In the familiar story of the ten men with leprosy who were healed by Jesus, only one returned to say, "Thank you." What happened to the rest? Too busy? Perhaps. Too self-occupied? More likely. But could it be that a few of the nine who didn’t say thanks really didn’t feel all that grateful? Could it be that they still felt like outcasts? Were they thinking to themselves, "Well, yes, I’m healed. But still I’ve got to get a job and support myself. I lost everything I had while I was sick. My own family turned their back on me. What do I do now?" And so, rather than feeling grateful for what had been done for them, they were anxious, perhaps even terrified, about what lay ahead.
People react to life so differently. If I were to survey many of you, there would be a significant number who are worried sick about the future. In some instances there is a concrete reason for your worry--a family member who is sick, loss of a job, a bad report from the doctor. But there are others who worry all out of proportion to your difficulties. And that’s sad. How can you feel a spirit of Thanksgiving if you are obsessed with fears about tomorrow?
Thanksgiving requires trust in God. How can we give God thanks if we really do not believe that God is the source of our lives and everything we have in them? How can we give thanks if we do not believe that God’s will is always to our best good? How can we give thanks if we do not believe that, whatever comes our way, God will be with us?
You may wonder what worry has to do with Thanksgiving. Why focus on this particular text on this national holiday? It is because the same spiritual deficit that produces worry depletes us of our sense of gratitude. That spiritual deficit has to do with our faith.
Our sense of well-being is not proportional to our circumstances. Rather, our sense of well-being is proportional to our faith in God. If we know God, trust God, depend on God--then we are able to relax and give God thanks whether we have much or we have little. If we believe that all things work for the good of those who love God, then we are able to bring a faith perspective to whatever trial or tribulation that may confront us.
The key to worrying less is to give thanks more. Here is a life lesson you need to know. The old hymn counsels us to "Count Your Many Blessings, name them one by one . . ." That is the secret of revitalizing your life. Here is one of those divine paradoxes that make life worth living. We give thanks to God for our many blessings, but the one who prospers from our giving thanks is not God, but we ourselves.
In a psychology study sometime back, researchers asked a group of college students to keep a weekly list of five things for which they were grateful. The students listed such things as the generosity of friends, the music of the Beatles, wonderful parents. Another group of students was asked to track life’s hassles. They listed such things as stupid people driving, messy kitchens no one will clean, finances depleting quickly. A third group, this one consisting of adults with chronic neuromuscular diseases, wrote down what they were grateful for each day for three weeks. They listed such things as "my boss for understanding my needs," "my paperboy for being so reliable." A fourth group, also with chronic diseases, counted only burdens.
According to results published in the March 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the participants who counted blessings--whether they were the healthy students or the chronically ill adults--reported feeling more energetic, with a heightened sense of mental well-being. They reported sleeping well and waking up more refreshed. They felt optimistic and better about their lives as a whole--they looked forward to making progress toward important goals. Gratitude also turned out to be measurable in the moral sphere. The grateful groups were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or to offer emotional support. (The secret to feeling energized, Lesley Dormen, Ladies Home Journal, Feb. 2005, p. 30)
In other words, counting blessings is a wonderful antidote for stress. According to this study, the key to dealing with stress is to give God thanks daily. Don’t distress yourself over things in which you have no control. Rather give God thanks for your many blessings. This is the key to happiness. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. Happy Thanksgiving everyone and don’t forget to count your blessings! Pastor Dave