Devotion #69

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7 ESV

I think the most important part of this passage is that we are not just told to bring our prayers and requests before the Lord when we are anxious, we are told to do it with thanksgiving. By definition, thanksgiving is warm or deep appreciation of kindness or benefits received, especially to God. It’s a critical component of this passage because a grateful attitude is imperative to our well-being and our ability to get on top of those anxious thoughts. In His infinite wisdom and foresight, God created our bodies in such a way that a grateful attitude literally changes us physically. Those physical changes are critical for battling anxiety.

Gratitude is a powerful human emotion. It can change our perspective of the trials in front of us because it literally changes our brain’s chemistry. When we express or receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two critical neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel joy, the same two transmitters associated with reduced levels of anxiety. Research actually shows that practicing gratitude increases the grey matter in our brains, thus improves our decision-making capability, allowing us to be more reasonable.

But it doesn’t stop there—God created our bodies so that gratitude has healing effects as well. Research shows us that gratitude lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, and can even increase the frequency of exercise. Gratitude strengthens our immune system and reduces the aches and pain in our bodies. It’s no wonder that God repeats the directive to be thankful multiple times in Scripture—He literally designed our bodies to respond to the command in a healing way.

Thankfully, the benefits of a grateful heart aren’t only physical. Research on the benefits of gratitude have demonstrated it leads to a more joyful life and improves relationships. The positive impact it has on us physically improves our overall mood, making it easier to respond optimistically in difficult moments. Our behavior changes when we have an attitude of gratitude. Couples’ studies indicate that spouses who express thankfulness experience more trusting, loyal, and long-lasting relationships because gratitude improves communication and the attachment we feel with our spouse.

When we are focused on those things that we’re grateful for, our focus is taken off of ourselves and we think of others more. We become more optimistic, we develop more empathy for others, and our confidence in God’s plan for our lives is magnified—all things we need if we are going to battle the enemy of anxiety. Science continues to prove the truth in scripture over and over—it’s fascinating to me.

So, when God tells us all of our prayers—big and small—are to be lifted up with an attitude of thanksgiving, we should put it into practice. When we make our requests with a thankful heart, it means we are content for what God chooses to give us. It’s the surrender that He knows what is best for us, and it’s trusting that He will wisely and lovingly hear our prayer and answer in a way that will ultimately lead to our good. 

When we’re anxious, our thoughts can only see one way out. Since anxiety happens when we fix our eyes on the future, we can become consumed with the problems we’re imagining will happen. Often, what we fear has not even happened, but anxiety paralyzes us because it’s something we have convinced ourselves could happen. Our thoughts spiral and we begin to worry about an outcome until it consumes our thoughts. If we go to God in prayer with our fear, without thanksgiving, we have a tendency to desperately plead for what we believe is the only solution. We only see our way out. 

For example, when we get laid off from a job, we begin to fear how we will pay our bills. We imagine what it will be like to try to live without the income, and our thoughts spiral until we’re worried about losing our home. Our prayers become desperate pleas for God to lead us to a job because it’s the only way we can see out of the problem. We forget that God is capable of providing for us without a job. And we forget to be thankful that God has allowed this trial into your life for a very specific reason.

Praying with a grateful heart means even thanking Him for allowing the anxiety-producing trial into your life. He allowed this challenge for a reason, and He plans to use it for your good. Perhaps He wants to grow your compassion, He wants to teach you, He wants you impact others for the Kingdom. When we pray with a heart that is thankful for everything God allows into our lives—the good, bad, or otherwise, we take the focus off our expectations and we put them back on Him.

One of the greatest strategies I’ve learned for battling those anxious thoughts is to just start thanking Him for all has done in my life. Simple practices like maintaining a gratitude journal can help us find those grateful thoughts when our anxiety is overwhelming. Thanksgiving can have a profound effect on our life and our marriage because it shifts our focus off of our plan and onto His plan. Before we place our requests before Him, spend time thanking Him for how He has blessed your life and your relationship. When we remind ourselves of all the ways He has been faithful to provide for us, to bless us, to show up when we didn’t think there was a way, our problems shrink and our peace grows.

Press on ~ you are loved 💗

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