November 14, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Colossians 1:3-4
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.
Scholars who study gratitude have discovered that people who regularly write down those things for which they are grateful to experience a wide range of personal benefits. They are healthier physically and happier psychologically. As we draw near to Thanksgiving Day, we are encouraged to keep a gratitude journal, a simple, daily record of things for which we are thankful. Such a journal strengthens our relationship with God even as it helps us to flourish.
This devotion is part of the series: Thanksgiving Preseason.
I grew up with “Count Your Blessings” ringing in my ears. If ever I complained about something in the presence of my grandmother, she would exclaim, “Count your blessings!” There was no room for grumpiness in her presence. Then, in Sunday School we would often sing a popular hymn, “Count Your Blessings.” This hymn, penned by Johnson Oatman, Jr., began, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” Then came the refrain, which ended this way: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”
I expect that the Apostle Paul would have approved of this hymn. At the beginning of most of his letters, he explains how he “counts his blessings.” He does this by offering thanks to God for the recipients of his letters and then telling them about it. We see an example of this in Colossians 1:3-4: “In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.” When Paul prayed, he thanked God for the Colossians, especially for their faith and love. Then he let them know that and how he had prayed.
Counting our blessings is a good thing to do because Scripture teaches us to do it, both through example and specific exhortation (see, for example, Psalm 30:4, 12; 100:4; 107: 8, 15, 21, 31; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 3:15-16). Counting our blessings is also a good thing to do if we want to live flourishing lives. Living gratefully is an essential component of living well.
That was the conclusion of a research project conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough, scholars who have studied gratitude extensively. (I mentioned Dr. Emmons in yesterday’s devotion.) Emmons and McCullough published their research in a paper called, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389; summary here). They gave different groups of people the assignment to write down specific things for which they were grateful or specific things that were burdensome. Then they measured the well-being of the participants over the course of ten weeks. Emmons and McCullough found that those who had written down their gratitude experienced several distinctive emotional and interpersonal benefits not shared by those who recorded their burdens.
Emmons uses the phrase “gratitude journal” to describe the written record people make when they write down that for which they are grateful. About the value of such a journal he writes, “Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits.” These benefits include, “stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, higher levels of positive emotions, more joy and pleasure,” as well as being “more forgiving, more helpful, generous, and compassionate.” (See Emmons’s article, “Why Gratitude is Good.”)
There are different approaches to keeping a gratitude journal. Some people record their thanks each day; others do so once a week. During what I’m calling Thanksgiving Preseason, I’d like to encourage you to make a gratitude journal daily through Thanksgiving Day (at least). Doing so is quite simple. Near the end of your day, jot down at least three things from that day for which you are grateful. Then, tell God about them, thanking God for such tangible expressions of grace. If you are thankful for something another person did for you, you are welcome to let that person know, but this is not “required,” so to speak. The focus of this “assignment” is to record your thanks each day for ten days. (When I have done this exercise with people, they often decide to continue beyond the official end of the exercise.)
For Christians, recording our gratitude fosters more than simply multi-faceted personal well-being. It also strengthens our relationship with God. When we pay attention to God’s good gifts, our hearts are warmed with thankful love. We find it easier to trust God, to open our hearts to God in new ways, and to receive yet more of God’s grace.
Do you think you’ll keep a gratitude journal in this Thanksgiving Preseason? If so, why? If not, why not?
Have you ever done something like this before? If so, what was it like for you?
If you’re a little afraid you’ll start to keep the gratitude journal but then get distracted and forget to do it, is there somebody in your life you might do this with, someone who could encourage you and hold you accountable?
Keep a gratitude journal for the next ten days. It could be in a journal you already use. It could be something you record on your phone or computer. The form really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take time each evening to jot down three things for which you are grateful and that you put your jottings in a place where you can add to them later on.
Gracious God, thank you for your good gifts to me. Thank you for the opportunity to pay more attention to these gifts, to record them and reflect on them. Thank you for how this can help me to grow in gratitude, even as it also benefits me in other ways.
Lord, if I have chosen to keep a gratitude journal, please meet me as I do it. May I see your blessings in new ways and be filled with thanks for your goodness to me.
And if for whatever reason I’m not choosing to keep a gratitude journal, may I nevertheless be more attentive to all the ways you bless me. Plus, I pray for those who are writing their thanks in a journal, that you would meet them in a personal and powerful way during this time before Thanksgiving Day.
All praise be to you, God from whom all blessings flow. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Rewards of Gratitude, Part 2–Communal Celebration.
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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.