For the last two years, I’ve started the year with something to commit to for the coming year. Every year many of us make New Year’s Resolutions, and we make a list of goals for the year. We’ve already started in my family with a goal to do something we’ve never done in South Florida once a month as a family. The girls are thinking of going to Peanut Island, Flamingo Gardens, or a restaurant we’ve yet to visit. The guys are thinking along the lines of axe throwing and a shooting range. These are our family goals. So, what’s the difference between a goal and a resolution? A goal is the object of our ambition or effort, an aim or desired result. A resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something.
Last year I encouraged us to Resolve to Obey; the year before was to Resolve to Forgive. For 2023, I’m asking us to Resolve to Count our Blessings. As a child, I grew up singing the hymn Count your Blessings. It goes, count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done. Never has this been more poignant to me than my recent trip to India. India has always been a place I dreamed of going to, and the opportunity presented itself very unexpectantly. I was invited to join Doug Stephens, the Regional Director of the Live the Life North Florida and ASHA Missions, to train 236 Indian pastors and their wives in our Adventures in Marriage curriculum. Calvary Chapel made it a reality. We trained groups in Calcutta, Odisha and New Delhi.
When people ask me about the trip, my first response is to be speechless. It’s a country of extremes. Much of what we experienced was utterly foreign to us as Americans. A country a quarter the size of the United States with four times the people, primarily Hindu and Muslim. A country where many areas look war-torn, a country where people are pouring out their trash on the road, where cows and feral dogs roam the streets, and where makeshift tents line the streets where you purchase your food. I thought this must be the slums we hear about until I went to the slums. There is no poverty like that anywhere in America. Our homeless population lives much better than the Indians in the slums. I was so humbled by what I saw that I hesitated to take a picture. I felt I was being disrespectful, exploiting their circumstances; women plucking a chicken and cooking it on the ground with four bricks and two pieces of coal. A country where Christianity is allowed as long as you don’t evangelize, where women tattoo their faces in hopes they won’t be found attractive so no one would rape them. A country where in 2008, 200 Christians were murdered in the forest because a Hindu was killed, and a Bible was left by the body.
I was struck by the difference between America, founded on Christianity, versus a nation based primarily on Hindu beliefs. The contrast is staggering. I was struck by the difference between the Indian Christians and their wholehearted worship and praise versus mine. I was struck by their joy of Jesus versus mine. I was struck by their gratitude for our presence and teaching versus mine when I freely sit in a house of worship and hear God’s word proclaimed with no fear. In India, it was easy to count my blessings because the contrast is so significant.
I’ve often wondered why there are so many verses telling us to express gratitude to God, but I believe if we don’t, we will grow dull. The more intimately I know him, and the longer He allows me to walk with Him, the less I believe He needs gratitude. He tells us to be grateful for two reasons: First, it’s the guardian of our souls. It’s a reminder that He continues to be faithful, trustworthy, sovereign, and intimately involved in our life. It’s a reminder that allows us to see life through our relationship with Christ. Secondly, gratitude has social, physical and psychological benefits.
What science reveals
Neuroscience always catches up to the Bible, and it continues to reveal the why of God’s instructions. Research shows psychological benefits. A recent study documents that five minutes per day of sincere gratitude journaling can increase dopamine and serotonin levels leading to an increase in your well-being over six months by 10 percent. This is the same impact as doubling your income.
The latest brain research shows that gratitude can change the brain’s blood flow to the hypothalamus. Six doses of experiencing gratitude for 30 seconds a day will enable our neurons to fire together and wire together within two weeks. This allows us to more quickly and more frequently access the feeling of gratitude. The more your brain sees the positive, the more it will look for the positive. What we focus on grows. The active practice of gratitude increases neuron density and leads to higher emotional intelligence, stronger interpersonal relationships, better communication, and increased empathy. It causes us to be less self-centered and more others-centered.
Neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Damasio is quoted as saying, “We are not thinking machines that feel, but emotional machines that think.” Physically, a steady diet of heartfelt gratitude produces a more robust immune system, fewer aches and pains, better sleep-wake cycles, and optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning.
So, why does God instruct us to count all the blessings we have to be grateful for? Because it expands us psychologically, socially, physically and spiritually.
My prayer for you and your family this new year is that you’ll set aside some time and begin to consider and give voice to all that you have to be grateful for and that we’ll count our blessings.
Practical steps to counting our blessings
- Begin a gratitude journal recording of 3-5 things you’re thankful/grateful for daily.
- Verbalize a minimum of one thing per day you can sincerely express to your spouse and children that you’re grateful for as it relates to them.
- Stop for 5 seconds, five times a day, to think about what you’re grateful for concerning your spouse. Generally, the way we think about our spouse during the day is how we treat them in the evening.
- Talk to God every day. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Colossians 1:3).
- Read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts.
- Go on a mission trip.
As is usually the case, I was much more blessed by the people I served in India than they were for my service. They cause me to want to fall down on my face and worship Jesus for His birth and sacrifice of His life for me, my children, those I love, you and our country.
Let’s resolve to count our blessings and be grateful in 2023.
Live the Life South Florida exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education, beginning in middle school through senior adults. We are educators, coaches, and pastoral counselors. If you’re looking for a clinical counselor or therapist, we are blessed to have many in the South Florida community. We’d be honored to provide you a list of highly qualified and reputable individuals. Visit livethelifesoflo.org