Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

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Yesterday, I caught myself smiling because I felt grateful for grasshoppers. Yes, strangely enough, grasshoppers. These hopping creatures have taken over my walking trail recently. Randomly popping up out of the long grasses, they bounce high across the sidewalk – in front of me, beside me, behind me, and sometimes even ON me!

Not long ago, I would have merely found them an annoyance and kind of creepy looking. But, as I walked with them yesterday, I saw them differently. Studying one that sat still, I photographed it and admired its construction. Remembering that I saw them last year, I wondered if they are a sign of the seasons changing. I considered how happy and free they seem, in spite of their relatively short life span.  In my mind, I compared them to guests at a surprise party, eagerly waiting to jump up and yell, “Surprise!” As I was thinking these things, I did not think about anything else. The grasshoppers held me captive in the present moment – no worries, no hurries, no deadlines, no cares. So, yes I am quite grateful for grasshoppers.

Upon returning home, I scribbled down one simple word in my gratitude journal – grasshoppers. In October 2012, almost four years ago, I started a numbered list of things I am thankful for in a gratitude journal. It began as an experiment after I read a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. In her poetically written book, Ann describes how jotting down simple blessings or gifts noticed throughout her day (like grasshoppers) enhances her faith. She challenges herself to reach one thousand gifts, thus her aptly named book.

After reading Ann’s book in 2012, I aimed to record my own one thousand gifts. I bought a journal and started recording: 1. Bright fall colors, 2. Leaves falling down, and 3. Dinner together. Each day, my goal was to record at least three to five gifts in my journal. I missed some days. And, sometimes I found it hard to come up with three things. Other days, a tidal wave of gifts would sweep over me. Each day I tried to think of brand new gifts, but I did not make it a requirement. There were many days I repeated writing the same gift such as gratefulness for my family. I decided there was nothing wrong with that. As far as I know, there are no rules or boundaries with gratitude.

When I began this practice, I didn’t know if I would stick with it. I tried an online thankfulness journal in the past and stopped. I tried naming blessings before getting out of bed in the morning, but too often my to-do list would take over my thoughts. I liked how I could easily open this journal and focus on quickly writing something down. Later, paging back over my gifts reminded me of prayers I had at that time as well. Slowly, over the next four years, I noticed a boost in my faith.

Here are three ways gratitude boosts faith:

1. Gratitude teaches us to enjoy “present” moments

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 New Living Translation (NLT)

The word “present” means a few things when discussing gratitude. First, living in the present refers to enjoying the period of time occurring right now. Second, being present is an attitude, meaning we pay attention to our life; we are aware of our surroundings. And third, a present is a gift or something given to someone free of charge. All of these meanings come into play as we relate gratitude to faith through the Scripture above.

Practicing gratitude boosts faith by reminding us God gave us life for today – in this moment (period of time). Making gratitude a habit teaches us to intentionally look for and be aware of reasons to rejoice, even on days when we don’t feel like it (attitude). Faith grows as we see and appreciate all the loving offerings our God provides (gifts). Because of gratitude, I was present enough to notice the grasshoppers, look for reasons to appreciate them, and consider them as a gift for my day.

2. Gratitude delivers peace when combined with prayer

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NLT)

A daily practice combining gratitude and prayer helps us gradually experience God’s peace. We start by turning our worries into prayers. And, we work on accepting that we cannot control or fix some of the problems in our lives. Instead of letting issues rule our emotions, we tell God about them and keep gathering strength to move ahead through gratitude.

Practicing gratitude brings gifts or blessings to our attention which encourages us. Thanking God for these gifts we see, in spite of our trouble, fills us with hope. Peace or faith in God’s care increases as we become more aware of all he does for us each day.

3. Gratitude brings enough.  

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NLT)

It is hard to feel grateful and lacking at the same time.

As we get better at noticing God’s blessings in our lives, desires for more material possessions wane. We learn that having the latest and greatest stuff does not keep us satisfied for very long. We evaluate wants versus needs more than before. Often after consideration, gratitude brings us to the conclusion that we are content; we have enough.

In a similar way, gratitude also teaches us that we are enough. The world constantly messages us that we should be better looking, more successful, and always upbeat. But, gratitude says, “Hey, we are doing okay.” Becoming more thankful for how God made us unique teaches us to care less about being judged by the world. Our motivation changes. We stop living to please others, and we start living to please God. Filling up our hearts with gratitude inspires good and healthy action.

Boosting faith through gratitude takes time. The three boosts to faith of living in the present moment, finding God’s peace, and having/being enough certainly do not show up the first day we practice gratitude. Like any good habit, gratitude requires routine commitment. If writing in a journal each day doesn’t work, brainstorm for something that might. Everyone can practice gratitude each day in some way. For example, gifts from the day can be shared over a meal with family or friends, photographed during a walk, thought about at soccer practice, or whispered before sleep at night.

