November 20, 2023 • Life for Leaders
A Note from Mark
Dear Life for Leaders Friend,
During this week of Thanksgiving, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for you. Thank you for being a Life for Leaders reader. Thanks for the times you offer encouragement to my fellow writers and me through email or online comments. Thanks for recommending Life for Leaders to your friends. Thanks for your financial support of the De Pree Center, including Life for Leaders.
I’m also grateful for what your engagement with Life for Leaders says about you. You want to grow in your relationship with God. You care about biblical truth and its relevance to your daily life, work, and leadership. You are eager to live your faith, not just in family, friendship, and church, but “out there,” out in a world that desperately needs to see living examples of the gospel. Thank you for seeking to be a faithful and fruitful disciple of Jesus Christ in every sector of your life.
I pray that in this week focused on giving thanks you’ll have a fresh encounter with God’s presence and grace. If you’re celebrating the good gifts of this past year, God is with you. And if you’re also grieving painful losses, God is with you there too.
So, my Life for Leaders friend, thank you . . . and I thank God for you also.
Grace and Peace,
PS: A week from today is Giving Tuesday, a time in which many nonprofit organizations—including the De Pree Center—ask for financial support. Though we are pleased to offer much of what we do, like Life for Leaders, for free, we are able to do this because of the generosity of our friends and supporters. Please keep us in mind.
Scripture — Psalm 107:15 (NRSV)
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
Our gratitude is a fitting response to who God is – a God of steadfast love – and what God has done – wonderful works. Yet as we focus on God and express our thanks in prayer, we receive even more grace. Our brains are strengthened. Our thanks helps us think!
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I suggested that thinking is a prelude to thanking. If we pause to think about ways in which people have made a positive difference in our lives, we’ll be inclined to thank them. So it is in our relationship with God. If we reflect on God’s gifts to us, we’ll be encouraged to express our gratitude to God. Thinking leads to thanking.
Yet that’s not the whole story of the relationship between thinking and thanking. It turns out that thanking can also help us with thinking.
During the last 30 years, scholars from around the world have studied the benefits of gratitude. One of the leading researchers in this field is Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California, Davis. In a popular article from 2010 entitled “Why Gratitude is Good,” Emmons summarizes the benefits identified by research:
Physical: Stronger immune systems; Less bothered by aches and pains; Lower blood pressure; Exercise more and take better care of their health; Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
Psychological: Higher levels of positive emotions; More alert, alive, and awake; More joy and pleasure; More optimism and happiness
Social: More helpful, generous, and compassionate; More forgiving; More outgoing; Feel less lonely and isolated
These benefits would certainly be enough to motivate us to be thankful, don’t you think? But it turns out that gratitude might have another benefit. It might actually strengthen our brains. A study published in 2022 in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that “Higher levels of gratitude were positively associated with cognitive function” among older adults. Moreover, the brains of those who were more grateful also had certain measurable benefits (larger amygdala volumes). The research suggests, among other things, that “Gratitude is a promising preventive factor for dementia.”
More research needs to be done on the relationship between gratitude and brain health, but given all the other demonstrated benefits of gratitude, it seems likely that feeling and expressing thanks does, in fact, strengthen our brains.
Of course, there are many reasons for giving thanks beyond how it benefits us personally. In fact, for gratitude to have its full effect it needs to be other-directed. If I pay attention to my gratitude only for my own good, I am missing the point and lessening the personal benefits of gratitude.
When Scripture calls us to give thanks to the Lord, it doesn’t say, “Give thanks to the Lord so that you will be healthier and happier.” Rather, it points to the character and works of God. As we read in Psalm 107:15, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” Our gratitude is a fitting response to who God is – a God of steadfast love – and what God has done – wonderful works. Yet as we focus on God and express our thanks in prayer, we receive even more grace. Our brains are strengthened. Our thanks helps us think!
What motivates you to express thanks to God?
Can you remember a time in your life when you felt the positive impact of gratitude in your life?
The same as yesterday: Set aside some time this week for reflection and gratitude. Then, use that time to reflect and be thankful.
Gracious God, you deserve our thanks for who you are and what you have done. That would be motivation enough. But in your gracious design, you have designed us so that our gratitude helps us. Thank you for giving us grace upon grace.
Help me, Lord, to thank you because you deserve it. But help me also to remember that I need it. Amen.
Banner image by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash.
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: Give Thanks to the Lord!.
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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.