Discipleship, the journey of growing in faith and understanding of Christ, is a profound and transformative experience. As new believers embark on this journey, incorporating gratitude into their lives becomes a cornerstone for spiritual growth.
Zig Ziglar called gratitude "the healthiest human emotion." He's right. During times of growth, spiritual attack and significant change as a believer begins to follow Christ, gratitude becomes deeply important as a way to stabilize and fertilize the growth of a new Christian.
Let's examine the benefits of gratitude for new believers.
Benefits of Gratitude in New Christian Discipleship
Gratitude Helps in Lowering Anxiety (Philippians 4:6-8):
One of the most powerful weapons against anxiety is gratitude. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, encourages believers to "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). Scientific studies echo this sentiment, demonstrating that practicing gratitude can significantly reduce anxiety.
Research conducted by psychologists such as Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough has shown that individuals who cultivate a habit of expressing gratitude experience lower levels of stress and anxiety. Gratitude shifts focus from what is lacking to what is present, fostering a positive mindset that counteracts the grip of anxiety.
Gratitude Honors God:
Gratitude is not only a remedy for personal well-being but also a powerful means of honoring God. Acknowledging and appreciating the blessings bestowed by the Creator is an act of worship. Numerous studies affirm the positive impact of gratitude on spiritual well-being and connection with a higher power.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that individuals who expressed gratitude reported a higher sense of spiritual well-being. Gratitude, when directed towards God, deepens the spiritual bond and enhances the overall experience of discipleship.
Gratitude Helps in Preventing Spiritual Drift:
Romans 1 serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of turning away from God: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things." Romans 1:21-23 (ESV)
Gratitude acts as a safeguard against spiritual drift by cultivating a heart that continually recognizes and appreciates God's presence. Scientifically, gratitude has been linked to increased spiritual engagement and a decreased likelihood of spiritual apathy.
Research conducted by the University of Notre Dame found that individuals who practice gratitude are more likely to be engaged in their spiritual communities.
Regularly expressing thankfulness for one's faith and the support of a community guards against the spiritual drift described in Romans 1.
Gratitude Helps in Decreasing Pride:
Pride is a stumbling block on the journey of discipleship. Gratitude serves as pride's opposite... or it's greatest antidote. Gratitude humbles the heart and redirects a new Christian's focus towards the source of all blessings. Scientific studies support the idea that gratitude has a profound impact on reducing narcissism and promoting humility.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology and conducted by Jo-Ann Tsang found that individuals who are naturally more grateful tend to have lower levels of pride and a greater sense of interconnectedness with others. For new believers, embracing gratitude becomes a powerful tool in the ongoing battle against pride.
Gratitude Helps Increase Joy:
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and gratitude is the fertile soil in which it flourishes. Scientific evidence consistently demonstrates the positive correlation between gratitude and increased feelings of joy and life satisfaction.
In a landmark study led by Martin Seligman, participants who wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude experienced a significant increase in happiness levels that lasted for weeks. Incorporating gratitude practices into discipleship not only aligns with biblical teachings but also contributes to a more joyful and fulfilling journey into Christlikeness.
Gratitude Increases Emotional Resilience and Staying Power:
Discipleship is a journey that often involves facing trials and challenges. In these moments, the ability to persevere and maintain emotional resilience becomes crucial. Gratitude emerges as a key factor in building the emotional fortitude needed to weather storms and endure in faith.
Scientific studies, such as those conducted by the University of California (Davis), have shown that individuals who regularly practice gratitude exhibit greater emotional resilience. Grateful individuals tend to cope more effectively with stress, bounce back from adversity, and display a higher level of perseverance.
The act of counting one's blessings, even in the midst of difficulties, shifts the focus from what is lacking to what is present. This mental reorientation empowers believers to navigate challenges with a positive outlook and unwavering faith. As new believers embrace gratitude, they not only enhance their emotional resilience but also develop the staying power needed to endure in their discipleship journey, trusting that God's grace is sufficient in all circumstances (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Conclusion: Gratitude is a vital part of a new believer's growth in discipleship.
As new believers embark on the exciting and challenging path of discipleship, gratitude emerges as a fundamental companion. Scientific research consistently reinforces the biblical wisdom that cultivating gratitude brings about transformative benefits, from lowering anxiety to increasing joy. By weaving gratitude into the fabric of discipleship, new believers can enhance their spiritual journey, honor God, and navigate the challenges with a heart full of thanksgiving.
How NewStart Discipleship integrates gratitude
Each day of NewStart's Discipleship Journal reading plan includes a journal space called "What I'm thankful for today." Providing space and prompting for gratitude is an attempt to be intentional about one of the "healthiest human emotions."
Churches can subscribe to NewStart Discipleship resources and reap the benefits of gratitude for their new believers by clicking here.