This week, as I wrote grasshoppers down in my gratitude journal, I passed a mile marker of three thousand gifts. This astounds me. Four years ago, when I wrote down my first few blessings, I had a hunch gratitude might improve my life. I had no idea it would become one of my lifelines over the next several years as our family coped with health challenges. Of course, God knew then my faith would need a boost. He brought me to gratitude. Thank you God.

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The Grasshopper Gift by Jamie Trunnel 

Grasshoppers, you both scare and delight with a greeting so hearty;
Jumping out like eager guests waiting for a surprise party.

A quiet walk turns into a celebration every few steps,
As you pop across the pavement giving my gait greater pep.

Keep me on my toes, my eyes aware to see
Brief miracles of life around, hopping free.

You remind me within each day lies a gift.
Even an abundance of insects can give spirits a lift.  

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Other Resources:

For more on materialism read the previous post Kick Materialism to the Curb

For more on blessings read the previous post Defining Grace

For more on finding joy read the previous post Joy > Happiness

Find Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts on Amazon right here

Note: The grasshopper photos shown in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.com

Joy > Happiness

Dancing in the rain

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” 1 Peter 1:8 New International Version (NIV)

Weary from a long car ride, my then nine-year-old daughter lumbered out of the minivan to stretch, while our dog, Dandy, relieved herself. Dandy stretched, wagged her tail, and rubbed against us for petting. Struck by our dog’s enthusiasm despite the long car ride, my child asked, “Why is Dandy always so joyful?”

Similar to my daughter’s observation of our dog, do you know someone who quickly brightens or calms the moods of others? These people readily provide a smile, reassurance, or even just a sense of peace. A quick judgement leads us to assume they do not experience hardships or burdens. But, in getting to know them, we learn this is not the case. Many joy-filled people are seemingly coping very well with difficult situations. My daughter asked me this “joyful question” over a decade ago, and it has stuck with me not only for it’s humor, but for it’s deeper pondering of what joy really is.

Lately, I have been reading the book Think, Act, Be Like Jesus by Randy Frazee. In his book, Frazee writes about what he sees as an interesting difference between happiness and joy. He describes happiness on a scale of high to low; how happy we are is dependent on the number of problems present in our lives. When problems arise, we become unhappy. When problems are solved, we become happier again. “Joy, however, is not dependent on circumstances, and, in fact, ironically, can become strongest when trouble comes”(Frazee 169). Frazee states that, “Joy has more to do with remaining in the presence of Jesus than with avoiding problems and struggles in our lives”(170).

Since reading this book, I’ve been trying to make sense of the difference between happiness and joy in my own life. For example, I am happier when the furnace works, when appointments run on time, and when my family is healthy. Getting some exercise, sleeping well, and eating nutritious food also brings fewer problems, thus making me happier.

Joy takes more work to define and achieve. Even in the midst of dire circumstances like job layoffs, divorce, and serious illnesses some people demonstrate a resolve not to be defeated. They may be experiencing unhappiness, but they remain content in the knowledge that they cannot control their circumstances. Learning how to be satisfied with the status of things by trusting God, brings a reassurance which is naturally passed along to others.

In thinking about this type of trust and reassurance, I am reminded of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Many of us were in awe of the courage and forgiveness displayed by the families of the 20 children and six teachers and administrators killed.

Scarlett Lewis was one of the parents waiting with her older son, JT, at the firehouse where parents gathered for news about their children. In a Women’s Day article titled “‘I Forgave My Son’s Shooter,’” she writes about finding words of comfort for her older son, stating, “I prayed for the words to comfort him. Somehow, they came out: I told him that even if something had happened to Jesse—maybe even the worst and he had been killed—that he was in heaven and that he was fine now. I told him that we were going to be OK too” (Web. 11 December 2013).

Trusting God to help us find the right words and actions when we are hurting is difficult. How do we get to the place where our assurances of God’s promises shine through even when discouraging things are happening? The joy displayed in our character depends upon strengthening our relationship with Christ. Nurturing joy requires planting faith-filled habits, like prayer, into our daily lives, so that turning to God becomes a natural occurrence no matter what is happening.

The more at ease we become with including God in our lives, the more we start to notice the opportunities for joy God has placed in front of us. We find ourselves turning over more of our worry to him and trusting in his plan. We start seeing the good acts around us that work to alleviate the bad. And, we begin searching for ways to join these efforts by serving him.

Life’s hardships still come our way, but we will be more equipped to handle them if we proactively work on building faith-filled habits into our lives. The things in this life that really scare us will not derail the inner contentment we feel. This contentment or joy will be visible to others through a smile, kind words or actions, or simply by offering a calming presence. Those crossing our paths, then, in turn, may pause and wonder, “why so joyful?”

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the many blessings that bring me happiness. Help me as I work to develop faith-filled habits which nurture joy in my character. Teach me to watch for opportunities to build my trust in your plans for my life. Show me how to embrace even negative circumstances as a way to strengthen my faith, remain content, and lead others to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (NIV)

Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV)

Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

Is there someone in your life that exudes joy even in difficult circumstances? Have you ever wondered how their mind-set of faith might bring about such joy? Can you prayerfully begin to model joy for others?