November 20, 2018 • Life for Leaders
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?
1 Thessalonians 3:9
The benefits of gratitude abound. That’s what we learned in yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion. Psychological and medical research has shown that gratitude can lead to increased patience, improved relationships, better sleep, and superior mental health, among many other demonstrated benefits. But, I wonder if there are benefits beyond those found in academic journals? How does gratitude affect our experience of God and God’s people?
According to the articles in Time and Forbes that I cited yesterday, gratitude can improve and even add to our relationships. This is demonstrated in a research study by Sara B. Algoe, Jonathan Haidt, and Shelly L. Gable. In “Beyond Reciprocity: Gratitude and Relationships in Everyday Life,” they show that “gratitude is about more than repaying benefits; it is about building relationships… [It] is a detection-and-response system to help find, remind, and bind ourselves to attentive others… Gratitude can be understood as an emotion that serves the social function of promoting such relationships.”
Yet it’s not just the feeling of gratitude that promotes relationships. Consider Paul’s example in 1 Thessalonians 3:9: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” Paul not only feels thankful but also shares his thankfulness with those for whom he is so grateful. It’s not hard to imagine how a statement like this would affirm and encourage the Thessalonians, binding them even more tightly to Paul, the founder of their church.
But gratitude doesn’t only bind us to the people for whom we are grateful or who are grateful for us. True Christian gratitude, not just a feeling, but an actual expression of thanks to God, also reframes our relationships. Paul doesn’t thank the Thessalonians for the joy he is feeling because of them. Rather, he thanks God. His relationship with the Thessalonian church is not just a human experience. It is a gift from God. Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians is based on the gospel of God’s grace in Christ and mediated by the presence of God’s Spirit.
Does gratitude enhance our relationships? Certainly. Does gratitude help build new relationships? Surely. But it also reframes those relationships, reminding us that they exist because of the grace and under the sovereignty of God.
Something to Think About:
How has gratitude enriched some of your relationships?
How has gratitude helped to build new relationships in your life?
When you thank God for people who give you joy, what happens in your mind and heart, beyond the expression of gratitude?
Something to Do:
Set aside a chunk of time this week to specifically thank God for people in your life. You may want to mention: family, friends, teachers, youth workers, mentors, colleagues, people who serve and care for you (like your doctor or the employees at your market), pastors, neighbors, musicians, artists, writers, etc.
Gracious God, thank you for the amazing people you have brought into my life. Thank you for the joy I feel before you because of them. They are indeed gifts from your gracious hand. May I remember them with gratitude, not just once a year, but regularly. And when I do, may I acknowledge you as the giver of all good gifts, including the gifts of people in my life. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Introduction 1 & 2 Thessalonians
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.