Have you ever felt your heart so full of joy in gratitude to God for someone else? Did you ever tell them?
Recently I had the pure joy of seeing hundreds of teenagers worshiping whole-heartedly at the end of a week-long youth camp. My daughter was amongst them and I felt like my heart was exploding as I watched her worship Jesus. It made me so grateful to God for the wonderful team who organised the week long event, but also for the hard working youth leaders who bravely camped alongside the youth in tent city, and put up with the lack of sleep, the rain, the rowdiness (moodiness) of teenagers and were still standing on the last day! I kept thanking all the leaders I saw, because I know that my daughter’s faith is growing thanks to their faithful service. But saying thanks didn’t seem to be enough. Paul seemed to understand exactly what this felt like when he wrote to the Thessalonian church:
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? (1 Thessalonians 3:9).
A lot of research around gratitude looks at the benefits to the individual in cultivating gratitude. And it’s true, gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. But a recent study, that I first heard about on this podcast by A/Prof Andrew Huberman, showed positive changes in brain activation for those receiving gratitude, as they listened to a letter of gratitude read by a coworker. Too often the focus of gratitude has been for the individual benefit of the giver of gratitude, but it’s powerful to be reminded that our gratitude can bless those around us - even down to impacting their brain function!
Paul made a habit of letting his congregations know just how thankful to God he was for them. He was grateful for the faith of the Roman church (Romans 1:8), always giving thanks for the church at Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae and Thessalonica (1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:16, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2), thanked God every time he remembered the believers in Philippi (Philippians 1:4) as well as thanking God for individual believers like Philemon (Philemon 1:4). Paul says to those in Thessalonica that “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing”. (2 Thessalonians 1:3). In fact Paul thanks God for his readers and their faith in almost 70% of his letters!
So who is it in your life that you are grateful to God for? Let’s follow Paul’s example and continue to pray in gratitude to God for people in our lives, but also to write them a note, send them a text, give a hug or connect with them in some way to let them know just how grateful we are for them. Your words have the ability to change the very make up of their brain function as they receive your heartfelt thanks.
I’ll go first…. Thank you God for the wonderful female leaders, especially the female youth leaders, across Australia that are faithfully serving you. Thank you to the women of all ages who become big sisters, cousins, aunts, mothers, grandmas in the faith for our teenage daughters within the body of Christ….. If that’s you, please know that you are achieving impact in the church that will ripple through the generations. Thank you mighty women of God for the sacrifice of your Friday nights and Sunday mornings (and holidays!) to sow into the lives of so many. May you know that we always thank God for you when we remember you in our prayers. And may you be refreshed and be filled anew with God’s love, peace and joy till it overflows in you. OK, now it's your turn - who will you show gratitude for today?
Dr Rebecca Gelding lives in Sydney with her husband, Graham, and 2 kids. She loves to worship, drink coffee, connect with people, laugh out loud and learn new things. She has a PhD in music cognition, where she looked at what is going on in the brain when people imagine music.