Together Series – Gratitude

Readings for this week April 25 – 29.
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1  – Come On Soul!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 103
Has it ever occurred to you that in many of the Psalms of King David, although he is directing praise and thanksgiving to God, he is often also speaking to his own soul. “Praise the Lord, my soul.” Could it be, that even for this great singer/songwriter, giving praise and remembering all that there was to be grateful for was sometimes an effort? Perhaps, just like most of us, David was prone to forget all that God had done for him and become absorbed in his own worries and concerns. This is part of the human condition – to set ourselves at the centre of the universe and live with an underlying, often subconscious, sense of dissatisfaction.

Elsewhere we are told that David encouraged himself, built himself up, and strengthened his faith by remembering God’s great acts of kindness on his behalf. I can almost imagine David chiding himself, “Come on soul, don’t be lazy! Don’t give in to negative thoughts or feel despondent over what you’ve missed out on. Get up and list all that you have to be grateful for. Shout it out if necessary. List all the things God has done – just because he has chosen to to kind and merciful.”

A couple of weeks ago we talked about forgiveness and how it needed to be an act of the will more than just a feeling. Perhaps we need to view gratitude the same way. Don’t wait for waves of warm fuzzy emotions to propel prayers of thanks and praise. Choose today to name things/events/interactions that can spark gratitude.

Questions to Consider
Find one line in Psalm 103 that resonates with you. Use it throughout today as a springboard to praise God.

Discuss the quote below. Why do you think God desires our thankfulness?

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”  -Meister Eckhart

Heavenly Father, sometimes I am forgetful, sometimes praise is difficult. Today I choose to remember your goodness to me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 2  – I’ll Be Happy When….

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Chronicles 23:28-30
Turns out, most people have it backwards. We want the circumstances to be right, the job to be more satisfying, our social connections more stimulating or our lifestyle more affluent…and then we will be happy. Even science and psychologists are telling us that it is not becoming more happy that makes us grateful, but being grateful that makes us more happy. Psychologist Shaun Achor works in schools and businesses helping people rewire their brains towards positive outcomes. He uses a simple 5 step method practiced for 21 days that changes how we view the world, and how we experience happiness in both the workplace and in relationships.

1. Write down three new things you are grateful for each day into a blank word document or into a journal. Research shows this will significantly improve your optimism even 6 months later, and raises your success rates significantly.

2. Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. This is a strategy to help transform you from a task-based thinker, to a meaning based thinker who scans the world for meaning instead of endless to-dos. This dramatically increases work happiness.

3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day. This trains your brain to believe your behaviour matters, which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day.

4. Meditate for 2 minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time. It also decreases stress and raises happiness.

5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member on your team. This significantly increases your feeling of social support, which in my study at Harvard was the largest predictor of happiness for the students.

View TED Talk:

Long before Positive Psychology had a name God instructed his priests to give thanks every morning and every evening. Gratitude ancient and modern.

Question to Consider
Give it a go!

Loving God, I want to be a thankful person. Firstly, to honour you, then to enjoy your world and be a blessing to others, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 3  – Pay It Forward

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 2 Samuel 9:1-12
This story takes place after many hard years where David lived as an outlaw, hunted with murderous intent by King Saul. Both Saul and his son Jonathan, David’s great friend, have now been killed. David is crowned King of Israel, returns the ark to Jerusalem, and wins many victories over his enemies. In the preceding chapter he acknowledges that all this is the Lord’s doing, “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” Yet it is important for David that his gratitude is worked out in tangible ways.

Mephibosheth was the only son of Jonathan who had not been killed. Dropped as a baby, he was lame in both feet. Normally this would have precluded him from service in the King’s house. The young man’s own self description of being a “dead-dog” signals his own lack of self worth. Nevertheless, David’s gratitude and loyalty to his beloved friend Jonathan spurred him to extend kindness and generosity towards Mephibosheth.

Sometimes gratitude cannot be directed towards the person from whom we have benefited. But gratitude can still be expressed, in a sense, paid forward. Rather than just perpetuating a closed circle, where gratitude is only repaid among a few, such outward looking expressions of gratitude create ever expanding arcs of blessing – mirroring those God himself extends to us.

Questions to Consider
What is the effect when gratitude is “paid forward”?

Is there someone you wanted to thank but were not able to? Consider showing gratitude through a kindness to someone else, in their name.

Father God, I recognise that you extend grace and mercy to me when it is not deserved. Thank you for the example of people like David who took concrete steps to bless others. May my gratitude be more than just words, and be expressed to more than just those like me or that I feel close to. Help me live out my appreciation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 4 – Overflowing With Thankfulness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Colossians 2:6-7
Gratitude may come naturally when we view a stunning natural vista, receive an unexpected gift or have someone volunteer to take over a burdensome task. But most of us would admit it becomes a little harder during monotonous days, ill health, power cuts, long checkout lines or financial worries.

Christchurch has certainly experienced its fair share of difficult days and challenging obstacles since the 2010 earthquakes. Initially there was the stoic brave faces and banding together to check on neighbours, collect water, dig out sections, and sharing stories with complete strangers at the petrol station. What followed, of course, was the movable feast of orange cones, endless paper work and housing frustrations. Kia Kaha, Stay Strong, was the encouragement so often heard. And our communities have pulled together and learnt some valuable lessons in the process.

But Stay Strong may not be the best advice if it comes to mean hiding our true feelings, denying we need help or profiteering off the misery of others as some have done. These thoughts were prompted when I read:

When times get tough
the key is not to Stay Strong
the key is to Stay Grateful.

How counterintuitive. Without denying loss, gratitude can shift our focus from a downward spiral and allow the good and beautiful to blossom in the middle of ruins. Stay Strong may encourage us towards self reliance; gratitude calls us to be witnesses to undeserved blessings. Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

Question to Consider
Ponder this saying. You may agree or disagree, but think it through.

Almighty God, thank you that as I continue to live my life centred and built up by you I can find strength to face any situation. May my life be increasingly characterised by overflowing thankfulness that comes from knowing you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 5  – Interupt Anxiety with Gratitude

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Philippians 4:4-9
The Apostle Paul often comes across like a Nike ad – “just do it!” He writes to the churches, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Doesn’t sound like just a mild suggestion. And again, “Do not be anxious…” Easily said, not so easily done. But hidden within this passage are several hints of how such things are to be achieved. He implores his readers to bring every situation to God, and to bring them all wrapped in thanksgiving.

Paul knows that both our hearts and our minds are affected by our circumstances. He would seem to suggest that thanksgiving, expressing gratitude, is an important ingredient that leads to experiencing the peace of God, which is not limited or destroyed by what happens to us. God’s peace acts as a guard around our heart and mind; our part is to reinforce this protection by what we allow into our thoughts. “Whatever is pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… praiseworthy – think on such things.” What we allow to occupy our thinking will eventually determine our speech and our actions. This is why he goes on to talk about putting what we have learnt into practice. What begins with prayers soaked in gratitude, ends in determining how our lives are lived.

When anxieties press in on us we tend to occupy ourselves frantically looking for solutions. Next time this happens to you, try an alternative; interrupt anxiety with gratitude. Disrupt the circuit that ties your mind into knots and weighs your heart down. Prayers clothed in thankfulness will lead to a life that is something to rejoice about.

Question to Consider
When I pray do I tend to start with problems and requests or with praise and thanksgiving?

How do I battle anxiety?

Father God, thank you for the promise of your peace which acts as a guard on my heart and mind. Thank you for being near. Thank you for your willingness to hear my concerns and fears. Thank you that you understand when words fail me. Thank you for your care and unending love, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)