happy.  Until then, I have nothing to be thankful for.  And that, according to Paul, is when I step out of God's will.
My sinful heart might try to counter that it is the lousy circumstances that have caused me to be out of God's will, but that's just rationalization -- it is my response to them that put me out of God's will.  That is why God admonishes me to be joyful and to give thanks "in all circumstances."  When I do that, no matter how bad the circumstances, I am acknowledging that he is in control.  It is an act of faith, I can choose, by faith, to see God's hand within any and all of the circumstances of my life.

I also love what my oldest daughter said about having a grateful spirit on her blog:

"As I think about giving thanks in all things, with belly full, face glowing, and hands and heart warm, it seems pretty easy. But then I wonder....what about January.....bleak and unadorned by holiday magic.....will I be thankful then? Because having a thankful spirit is not just for Thanksgiving when it is relatively easy to give thanks. It is for rainy Mondays, bleak Januarys, heart wrenching, trial-filled days and days of motonous sacrifice, for valleys and plains, as well as the peaks. It is those days that really test whether I have a 'gratitude attitude.' A thankful heart can transform the bleakest day, the most painful experience into a beautiful act of worship. It is not circumstances that determine our destiny but rather our response, our attitude, our outlook. 'Your attitude determines your altitude.' "

Will you join me this year in choosing gratefulness?


kristilea said...

My mom was a nurse for over 20 years, and she said that she has seen time and time again, the power of possitive thinking and thankfulness! She said it is deffinately linked to health benifits. I think it's a great thing to you said, we are commanded to!

Rebecca's Refining said...

I was disappointed that weight loss was not mentioned in your health benefits!! :)
A great reminder... it has been a rough weekend for me I was 500 miles away from home listening on the phone to the immature, selfish, determined attitudes of my children left at has been a challenge for me to not complain to God, "Why do they have to be this way?" And, yet, it forced me to stop and pray for my children... and myself..(afterall, what else can I do at this point....) I know that challenges of any type are for my benefit and spiritual growth...and an opportunity to give God honor and glory in how I respond...yet, how quickly I "forget" this quickly I forget that whatever God allows to fall into my life is "hand picked" or "designed" for me and what I need. I need to respond to this latest situation with a spirit of thanksgiving...after all, God has shown me some areas that need some attention....both in my life, and in the lives of my children! So, thanks for encouraging me this morning with the reminder that in "ALL things give thanks!!"

Michelle (She Looketh Well) said...

HI Elizabeth, I just wanted you to know that I am enjoying your series, just haven't had time to comment. Have been printing them up and then don't get to commenting! So, I am loving them,

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