An Attitude of Gratitude

Christmas excitement is building up all around us. Schools and churches are gearing up for special events., trees are being decorated, presents are being bought and wrapped. Talking of presents one of my childhood memories each year in the days after Christmas is writing thank you letters. One of the most predictable gifts each year was a writing pad and envelopes provided for that purpose. I am sorry to say that I was a most unwilling writer of Thank You letters. If this Christmas ritual at the kitchen table had not been enforced and overseen by my parents they would never have been written. So much easier now when you can text or email the giver almost as soon as you have unwrapped the gift!

This week I watched a video that describes the importance of gratitude in creating a healthy community. A research team has found that if people write down three things that they are thankful for every day, over time they experience a 25% increase in their joy and general well being. Their research subjects were people in extreme circumstances such as being on probation, going through family breakup, self harmers and similar. They called this intervention ‘lifestyle gratitude’ and found it had a hugely positive impact on peoples lives. It seems that an attitude of gratitude is a key to finding joy rather than joy being the key to gratitude.

Paul wrote – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:18) Since it is God’s will for us to give thanks it is perhaps not surprising that this simple act has such a beneficial effect on us and the people around us. Right now think of three things, it doesn’t matter how small or insignificant they may seem, and say thank you to God for them.

I don’t know what three things you came up with, or even how easy you found that to do. As believers we, of all people, have much to be thankful for. Speaking of Jesus Paul also wrote – “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” 2 Cor 9:15. That gift is the heart of Christmas. As you give and receive presents this year, and practice gratitude with family and friends in the process. Make sure that you also give time to practice an attitude of gratitude towards God. See if you can come up with three things a day during December to thank God for and enjoy the change this will bring in your heart. 

This blog post featured in the December 2014 edition of Lifelines

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Peace on Earth

By now I expect that you will have seen the Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert. Whatever your views over the appropriateness of the subject matter, the short film movingly depicts a true story of 100 years ago.

The British soldiers departed to the First World War full of optimism that the war would be over by Christmas, yet when Christmas 1914 arrived they were entrenched in a stalemate battle situation. Far from home and without means of communicating with their families in England, they awoke on Christmas morning with only their fellow soldiers for companionship. As they huddled together in the cold and damp, music drifted over no man’s land as they heard German soldiers singing Christmas carols. Emboldened by the familiar tunes soldiers from both sides climbed out of their trenches and exchanged food, cigarettes and souvenirs as an unofficial truce broke out. Eye witness reports record that a game of football was shared with the German soldiers and no shots were fired on that day. In the midst of a horrific conflict – Peace! That peace was tragically short lived and the conflict resumed the following day, and every day thereafter, until November 1918 when the armistice marking the cessation of hostilities was finally signed.

‘Peace on Earth’ was the message proclaimed to the shepherds by the angels the very first Christmas as they announced the birth of Jesus. Yet this peace is very different to what is longed for in times of war. The root cause of every conflict whether it is wars between nations, disputes between neighbours or fights within families is that at heart we are all at war with God. Jesus said that whoever is not for him is against him. So, whether by choice or by default, all of us are by nature enemies of God. The real meaning of Christmas is only found in the message of Easter: that through Jesus’ death, a way is made for us to find peace with God as we receive his forgiveness.

I pray that this Christmas you will discover for yourself the everlasting peace that only God can bring. For it is only when we are reconciled with God that we can be fully reconciled with each other – that is real Peace on Earth!

This blog post featured in the December 2014 edition of Hook Focus