By Brandon Lemons
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the apostle Paul exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Of all the years when this continual gratitude is most difficult, 2020 is probably that year. But…of all the years when this continual gratitude is most needed, 2020 is probably also that year.
Gratitude should have two components: what we’re thankful for, and who we’re thankful to. True gratitude requires a recipient. Ultimately, our gratitude should go to God, for every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). Part of the power of gratitude is that it turns our eyes to God. This is especially valuable when our circumstances feel less-than-ideal. Paul says “give thanks in all circumstances,” not “for all circumstances.” Regardless of our circumstances, we can still find blessings and reasons to give thanks and praise to God. I think of Matthew Henry, who was a pastor in London about 300 years ago. One night, he was robbed in a violent manner. Yet as he reflected on this incident, he couldn’t help but be thankful. He wrote in his diary: “Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Maybe it feels like you have been robbed of your 2020. You want a refund. You want a do-over. But even if 2020 has absolutely stunk for you, giving thanks to God is a powerful way to change your perspective.
In addition, gratitude is actually good for your health. Psychology professor Robert Emmons says: "Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep." One study from the School of Medicine at the University of California – San Diego found that people who were more grateful had better heart health, specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms. They showed a better well-being, a less depressed mood, less fatigue, and they slept better. Gratitude has the opposite effect of stress. Another study found that gratitude can boost your immune system. Stressed-out law students who characterized themselves as optimistic had more disease-fighting cells in their bodies. And in another study, people who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake – as much as 25% lower. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23% lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain. (Adapted from Lauren Dunn, "Be thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health," TODAY 5-12-17.)
So this Thanksgiving season, let’s be intentional to give thanks to God for big things (like His love and grace through Jesus, and like the hope of eternal life) and for smaller things (like friends and fresh fruit and toilet paper and toothpaste and beautiful music and blue skies). Our Thanksgiving activities may be different this year, but our heart can still fill with gratitude to God – which is powerful spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and relationally!