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There are many valid reasons for us to feel depressed and discouraged this year. Covid has had many negative impacts on our lives – on our freedom, our health, our ability to move around. We may have lost people to Covid. Our own health may have suffered. We may have lost our jobs or income Research has shown significant increases in mental ill health this year.
But the scriptures repeatedly exhort us to express thanksgiving, gratitude and joy. We could say that the Bible encourages an attitude of gratitude. Actually, neuroscience is showing that expressing gratitude or thankfulness really does have direct impacts on our brain chemistry, facilitating well-being and happiness. And these effects can be sustained over months – it is not just a quick fix. Read this article from the Greater Good Magazine about how gratitude changes your brain.
Paul certainly grasps the importance of gratitude. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, he writes:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
The last phrase about God’s will refers not to our circumstances, but rather to our continual rejoicing and prayer. It is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus that we should always rejoice and continually pray. That we should adopt an attitude of gratitude!
And listen again to Philippians 4:4 & 8:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Paul continues to emphasise the importance of joy and giving thanks. And then goes further to encourage us to think more about the things of God. We might even say that Paul was a proponent of positive psychology or rational emotive behaviour therapy!
Gratitude is an expression of faith, because even though we might not perceive a reason to be grateful, we nevertheless express gratitude. We are grateful, even when it seems there is nothing to be grateful for. Neuroscience now helps us understand how thinking and behaving with gratitude actually changes our brain and generates feelings of well-being and happiness. And our faith helps us recognise that as we express gratitude to God, we begin to recognise God at work in us and in the world. Our perspective on life begins to shift. We begin to perceive the world from God’s perspective.
The Psalm set for today is Psalm 98. It speaks beautifully of the power of God to take care of his people, and calls us to gratitude. This translation is from the Jerusalem Bible:
Sing Yahweh a new song for he has performed marvels; his own right hand, his holy arm, gives him the power to save.
Yahweh has displayed his power; has revealed his righteousness to the nations, mindful of his love and faithfulness to the House of Israel. The most distant parts of the earth have seen the saving power of our God.
Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth, burst into shouts of joy!
Sing to Yahweh, sing to the music of harps, and to the sound of many instruments; to the sound of trumpet and horn acclaim Yahweh the King!
Let the sea thunder and all that it holds, and the world, with all who live in it; let all the rivers clap their hands and the mountains shout for joy, at the presence of Yahweh, for he comes to judge the earth, to judge the world with righteousness and the nations with strict justice.
Featured image from https://www.sttimothylutheran.org/trees-clapping-their-hands/