The Protective Nature of Gratitude

The Protective Nature of Gratitude

Study Guide, November 19, 2023

Pastor Clay Olsen

What if there was a pill that could reduce stress, decrease depression, increase assistance with chronic pain, lower risk of disease, bolster your immune system, improve your coping capacity, and more…much more? That would be amazing! It would be the most popular medicine on the market! Well, there isn’t a pill for all that, but there is an action, a habit, a practice, a procedure that we can daily engage in that will assist with all of that, and more. And each year we have a holiday that reminds us to make this practice truly become a priority in our lives. We could say, we’re thankful for our annual Thanksgiving holiday, because it points us to not only the holiday, but also to this holy habit of giving thanks and being thankful…of practicing gratitude as a daily way of life.

And we say practicing gratitude as a ‘daily way of life’ because a ‘once in a while’ gratitude will not produce the kind of benefits, nor the protective benefits, that can come from the daily habit of gratitude. God has woven this ‘protective nature of gratitude’ into the very fabric of our nature, but it needs consistency in practice in order to activate it. One thing we need to remember is that when we see a command from God repeated throughout the Scriptures, it reinforces just how important this particular command is for both honoring our Creator, but also for benefitting those whom God created. We could put it this way: God created us to thrive through giving thanks and from giving thanks! God created us in such a way that this daily behavior of giving thanks, of practicing gratitude, would impact every part of our life in beneficial ways…from our brain to our body to our soul!

For example: God even created within us certain chemicals, such as oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals are often referred to as our ‘happy hormones’. Upon their release a person benefits from an increase in healthy emotions and greater relaxation and an increased sense of trust and overall well-being. These hormones decrease stress and anxiety levels when released into the brain. And here’s the thing: One particular action that directly triggers these chemicals to produce those benefits is the giving of thanks…our expressions of gratitude!1

With this biological information in mind, when we think of this next theological instruction from the Apostle Paul, it expands this counsel in an amazing way: (and since we are expanding it, let’s read it in the Amplified Version) Phil 4:6-7- “Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” AMP

Thankful prayer summons the security guard called ‘Peace’ to stand post at the door of our heart, protecting us from the intruders of worry and fretting and fussing and fuming that barge into our minds and hearts as often as they can. Do you want to post a guard at the doors of your mind and heart against those intruders? Then, call out to God in thanksgiving…practice gratitude in your daily praying because gratitude is what summons the guards!

Now, to list the things for which we are to give thanks would take us until Christmas. But here are some. Certainly, give thanks for God’s goodness and His love. We have verses such as

Ps 106:1- “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” NASU Ps 107:15- “Let them praise the Lord for His great love and for the wonderful things He has done for them.” NLT 1 Chron 16:34- “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.” NLT

Also, give thanks for His gift of Salvation. Rom 6:23- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” NLT Give thanks to Jesus for His perfect sacrifice to forgive you from both the penalty of your sins and from now the presence of our sins. Rom 3:23-24- “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins.” NLT 1 John 1:8-9- “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” NASU

Give thanks to Jesus for living a life of perfect obedience so that He could clothe you with His own righteousness so that you could be declared ‘righteous before God’ and thus, right with God…justified before God. Look at this beautiful and astounding revelation about that from Rom 8:3-4- “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent His own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” NLT Jesus fulfilled the Law in our place and thus He can cover us with His righteousness!

Give thanks to God that He now takes pleasure in our attempts at obedience out of our love and fear of God, even though our obedience is imperfect at best. Ps 130:3-4- “Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear You.” NLT Ps 147:11- “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy.” NKJV

Give thanks for God’s provision for you. 1 Cor 4:7- “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” NLT This applies to our gifts and talents and abilities to our health and healings, both our temporary mortal healings and on to our ultimate immortal healing! And how about this: when is the last time you gave thanks to God for the very breath you are breathing? In the midst of the skeptics of Athens who worshipped many false Gods, Paul made it as clear as possible that there is only one God and Creator, who by the way, was supplying the very breath they were breathing while calling out to their idols! What a reality check! Right?! Acts 17:24-27- “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” NASU

These are just a few of the countless reasons we are to give thanks to our great God and Savior, and should daily practice the giving of thanks, which, as we stated, releases all kinds of healthy and beneficial effects into our lives. As we pointed out, giving thanks not only glorifies our God, but God has chosen to make our giving of thanks be good for us as well. It strengthens our faith, leading to a greater ability to live by faith and to walk by faith. Gratitude to God fertilizes the soil in which He grows the fruit of the Spirit in us! That’s quite a word picture, don’t you think? As you give thanks to God you are feeding the soil of your spirit, and from that feeding comes the fostering of fresh fruit of the Spirit…of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How about this? If you are experiencing a limited supply of any of these fruits of the Spirit, then supply a little more fertilizer of ‘gratitude’ in your daily talks with God and in your daily walks with others. Giving thanks in your spirit stimulates the growth of spiritual fruit in your life.

