We can’t spend too much time looking backward. We have to be careful of how and how long we look forward. So where does that leave us in our pursuit of joy and peace in this crazy military life we lead?
We are left with the present.
And nothing in the world can harness your thoughts to the present moment like gratitude. Giving thanks. Thanksgiving, you might even say. The simple act of looking around at what we DO have and what IS good in our lives tethers us to this moment in a powerful way.
Today, science is just beginning to catch up with some of the incredible nuances of God’s design for us from the very beginning. There’s been a wave of research into the science of gratitude. In an article about some of this research, Emily Fletcher wrote,
“When we take the time to ask what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated. Production of dopamine and serotonin increases, and these neurotransmitters then travel neural pathways to the ‘bliss’ center of the brain — similar to the mechanisms of many antidepressants. Practicing gratitude, therefore, can be a way to naturally create the same effects of medications and create feelings of contentment.
It gets better: The more you stimulate these neural pathways through practicing gratitude, the stronger and more automatic they become. On a scientific level, this is an example of Hebb’s Law, which states ‘neurons that fire together wire together.’”
God Knew First
But gratitude has been tied up in the story of mankind since the moment God formed Adam. Gratitude to our sovereign Maker has always been our purpose. But from the moment Adam and Eve sinned, believing that what God had offered was not all they needed, to the present day where we have created a culture of “not-enough-ness,” we have floundered. We have struggled. Our lives have been filled with the struggles that result from that disconnect, just as God promised as Adam and Eve fled the garden. At the heart of our separation from God is sin motivated by the lie that His provision in the present moment is not sufficient.
Ann Voskamp wrote:
“From all of our beginnings, we keep reliving the Garden story.
Satan, he wanted more. More power, more glory. Ultimately, in his essence, Satan is an ingrate. And he sinks his venom into the heart of Eden. Satan’s sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude. Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully ungrateful for what God gave.
Isn’t that the catalyst of all my sin?
Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.” (One Thousand Gifts, 15)
Gratitude in This Lifestyle
In military life, as in any lifestyle, there is often something lacking. Money can get tight, help with childcare and challenges can be hard to come by, and all too often we are missing our other half. In a consumer-driven society that trains us to see what’s missing in our lives so that we’ll shop more, buy more, spend more, it’s easy to focus on how barren military life can be.
And yet, as Christians, our lives are abundant beyond anything in this world because of eternal grace. On top of that abundance, military life is filled with the beauty and blessings that can only come through some level of hardship. There is much to be thankful for in this lifestyle. And God tells us to focus on it:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV).
Millennia ago, God left us a lifestyle formula for joy and peace and relief from anxiety. Science and God agree that these neural pathways of gratitude need stimulation and strengthening, but God, loving Father that He is, gave us this key long before science. In fact, thanksgiving is a prescription you will find throughout the Bible. From its abundant repetition in the Psalms to Christ’s consistent thanksgiving right up to the eve of His crucifixion, we are told to give thanks and given example after example of how essential it is in our lives.
What science misses about gratitude is that when our thanks is directed upward to the Giver of blessings, something deeper happens. In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healed 10 lepers. Only one turned back to thank Him, and while all of them were physically healed, this man received a special, deeper level of wellness.
“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:18-19 ESV).
We cannot manufacture our gratitude — it is, after all, an emotion. However, we can make the conscious choice of obedience in focusing on the things we are thankful for, this week and forever. We can be obedient in giving thanks to God in prayer. And as our eyes for blessings are strengthened our gratitude will grow, and in turn, so will our joy and peace.
So where are joy and peace in military life? They are here in this very moment. Let’s give thanks.
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In what areas of your life do you focus more on what you lack than what you have? Your wardrobe? Your body and health? Your relationships?
How might focusing on what God has provided in that area help you draw closer to Him and change your perspective?
Each day this week, make time to write down 5 things you are thankful for, and consider how those blessings help you focus your attention on God. Yes, 5 things, even in the midst of your family gatherings and busy schedule! Observe how God uses your gratitude to increase your joy and peace. Use the reading this week (which is a little more than normal) to find spiritual things to give thanks for. Make time to take these things to God in prayer.