In the churches I grew up in we sometimes had these special meetings called “Testimony Services.” There wouldn’t be the usual songs and sermon. Instead, the congregation was given an opportunity to “preach.” People would stand up, usually with great awkwardness, and testify. That is, they would tell others about God’s goodness in their lives.
Working fathers, old grandmothers, the occasional college student, empty nest parents: These people would stand all over the sanctuary, and as if reading from a script, most would begin: “First, I’d like to say I love the Lord.” From there their testimony could ramble anywhere. Family, children, grandchildren, having a job to work, food to eat, one’s health, a dry autumn so the hay could more easily be gathered from the fields: No blessing was too small to mention.
I remember something about these people, simple and poor as they were, as we all were. They were happy. Oh, they could have stood a few more dollars on their paychecks, less struggle in their daily lives, and more fairness down at the mill. But they didn’t concentrate on these things. They certainly didn’t stand up in the Lord’s house and complain about them. They chose to “keep on the sunny side of life.” Emerging studies are beginning to confirm my own empirical knowledge from all those years ago: Grateful people are happy people. One Baylor University study suggests that it is all about outlook. When a person focuses on what she has, what she has been blessed with, and on all the good in her life, she can’t stop herself from being happy.
Likewise, if this same person were to focus on all the things she lacks – not enough money, opportunity, prosperity, or other material items – then she will naturally be less satisfied with life. So, there is this inescapable link between our level of gratefulness and our level of peace, happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Science did not need to confirm this for readers of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul, instructing early Christians said, “Thank God for all he has done, and then fix your thoughts on all that is true, honorable, right, and good. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul offers – not a flaky, step-by-step, self-help formula – like he’s some sort of late-night infomercial personality or slick TV evangelist. Instead, he offers a change in our perspective: Thank God for all you have and center yourself on your blessings – all that is good in life – and satisfaction will be yours.
Viktor Frankl, in his seminal memoir said it best: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Our thankfulness isn’t dependent upon what others may or may not do, what we do or do not own, or how easy life could or should be. Gratitude is in the attitude, and that attitude is entirely up to you.
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