Which leads us to pointing out that God designed us in such a way that our holy habit of giving thanks in our relationship with Him would then also result in a growing attitude of thanks in our relationships with others. Think about it: Gratitude opens doors to more and better relationships with others. Thankfulness in your attitude toward others in the workplace has a direct affect upon others. It prompts them to see you as more capable, more approachable, more likeable, more trustworthy, and so on. And it affects you by reducing things like aggression, and strife, and envy, and judgmentalism, and such things which harbor resentments and produce conflicts in the workplace, or anyplace really, whether it be in the community or in the homeplace. It’s part of that ‘protective nature’ of gratitude. It protects you from what ungrateful or grumbling people fall prey to…which are those damaging habits of envy and anger and slander and other vices of the dark side of the sin nature of mankind.2

How about that? Is there more? Yes, there is! Gratitude even blesses your own brain! Research has shown that the practice of gratitude has a direct impact on the brain. The practice of gratitude stimulates the prefrontal cortex, the brain area that is associated with learning and decision-making. Well, that explains a lot, right? Remember the examples of the children of Israel during times of their rebellion against God? Notice this: Ps 106:24-25- “Then they despised the pleasant land; They did not believe in His word, but grumbled in their tents; They did not listen to the voice of the Lord.” NASU The Scriptures often refer to those who grumble and complain as people who are ever hearing, but never learning. By design, the brain area that is associated with learning and decision-making is, in essence, opened by the key of ‘gratitude’…of giving thanks and fearing God. But for both unbelievers and even believers who default to their old nature with a grumbling and complaining attitude toward life and others, they may gain in knowledge about many things, but they remain foolish in their understanding and in their decision making. That door to wisdom stays closed.

Remember: gratefulness to God is linked with fear of God which is linked to wisdom from God. Whereas ungratefulness and grumbling before God is linked to not fearing God, which is then linked to an inability to gain in wisdom and wise decision-making about life and living. Again, that explains why those who are prone toward grumbling and complaining can gain in knowledge, but then continue to do foolish things and make bad decisions about their own lives and others.

God particularly cautions His people: Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…” Phil 2:14-16 NASU Gratitude not only promotes godliness, but also like a light, helps others more clearly see reality, and prayerfully, they will then draw nearer to the God to whom we all owe our thanks and worship. However, we need to also remember to be aware of what Charles Spurgeon said about light: “Remember, where there is light, there are also bugs!” So be ready to deal with that, too, I suppose.

But, just to reinforce what we stated, as you are practicing gratitude with others you are also blessing your own brain at the same time! And who doesn’t want to bless their own brain, right? Again, our behavior impacts our brain, as well as our body and our soul, especially in the habit of giving thanks to God and sharing thanks with others.3

Plus, the practice of gratitude also strengthens your mind to provide you with greater mental resilience and coping abilities when facing the difficult and stressful situations of life. And it seems that those kinds of situations are occurring more and more frequently than we ever thought they would, you know? But here’s the deal: It’s human nature, the old nature, to respond to difficult and stressful situations with grumbling, not with gratitude. It seems natural to grumble and gripe over hard times and about hard people. Yes, it’s natural, but it also naturally makes hard times even harder, and it makes hard people even harder. And Grumbling damages your own mind and weakens your soul and leaves you open to further damage from the dark spirits who prey upon grumbling and griping souls. Grumbling opens the door to demonic oppression in a believer’s life, and of course, to just greater demonic possession in an unbeliever’s life. The only anti-dote to the mind and soul sickness of grumbling is…gratitude! Again, gratitude is the most powerful medicinal help for the soul in hard situations and in hard times and with hard people. Gratitude makes you happier, heathier, more hopeful, more restful, more patient, more co-operative, more pleasant, friendlier, more energetic, more attractive, more effective, more faithful, more godly, wiser…well, it is going to be Christmas before we could finish that list.

So, Happy Thanksgiving, and especially…Happily, give thanks, for this is the will of God for us!

(Some gleanings on Gratitude from the following sources)

  1. Mayo Clinic, Gratitude
  2., Christian benefits of gratitude
  3., Gratitude benefits