Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gratitude and Praise for the Win

I saw this clip and could think of little else besides 2020. Some days it seems that no matter what we try in order to survive, we get knocked down by a new circumstance of this bizarre year.

Whatever this guy is trying to achieve, we’ve got to give him credit for his persistence and enthusiasm. He seems to rush into each attempt as if he expects it to result in joy. He does not seem to mind finding himself half-naked and face-first on the mat, again, and again, and again. In a way, he is practicing Positive Psychology.

I am fascinated by Positive Psychology. Many branches of Psychology focus on what is not working: neurosis, anxiety, and other disorders. Positive Psychology looks at what’s right and why it works. Here we find the tools God gives us to survive: resilience, problem-solving, gratitude, and other coping skills.

I am not sure the man in the clip shows gratitude, but I know that gratitude is one of the most important of all of our coping skills. We do ourselves good when we feel or even express gratitude. Our emotions work carefully with our brains to not only help us learn but to help us react. Gratitude is an interesting emotion because it is also something we can practice. We feel gratitude, and that encourages us to practice it (e.g., say “thank you”), but we can also practice gratitude to feel it. For instance, the more we thank people, the more settled we become in our resiliency because we remind ourselves of people who care about us.

Praise has a similar practice/feeling connection. We are less likely to think of praising unless we make a point of practicing praise. This thinking puts a marker, of sorts, on our brain to look for good things to use for compliments. When we look for and praise good things, we develop good feelings. It is a beautiful loop of encouragement. Praising someone else makes us feel better.

When we practice praise or gratitude, we strengthen particular neural pathways that will be activated when needed.  We physically fill our brains with neurons connected to happiness and confidence. Psychologists will say this broadens the mind because it allows us to feel good emotions even during a negative situation. We do not ignore the negative. Instead, the negative gets connected to healthy emotions, such as a sense of peace and confidence.

I have read about this connection between practicing and feeling and brain changes, but I find the most compelling evidence in scripture.

We can see this in the Psalm below. Psalm 85 is likely from the time after the Babylonian exile. While I am sure those who returned experienced joy, their reality was complicated and tough. They came back to a barren and desolate land with no temple for worship. Look how the psalmist begins to put things into perspective:

Lord, you were favorable to Your land;
    You restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of Your people;
    You covered all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all Your wrath;
    You turned from Your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
    and put away Your indignation toward us!
Will You be angry with us forever?
    Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?
Will You not revive us again,
    that Your people may rejoice in You?
Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord,
    and grant us Your salvation.

The daunting task ahead of them likely made them feel the punishment of the exile was not quite finished. In the next set of verses, the psalmist moves away from grief and toward the promises of God. He seeks out what is good amid the strife:

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints;
    but let them not turn back to folly.
 Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,

that glory may dwell in our land.

And look what the change in emotional expression leads us to. The final verses focus on praise and gratitude and abound with the confidence of faith:

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before Him
    and make His footsteps a way. Psalm 85 ESV © 2001 Crossway


Practicing gratitude and praise when it feels more appropriate to wallow in sadness and worry creates a path for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness meet our need. His plan is to care for us and to do so in a way that helps us to grow stronger. 

It is easy and natural to feel gratitude and praise when things go well, yet we often forget to practice them when we are distracted by the good in our life. When we neglect the practice of gratitude and praise, we are too likely to begin to have faith in our ability to create good things.

When we experience grief and worry we are not so tempted to credit ourselves through praise. When we feel sadness, anxiety, or frustration, we can stop and give credit where credit is due. Not to blame God for troubles, but to remember and revel in His gracious mercy.

Take advantage of this time of frustration and practice gratitude and praise. Then watch God help you grow. Use scripture as your tool, and God will grow your faith, also.

God’s peace and strength are ours.


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