The on-line retailer Amazon recently revealed the most popular verse in the Bible for Americans. No, it’s not the ubiquitous John 3:16 displayed on posters at sporting events everywhere.
Instead, Americans are increasingly turning to Philippians 4:6-7 which the apostle Paul begins with these words: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Be anxious for nothing? That’s a lot easier said than done these days. Just read the headlines, and you’ll quickly discover plenty of reasons to worry: “4 Jihad Attacks in 4 Days,” “Ukraine Could Explode in 48 Hours,” and “Ebola Crisis ‘On Same Scale as AIDS Epidemic.’”
No wonder 64 percent of voters believe that things in America are “out of control.” And it is therefore no surprise that Americans’ favorite verse these days contains not only a command against anxiety but a cure for it: “prayer . . . with thanksgiving.” The Living Bible paraphrases the verse this way: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers.”
I have a friend who encourages people who worry a lot to take out a sheet of paper and write at the top, “Worry List.” Then, make a list of everything in your life that is a source of anxiety for you: health issues, financial difficulties, career challenges, family conflicts.
Once you have filled up your page (or pages) with your concerns, take out another piece of paper and put the words “Prayer List” at the top. Then, cross through each item on your “Worry List” and transfer it to your “Prayer List.” Instead of having a list of items to worry about, you now have a list of concerns to talk with God about.
My friend tells people that the secret to peace in life is having a short worry list and a long prayer list. “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.”
But Paul adds that our prayers need to be coupled “with thanksgiving.” By “thanksgiving” the apostle is not referring to the once-a-year American ritual of gorging on turkey, cranberry sauce, and football games but to the invaluable and healing attitude of gratitude.
Regularly expressing thanks to God and other people for the good things they have brought into your life is a powerful antidote to anxiety. Reflecting on the ways God has protected and provided for you in the past can protect you against the fear of an uncertain future.
Expressing thankfulness should not be reserved for one day on the calendar but needs to become a way of life. Allow me to offer several practical suggestions for developing the quality of gratitude:
1. Make gratitude part of your daily routine. Before you drift off to sleep each night take a moment to thank God for two or three positive things that happened to you that day.
Researchers Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough assigned two groups to keep a daily diary of five things that happened to them throughout the day and reflect on them before going to sleep each night: One group listed positive things for which they were thankful and the other group listed negative happenings.
Joy, happiness, and life satisfaction skyrocketed for the gratitude group.
2. Guard against the tendency to “go negative.” Pessimism is in vogue these days. According to a recent Fox News poll, 58 percent of Americans believe the world was going “to hell in a handbasket.”
Yes, there are plenty of things to criticize but there are also a number of reasons to be thankful. For example, our health care situation may be a mess, but in the last two centuries vaccines have virtually eliminated death from diphtheria, polio, hepatitis, and other diseases.
Despite the real economic struggles many are facing, the bottom 5 percent of income earners in the United States are still wealthier than 68 percent of the world’s population. Our government may be dysfunctional, but at least we have the freedom to say so without losing our lives.
3. Express appreciation to others who have made a difference in your life.Ultimately, all good gifts come from God, but He often sends them through people He places in our lives. Over the holiday weekend why not send a note or call someone—a teacher, mentor, friend, or family member—who has significantly impacted your life?
If you don’t feel particularly grateful for anything or anyone, remember that gratitude must usually be expressed before it is felt.
I’ve found that it’s much easier to act yourself into a feeling than to feel yourself into an action.
After all, there is a reason this holiday is called Thanks-giving and not Thanks-feeling.