“Be Brave, Give Thanks”
Topic: Thankfulness Scripture: Psalm 100–100, Philippians 4:4–4:7
In today’s passage, the call to give thanks is embedded in a series of virtues or attitudes. Paul considers them to be a regular feature of the spiritual life. All of it is based on the foundational poem or hymn found earlier in the Philippians letter, chapter 2. There, we discover the self-emptying of Christ, or kenosis, in which he relinquishes power, glory, and ego, in faithful obedience to the Father. He poured himself out unto death, even death on the cross. This humble, saving act is the basis on which we now live our lives. With confidence in the cross, Paul advises, “Do not worry about anything, but in prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.” Replace worry with worship. Talk to God about your need, through Him who has given all for you. Give thanks as you do so. There is more than one meaning here. To pray thankfully - is to express trust in God’s wisdom, compassion, power, and responsiveness. In advance of any visible answer, we give thanks for the very character of the Creator. We gratefully acknowledge that we are in the best of hands. We express certainty that our lives are in the care of the Lord. Worry diminishes, inner strength grows. Often we don’t know what to pray for, or how to pray, but we can still be thankful, for God knows our need.We’re also grateful for past mercies. We recall that through many dangers, toils, and snares, we have already come. Building on experience, we can affirm, I’ve been through other challenges; I can face this one with God’s help. Together we’ll get through this. We give thanks that whatever happens, grace will lead us home. “Neither death, nor life, nor anything in the whole universe can ever separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus.” For good reason - our prayers can be infused with gratitude.
A study at Massachusetts General Hospital gathered data on the healing power of thankfulness. The study was called “Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events” - so the acronym for the study was G.R.A.C.E. Dr. Jeff Huffman led the study. He is the Director of the Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program at Mass. General, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. 164 people who had recently suffered a heart attack completed a series of questions about overall gratitude as part of their disposition; and also about specific, in-the-moment health-related gratitude, to learn if either or both were related to better health outcomes. When asked about specific gratitude, participants were asked to rate their agreement with statements like this: “Over the past week, I have been feeling thankful toward my family and friends;” “Over the past week, I have been feeling thankful about my health;” “Over the past week, I have been feeling thankful about the doctors, nurses, and other staff who have helped take care of me when I was in the hospital and afterward.”
Dr. Huffman states, “We found that people who reported feeling more general gratitude two weeks after their heart attack also reported, six months later, that they had taken their medication more reliably, maintained a healthier diet, and gotten more exercise. They also reported lower rates of anxiety and worry. These connections were above and beyond the effects of age, gender, the severity of the attack, and numerous other factors.”
In addition, researchers found that “in-the-moment gratitude” for one’s health had even stronger associations with health itself. This specific form of gratitude was an independent predictor of good health six months later.”
What does this study mean for us? It’s good to appreciate the gift of life and to praise God for salvation. It’s also good to appreciate blue skies, green grass, mashed potatoes, your friend’s sense of humor, your warm coat, and the ability to help someone else have a warm coat.
In the spiritual life, this response is pervasive. The psalms give it a voice with their continual call to praise. The teachings of Jesus in part draw their power from his observations of life as it is: the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, daily bread. The life and writings of Paul are bathed in thankfulness, including times of suffering. The incredible gift of redemption is the umbrella concept, while every little blessing, every sign of human love and natural beauty, even the disappointments of life, can be material for prayer and our own feelings of blessedness.
Too often, we withhold our praise and our thanks. A friend got a good new job. It was a big deal for him. His parents’ reaction was stingy: “Oh, that’s nice.” Let’s not withhold ourselves; let’s share in the joy that others experience.
The study at Mass General Hospital tried to determine if people could be taught to have stronger feelings and expressions of gratitude. Could an intentional program help people grow in this important area of life? The researchers found that indeed people can learn by taking concrete steps: being mindful of every little goodness; writing them down; saying and praying their thanks. Shorter recovery times were observed as people increased their ability to be thankful. Dr. Huffman concludes, “The benefits are not just available to naturally grateful, nor are they reserved for life’s happiest moments. Indeed, they are important—perhaps especially so—during some of our scariest and most challenging moments.” We shouldn’t be surprised to know that what scripture advises is good for us. Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”
In this week of national Thanksgiving, let us resolve to be, in all circumstances, God’s grateful people.