November 19, 2018 • Life for Leaders
Be filled with the Spirit… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:20 reveals that, as people filled by the Spirit, we should be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we’re supposed to be thanking God always, even if “always” is used hyperbolically here, then presumably gratitude is pretty darn important. It’s something we should be doing consistently each day throughout our lives. One official day for thanksgiving is fine, but not nearly enough.
The Apostle Paul does not explain in Ephesians why gratitude is so important. But if Paul were writing today, he’d have a treasure trove of practical reasons for recommending frequent gratitude. Consider, for example, a couple of fairly recent and curiously similar articles that appeared in two prominent publications.
Last November, Time published “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude.” These benefits are:
1. Gratitude can make you more patient.
2. Gratitude might improve your relationship [with your partner].
3. Gratitude improves self-care.
4. Gratitude can help you sleep.
5. Gratitude may stop you from overeating.
6. Gratitude can help ease depression.
7. Gratitude gives you happiness that lasts.
Three years earlier, Forbes printed this article during the weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday: “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round.” Here are the seven benefits from the Forbes piece:
1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
2. Gratitude improves physical health.
3. Gratitude improves psychological health.
4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
5. Grateful people sleep better.
6. Gratitude improves self-esteem.
7. Gratitude increases mental strength.
Though the benefits promised in both articles overlap considerably, I find it interesting that the only exact overlap has to do with sleeping better. I also find it ironic that, according to Time, gratitude may stop you from overeating, a benefit that certainly isn’t true on the day in our national life devoted to gratitude. Many of us eat more on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year.
Nevertheless, both articles base their claims about the benefits of gratitude on serious research. These benefits aren’t just wishful thinking dreamt up by some fan of gratitude, but rather the findings of research conducted by psychological and medical scientists. So, if, before you go to bed tonight, you write down several things in the day for which you are grateful, it is statistically likely that you will in fact sleep better.
The manifold benefits of gratitude might certainly motivate us to devote more time to being thankful. This would also be in line with Ephesians. But, I wonder, are there other benefits of gratitude besides those enumerated in Time and Forbes? In particular, how does giving thanks make a tangible difference in our life of faith? Will gratitude enrich our relationship with God and God’s people, in addition to helping us be happier and healthier?
In my Life for Leaders devotions for the rest of this week, I want to reflect on these questions with you. I’ll share some of what I’ve been thinking. For now, let me encourage you to think along with me. The following questions might help.
Something to Think About:
What in the two lists of benefits of gratitude surprised you? Why?
Have you experienced in a tangible way some of the benefits of gratitude?
Are there benefits of gratitude that you would like to add to the list?
Something to Do:
Before you go to bed every night this week, take a few moments to think about your day and what you are thankful for. If possible, write down those things for which you are grateful. Then, offer a specific prayer of thanks.
Gracious God, thank you for the research on gratitude. Thanks for the expertise of the researches and for such encouraging findings. Lord, as I consider the benefits of gratitude, I want these in my life. But I also want to give you the credit, indeed, the thanks you deserve for your goodness to me. I ask you to help me to build gratitude into my life more thoroughly. Amen.
Ephesians 5:20 makes us wonder about how we can pray always and if we really should give thanks for literally “everything.” I don’t have the space to talk about these things here, but you can check out a short piece I’ve written on the De Pree Center blog: “Some Questions About Prayer from Ephesians 5:20.”
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
From an Attitude of Ingratitude to Gratitude
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.