For many, Thanksgiving is full of joy. It is a time to anticipate. For others, it is a reminder of absence. It is a lonely time. That’s why the foyer at TGP has the sign “Where Friends Become Family.”
TGP has been a family to me for 10+ years. I moved in 2003, hundreds of miles away from family. In daily life, I didn’t have family nearby. I joined the Barkules Wednesday night group in 2006. I have since adopted TGP as my surrogate family. It is still a blessing.
Whether you enjoy Thanksgiving or not, the power of thankfulness is constant. Yesterday Cara shared a message on Thankfulness. You can hear it here (November 17, 2019). Today, I’ll reflect more on the power of thanksgiving.
Increases Opportunities for Relationships
It is human nature to be valued, appreciated, and loved. As this Forbes article says, being thankful causes people to see a potential future friendship/relationship. Letting others know you appreciate them, what they do, and what they bring to the table is key in developing a trusting, loyal friendship.
When we are considerate of another’s selflessness toward us, it takes the focus away from self-interest and toward someone else. Thankfulness is part of avoiding selfishness. The Bible is filled with exhortations for thankfulness: to God and others. Here is one of the shorter lists online.
Thankfulness is an outward mindset. It free us from the bondage of self-focus. Self-focused mental patterns are chains that bind us, causing emotional and spiritual lack. Being self-focused prevents us from reaching out and helping others in need. This then reduces other people’s likelihood to respond to our needs, thus reinforcing the self-focused mindset.
This equally applies to our relationship with God. When we are thankful for what God has done, we are more likely to turn to him in our time of need. If we are not thankful, we will trend toward “doing it ourselves.” This puts undue stress and strain on our lives. It could easily turn into bitterness, thinking of God “not doing enough.”
In the end, the greater our thankfulness, the more we benefit from the community. Gratitude leads to a greater willingness to help others when they are in need. This results in an increase in communal reciprocity.
Improves Physical Health
Believe it or not, thankfulness has been linked to better physical health. I remember as a teenager and new Christian, my Pentecostal brethren would advise people to thank God for the healing they were praying for. This is something that has been in practice for probably a century in full-Gospel environments. For most, it was an act of faith. The details are still out on whether or not thankfulness can cure cancer. However, it has been shown to improve overall physical health. Everyone suffers from aches and pains, bumps and bruises. Yet studies have shown that thankful people tend not to focus on them. Less focus on the aches and pains means they are again focusing on something outside themselves or their situation. They are choosing to look at things positively, even with the negative experiences of pain.
Over time, gratitude has been shown to alter mental patterns. This then leads to a higher view and value of oneself. Higher self-value (from being outward focused) regularly leads to increased self-care. As the scripture says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That isn’t a very good statement unless there is a good amount of self-love present. Increased self-care leads to healthier physical decisions.
Isn’t it interesting that James posits that sin starts as a desire/thought which leads to death. Yet, here, we see the opposite is also true. Thankfulness begins with a thought, which leads to life-giving actions. So perhaps thanksgiving is a powerful tool for defeating sinful mental patterns.
Improves Mental Health
Scripture says “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” KJV calls that last item “a sound mind.” Practicing gratitude is a strong buffer against “toxic emotions.” These are emotions like envy and resentment. Prolonged toxic emotions can cause significant mental problems. It also negatively affects relationships. Envious of someone else’s success? View them as an oppressive enemy. Resentful that you didn’t get randomly picked out of a crowd for something? Blast the picker on social media as you air out your frustrations. Consistent toxic emotions are a path to mental imbalance. That imbalance can make one odious to others. This is because it dehumanizes others. It denies the freedom and dignity of other image bearers because their actions and successes don’t directly impact the resenter in a positive way. This then leads to a lack of empathy and an increase in aggression.
Gratitude alters that mental path. Developing habits of thankfulness prevent things like envy and bitterness from forming mental patterns. There is good reason the Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews wrote on contentment. Contentment with what we have is a starting point to building up both our situation and those around us. Envy and resentment do just the opposite. They tear down what others have built up and produce nothing for the resenter.
In the end, we each have choices to make. Will we follow a path of love and life or a path of toxicity and destruction?
Enhances Empathy/Reduces Aggression
Related to the previous point, gratitude has been shown to enhance empathy and reduce aggression. According to a University of Kentucky study, thankful people were more “prosocial” and less likely to retaliate when treated negatively or given negative feedback. Thankfulness helps us put our energies toward things greater than our own self-interest. A greater good drives our actions and attitude. As Christians, we call this “advancing the kingdom of heaven” (among other terms).
Aggression grows via reaction to mistreatment (real or perceived). Thankfulness empowers us to transcend the pettiness of such actions. Retaliation is a revenge motive. Yet Scripture says, “‘Vengeance is Mine,’ says the Lord.” This is because God is above petty retribution. He is a perfect judge and will judge perfectly. Aggression towards others is not part of a Christian’s personal vocation. God has called us to an abundant life. That includes emotional and spiritual abundance. As such, we should have no room for envy or resentment. When we practice thankfulness, we push out envious traits in favor of God’s best. This allows us to see the best in others, even when they aren’t acting or living their best.
Reduction of aggression and an increase of empathy is part of how we show Christ to those around us. Jesus didn’t retaliate during his passion. The non-retaliatory actions of Jesus were not simple passivity. He had a greater focus that led him to endure the cross. Jesus had to transcend the temptations of human retaliation for the sake of salvation.
In the end, thanksgiving is commanded repeatedly in the Bible for worshipers of God. As we can see, thankfulness is more than just a kind gesture. It has the power to change things. It won’t happen overnight. Yet prolonged practices of gratitude to God and others are just as important for our physical, emotional, and spiritual excellence as diet, intimacy, and scripture reading. We can liken unthankfulness to Peter sinking on the water after seeing the storms all around. Likewise, thankfulness is like Peter standing on the water by focusing on Jesus. When we are grateful for what God has done for us and what others have done, we will experience changes in our own lives and attitudes. The choice is ours, thankfulness or resentment?
Thank you for reading this week’s pastor blog. I hope it has helped you better experience God’s Presence. Love. Power. Through the power of gratitude.
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