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Living Fully, Living Gratefully: Count Your Blessings

February 27, 2020 • Life for Leaders

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.

Colossians 1:3-4 (NRSV)

 

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 little room for grumpiness in her presence. Then, in Sunday School we would often sing a popular hymn penned by Johnson Oatman, Jr. “Count Your Blessings” 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, “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done.”

I expect that the Apostle Paul would have approved of this hymn. In the beginning of most of his letters, he explains how he “counts his blessings.” He does this by offering thanks 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, noting in particular 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, Colossians 1:12; 3:15-17; 4:2). Counting our blessings is also a good thing to do if we want to live flourishing lives. Living gratefully leads to living fully.

That was the conclusion of a research project conducted by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, scholars whom I have mentioned previously in this devotional series on gratitude. 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). Basically, they gave different groups of people the assignment to write down specific things for which they were grateful or specific things which were burdensome. Then they measured the well-being of the participants at a ten-week experiment. Emmons and McCullough found that those who had written down their gratitude experienced a number of emotional and interpersonal benefits not shared by those who recorded their burdens.

This research and other similar experiments suggest that one way to express gratitude and to experience its benefits is through the simple practice of regularly writing down that for which we are grateful. If we keep a “gratitude journal,” recording on a weekly basis five things for which we are grateful, we will receive significant additional blessings. I know this might seem like an exaggeration, but that’s what the research shows.

Of course, for Christians, recording our gratitude fosters more than simply 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 him, and to receive yet more of his grace.

Something to Think About:

Do you “count your blessings” in any regular way? Do you practice gratitude in your life consistently? If so, why? If not, why not?

Why do you think writing down our thanks makes a difference, even more than simply thinking about it?

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? If so, what was this like for you? If not, would you be willing to give it a try?

Something to Do:

Begin (or continue) a gratitude journal. Your assignment is quite simple. Once a week, record in writing five blessings from the previous week. This exercise will be more meaningful if what you write is personal and thoughtful. Don’t race through, but take time to reflect on the good gifts of God. Then, thank God specifically for each of the blessings you have written down. You can write your prayers or speak them.

Prayer:

Gracious God, I do need to count my blessings, to pay attention to the gifts you have given me. I confess that sometimes I can rush so quickly on to the next thing that I forget to thank you. Forgive me! Help me, I pray, to establish a regular discipline of gratitude. Remind me of how you have blessed me. Touch my heart that I might rejoice in your grace. Amen.


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Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
Find Out How Colossians Chapter 3 Applies to the Workplace (Audio)

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4 thoughts on “Living Fully, Living Gratefully: Count Your Blessings

  1. Maggie says:

    This works! It really does. When I was in early recovery from alcoholism I did this daily. It helped tremendously in forming more positive attitudes and to get rid of my “stink in’ thinkin’”. It also gave me a new perspective on life by making me see that l was not the center of the universe, but that God was doing for me what I could not do for myself. I still make a gratitude list regularly.

  2. Tena says:

    Thank you for opening of my heart more and more concerning Gratitude.

  3. Ken Michael says:

    Mark, as a recovering alcoholic, (10 years sober) I am delighted to be reading your articles on gratitude. As an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, we all are instructed in the values of gratitude. The “ attitude of gratitude “ is a common saying in our groups. We are also encouraged to journal. What a gift from God that has been for me! My journal allows complete honesty- my deepest thoughts and as our program teaches us, helps us to know that gratitude is a verb- not a noun. We can’t hold on to gratitude without using that gratitude to help others. Action is required. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been reading your articles for over a year now and how deeply I enjoy the relationship between your articles and the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Keep up the good work please.

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