‘Rejoice always’ we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. This fits nicely on a travel cup, but it’s not the full story—or even the full sentence.
Joy can be elusive. Sharing prayer points at a Christian women’s conference once, I heard one woman tell the group about her ‘spiritual dryness’. This was around 2010 in north-west NSW when drought was destroying the farms, families and the communities we lived in. In this context, dry equated to dead.
Many of us know the experience of feeling like we’re going through the motions of Christian life without joy. And without joy, life can feel like eating wheat-bix without milk.
Where Does Joy Come From?
Returning to Thessalonians for a minute, ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
We see that joy, prayer and thanks belong together and are all part of God’s intention for us to live fulfilling lives. Gratitude leads naturally to joy when we mindfully reflect on our blessings, and we realise how much we have to be thankful for.
The Psalmist said, ‘Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!’ (Psalm 107:1)
But thankfulness doesn’t always come easily. It’s something we often have to work at.
An Attitude of Gratitude
Brene Brown is a social researcher who has spent her career specialising in vulnerability.
She said, ‘In 12 years of research and 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview even a single person who would describe themselves as joyful who did not actively practice gratitude.’
Secular science reflects this over and over. For example, Dr. Summer Allen of UC Berkeley presented a 72-page white paper in 2018 titled, The Science of Gratitude. In it she cited research indicating that our brains and bodies are designed to thrive on gratitude.
‘In general, more grateful people are happier, more satisfied with their lives, less materialistic, and less likely to suffer from burnout.’ Dr Summer Allen said, ‘Additionally, some studies have found that gratitude practices, like keeping a “gratitude journal” or writing a letter of gratitude, can increase people’s happiness and overall positive mood.’
Gratitude can be learned, practiced and maintained, leading to better mental health, healthier relationships and life satisfaction. The research even suggests a link between gratitude and quality of sleep, as well as recovery from serious medical conditions like heart failure.
The Bible’s teaching on cultivating thankful hearts individually and corporately in all areas of our lives is wisdom for the ages.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)
Gratitude in the Dark Times
None of us are joyful all the time, and we’re not called to hide our struggles behind masks made of fake joy. The Psalms display a wide range of emotions—including anger and despair. God can handle our pain and, as sisters and brothers, how can we comfort each other if we hide our struggles?
Yet even in hard times, contentment is possible. Paul speaks to this in his letter, written from prison to the Philippians.
‘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.’ (Philippians 4:12-13).
Paul’s secret is simply trusting that his good and generous God will equip him with what he needs. It’s faith.
An Abundant Life of Gratitude
Joy isn’t found the absence of struggle, but on resting in God regardless of the circumstances. And we don’t struggle alone; the Holy Spirit lives in us reminding us to be grateful for all that God has given us, both directly and through the gifts and service of people he has placed in our lives. In this same way, we too, can be the reason someone else gives thanks to God.
‘So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.’
Generosity is a family value for God’s children. Not just financially, but in every way. God chooses to bless others through us—an extraordinary thing! And a rich source of both thankfulness and joy.
You can choose generosity today by donating to our Matching Grant Appeal!
Now is the perfect time to give because every donation you make to this appeal before 30 June will be combined with funding from the Australian Government. We will contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government, with any funds raised in excess of the government grant used to support Baptist World Aid projects.