Someone recently asked me why we start every Immanuel Prayer session with a connection experience – either a time we felt close to God or a time we felt gratitude. As he asked, I heard a song from Vacation Bible School begin playing in my head: “I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart! I will enter his courts with praise!”
There’s a technical reason why we start Immanuel sessions with connection and gratitude: God designed our brains to relate to him and others better that way. (You can read more about the brain science behind gratitude in Dr. Karl Lehman’s book Outsmarting Yourself.) But brain research aside, consider what God says about gratitude:
From Psalm 50:
I have no need of a bull from your stall, or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. [Rather,] sacrifice thank offerings to God. Fulfill your vows to the Most High. Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me.
From 1 Thessalonians 5:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
From Psalm 118:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever!
From Psalm 100:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him and praise his name!
Think for a moment about what thanksgiving does in us. If you didn’t just skim those verses but actually read them, did you find your heart lighten at all? Did you sense a shift in your thoughts or feelings?
I often notice an inner change when I give thanks. It turns my focus away from my problems and toward all the good things in life – and maybe even the bad things God has or will turn to good. Where my focus goes, my feelings and actions follow. When I spend more time giving thanks, I treat others better and offer myself more grace. (I tend to be pretty hard on myself.)
But thanksgiving changes more than how I feel and act. It is not just saying thanks for something but saying thanks to someone. I’m turning my attention to the Giver of all good things (James 1:17).
In fact, if I stop to listen for his response, then I’m going beyond giving attention – I’m initiating conversation. And the things I notice often surprise me. Sometimes I actually sense his smile or feel his delight in my gratitude. I realize I’ve become aware of another Person who’s enjoying my company. And that – as we know through the teaching of the Life Model Works team – is joy, a good fruit that produces more good fruit.
So why do we start with gratitude? Because God told us to do it, because it shapes our attitudes and actions, and because it opens us up to the kind of interactive relational connection with God that produces good fruit!
This article originally was written for the Alive and Well blog.