‘Giving thanks always for all the things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Ephesians 5:20Gratitude is mentioned 157 times in the Bible and yet it remains one of the most underestimated and neglected of Christian virtues. There’s a lot of scientific research that’s been done on ‘gratitude’ in recent years and guess what? It all confirms what the Bible tells us: that sustained gratitude is a state we should all strive to achieve. Robert A Emmons has done a lot of research in this field and he maintains that gratitude has two core components: it’s an ‘affirmation of goodness’ and it’s a recognition that the ‘sources of this goodness are outside ourselves’. That’s science speak for the Biblical truth that all good things come from God. Scientists have identified a whole bunch of ways in which gratitude is good for us:
- gratitude improves sleep (Wood et al 2009)
- gratitude lowers blood pressure (Emmons)
- gratitude prevents overeating (Susan Peirce Thompson)
- gratitude motivates us to exercise more (Emmons and McCullough 2003)
- gratitude strengthens our immune systems (Emmons 2010)
- gratitude improves our tolerance of pain ( Bruce F Singer)
- gratitude boosts our self confidence ( Chen and Wu 2014)
- gratitude increases our patience (Northeastern University College of Science 2014)
- gratitude increases our resiliency ( Vieselmeyer et al)
- gratitude reduces envy and makes us more optimistic (Polak and McCullough 2006)
- gratitude makes us more forgiving ( Rey and Extremera 2014)
- gratitude extends life span (Boyles 2009)
In addition, scientists have determined that gratitude aids recovery from addiction, combats depression, helps manage grief, strengthens relationships, enriches work and contributes to happiness. All of which simply confirms what we Christians know already, that God’s wisdom is absolute.
‘But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’ James 3:17
Why does God want us to show gratitude?
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4: 4-8
Scientists may have identified a whole string of benefits to be had from practicing gratitude, but they’re missing the most important one: gratitude helps us to see God. God does not want us to show gratitude out of vanity, God wants us to draw closer to his glory by recognising his hand at work in everything that is beautiful. God wants us to be happy, not just the superficial happiness that we might experience with some new material acquisition but ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding’ and that happiness, that joy opens up to us when we practice gratitude. Learning to practice gratitude is like learning to see, really see, for the very first time. Gratitude is a focus on all that we have, whereas most of spend our days on earth worrying about what we lack.
How do we show gratitude to God?
Saying ‘thank you’ is not practicing gratitude, it’s what we say when someone passes you the salt. Biblical gratitude is about acknowledging the giver, not just the gift; it’s God centred rather than self-centred. ‘To show Biblical gratitude is to give goodness and grace to others, as the giver has first received from God. It means to extend the joy of receiving to others and God through gestures of kindness and goodness.’ Gratitude is a state of mind, which encompasses past, present and future.
‘And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.’
2 Corinthians 4:15
When we share our gratitude with others, we spread the Word of God and help bring joy into the world.
Show your gratitude to God with a humble heart, it should never be a gateway to vanity, which is a sin. Do not lavish your gratitude on transitory trinkets but reflect upon the real and lasting riches, which God has bestowed upon you. Society encourages us to be selfish and self obsessed and we must learn true gratitude. Make gratitude a habit of mind by building it into your daily routine and keeping it in mind in all that you do. When you study Scripture, read it with gratitude in your heart; when you pray, always thank God for his manifold blessings. When times are hard and darkness surrounds you, drive away Satan by drinking deep from the well of gratitude. Use your prayer journal to record your gratitude, so that you can reflect upon the wealth that God has given you in times of anguish.
Gratitude in the Bible
Gratitude to God should be given joyously, not in the begrudging way that a small child might acknowledge a party gift. The Bible is the source of all our wisdom and gives many examples of gratitude in operation. The Book of Psalms, attributed to King David, is the most beautiful sequence of songs celebrating gratitude that we have.