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The ‘three blessings exercise’: The path to gratitude that changes our lives and culture

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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The 'three blessings exercise': The path to gratitude that changes our lives and culture

Have you heard of the “three blessings” exercise?

Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos teaches an online course on happiness that has reached more than a million people. She recommends something called the “three blessings exercise.” 

Here’s her explanation: “Research shows that we really can benefit from counting our blessings even when it feels like there aren’t that many blessings to be counted. The simple act of scribbling down three things you’re grateful for can significantly bump your mood, in some studies as quickly as within a couple of weeks. It’s completely free. It takes five to ten minutes a day. At the end of your day, just scribble down a few things that you’re grateful for right now.” 

Dr. Santos was asked for “final words of wisdom” and shared this: “If I had a last word to share, it would be self-compassion. It really is an awful time. There’s a reason we’re calling this crisis unprecedented. We’re dealing with a deadly virus that’s incredibly scary and uncertain. . . . Give yourself and your family members more self-compassion and more of a benefit of the doubt than you usually would.” 

“Give thanks in all circumstances” 

Counting our blessings even in hard times is a biblical exercise: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). No matter how the world changes, God’s love does not: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1). 

However, there’s a way to experience our Father’s presence that transcends an occasional attitude of gratitude. The psalmist continues: “Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise?” (v. 2). Then he answers his question: “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” (v. 3, my emphasis). 

Psalm 111:1 makes the same point differently: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (my emphasis). 

Oswald Chambers is right: “You no more need a holiday from spiritual concentration than your heart needs a holiday from beating. You cannot have a moral holiday and remain moral, nor can you have a spiritual holiday and remain spiritual. God wants you to be entirely his, and this means that you have to watch to keep yourself fit.” 

Beware “small” temptations 

The amazing good news is that our Lord will help us do this. Just as he will give us faith to have faith (Mark 9:24), he will give us the strength to ask for strength to defeat our spiritual enemy. 

In fact, we need this strength. Satan knows the temptations we can defeat ourselves and does not waste his time with them. For example, I happen not to be tempted by illegal drugs, so I never meet drug dealers. He also knows the temptations we cannot defeat in our strength, so these are the temptations we face. 

However, our enemy wants us to think we can defeat them ourselves so that we will try and fail. He disguises them in ways that make us think we can handle them in our strength. He lures us bit by bit into the quicksand until we are trapped, dimming the lights slowly until we are in the dark. 

As a result, we need to develop the instinct of turning instantly to the risen Christ with every temptation, asking him for the strength to defeat it. His Spirit will then answer our prayer. If we have already fallen, we need to turn immediately to him to seek forgiveness and cleansing, and his Spirit will answer this prayer as well. 

So beware “small” temptations and “small” sins, for neither actually exists. 

God’s kingdom is not a democracy 

People around the US are protesting over coronavirus shelter-in-place orders. In a democracy, we believe we have the right to live how we want to live. We live in a tension between what our elected leaders can tell us to do and what we can tell them to do. 

People hold signs as they walk past the governor’s mansion to protest stay-at-home orders put into place due to the COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Jefferson City, Mo.

But our relationship with the God of the universe is not such a democracy. 

For example, we read in Leviticus 19:5: “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted.” Moses then explains what is necessary for such offerings, including when they are to be eaten and what is to be done with the leftovers. 

In a secularized culture, it is tempting to think that we can express gratitude to God however we wish in the belief that he will be grateful that at least someone is grateful to him. But, the fact is, we do not get to dictate our relationship with the King of the universe. The master tells the servant how to serve. 

If we will ask, he will lead us into greater intimacy with himself through prayer, Scripture, worship, and other spiritual disciplines. And he will lead us into even more effective ministry with others during this crisis. (For more, please see my latest website article, “Why Rob Gronkowski is reuniting with Tom Brady: Two ways to redeem the pandemic.”

But the key is, we must ask, seeking to give him our best in response to his best. 

“The only way to truly be in control of your life” 

The darker the room, the more essential the light. The harder the days, the more we need to express gratitude for the blessings of God. 

As we “enter his gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100:4), his Spirit will show us what need to change to have an even deeper communion with the Lord. And he will show us how we can invite others into such a relationship with our Father. 

James Clear observed, “Ultimately, the only way to truly be in control of your life is to be in control of your thoughts.” And the best way to be in control of your thoughts is to put God in control of them. 

Who is controlling your thoughts right now?

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