Exercising Our (Gratitude) Muscles

affection appreciation decoration design

Expressing gratitude isn’t just a good thing to do; it also appears to be good for us! Indiana University researchers found that participants who performed gratitude-focused writing exercises felt uplifted, and were more likely to express gratefulness through generosity, even weeks later.

Furthermore, brain scans revealed increased gratitude-related activity even months down the road (New York Magazine).

Though the study was small, we seem to have a “gratitude muscle” that can be strengthened through exercise. If so, there may be more than we thought to the popularity of gratitude journals and Mom’s insistence that we write thank-you notes. Not to mention the biblical call to “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (1 Chronicles 16:34, for example).

Might God have hardwired us for gratitude — not only at Thanksgiving but year round — because it’s good for us as well as for those we thank? To that, we respond, “Thanks be to God!”

The Beauty of Growing Old

“How beautifully leaves grow old,” wrote 19th-century essayist John Burroughs.

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves beautiful

“How full of light and color are their last days.”

Society doesn’t think highly of old age. Beauty products tout the supposed virtues of maintaining a youthful appearance. Older adults’ wisdom, born of much life experience, is often disparaged, ignored or not sought. But God says this about the righteous, whose lives are rooted in him: “In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright” (Psalm 92:14-15, NRSV).

The aging leaves of autumn can prompt us to look for beauty in the seniors among us, to notice the light and color that still abound. From all the fruit they still produce — service, prayer, love — may we learn about living faithfully until our own last days.

—Heidi Mann

A Shepherd’s Role

While traveling in Iran, writer Eric Bishop asked a villager about an earthen enclosure topped with dry thorns. The man said sheep stayed in the round space at night for safety. “What are the thorns for?” Bishop asked. “If a wolf tries to break in and attack the sheep,” the man replied, “he’ll knock against the thorns, and they’ll make a noise, and the shepherd will wake up and drive off the wolf.”

Pointing out the enclosure’s doorless entrance, Bishop asked why a wolf wouldn’t just enter there. Because, replied the villager, “that’s where the shepherd sleeps; the shepherd is the door.”

white sheep on farm
Suddenly Bishop understood why in John 10 Jesus calls himself first the door, or gate, for the sheep and then the Good Shepherd. Because Jesus is the shepherd, he’s also the door that keeps us, his sheep, safe within his care.

Passing the Test

Samuel Stokes, a missionary who worked with lepers in India in the early 1900s, walked through the Punjab region with only a water bottle and a blanket. He depended wholly on the hospitality of the region’s residents.

In one village, Stokes received a particularly hostile reception. Village leaders sat in chairs in a circle, leaving Stokes sitting on the floor the entire evening. When he asked if he might teach them and nurse their sick, they hurled insults at him. Stokes offered no reply.

Finally, the men gave the missionary some stale bread crusts in a dirty bowl. Stokes thanked them and ate. This scene repeated itself for two days. But then on the third day, the top village official laid his turban at Stokes’ feet as a sign of respect. “We’d heard that Jesus’ disciples were commanded to love their enemies,” the man said, “and we decided to put you to the test.”

Having seen Jesus’ love in action through Stokes, the amazed villagers found him credible. They served him a rich feast and listened eagerly to his teachings.

two women wearing traditional dress carrying basins

Stick with It!

“If I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected,” says journalist Jon Katz. “Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together.”

activity adult barbecue bbq

This applies to church life too. When we’re annoyed by some aspect of congregational life or caught in conflict with other members, it’s tempting to drift away to another church — or no church. Even when all is fine, we sometimes let church take a back seat. But our bonds with the family of God are “part of the glue that holds life and faith together.” For the sake of the benefits we gain and give, may we “hang in [and] stay connected” with our church family. May we not “walk away [or] be distracted, … be too busy or tired.” May we not take one another for granted but thank God for this “glue” — even when things get a bit sticky!

Take Care of First

Legendary Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden often inspired his team with stories. Here’s one that former players cite as a favorite:

As a college baseball player, Bowden had never hit a home run. Finally, he hit one down the right-field line, into the corner. He ran past first base and looked to the coach, who waved him on.

baseball player running on court
Bowden made it home and hit the plate, thrilled to have his homer. But as he was accepting his teammates’ congratulations, the opposing pitcher took the ball and threw to the first baseman. The umpire immediately called Bowden out because he’d neglected to touch the base.

Reflecting on the incident, Bowden said, “You have to take care of first base. If you don’t honor the Lord first, then it doesn’t matter what else you do.”

Similarly, we need to take care of first things first. Unless we honor the Lord in all we do, nothing else will matter.