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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast I ask the simple question does how you look on a baseball card actually determine how long you live?
Well according to researchers from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan apparently it does. In 2010, they decided to study the photos on players’ baseball cards from 1952, and they discovered that if a player showed an exuberant smile in their photo, he lived to an average age of 80 years of age, compared to only 72.9 years for those who didn’t have a big smile.
And smiling is important, because MRI scans conducted in 2009 by researchers at Tehnische University in Munich, Germany discovered that when people smiled, it activated the happiness center in their brains, releasing feel-good hormones, even if the person was in a crappy mood.
Now we also need to understand something about the Bible.
It is simply God’s owner manual on the human condition. And that means there is advice inside God’s word, that if you follow it, your life will be better, whether you believe in God or not.
When the Bible says that a cheerful heart is good like a medicine, that applies to everyone. Cheerful is good for you, it makes you better.
And these spontaneous smiles on old baseball cards were often just an outward demonstration of their heart that then spilled over into real life resulting in 7 additional years of life.
And for believers, the same holds true. Nehemiah says:
Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
Nehemiah wrote these words as the Jews were returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the city and its walls. They had faced opposition and death threats at every turn, but Nehemiah was telling them to quit grieving and focussing on the negative things and disappointments, because the joy of the Lord was their strength.
The Hebrew word for strength in this verse is ‘maoz’ and literally refers to a place of safety, a refuge or a stronghold.
Nehemiah was saying that the joy of the Lord is our place of refuge or protection.
But what happens if I am a believer, and I am not feeling particularly joyful, what if all I am seeing are riots and pandemics and people losing their jobs what should I to do to regain my joy?
Well the Apostle Paul provides the answer:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
When Paul says to “rejoice always” and to give thanks all the time in every circumstance, I believe he is purposefully connecting joy and thankfulness. I believe joyfulness springs out of a thankful heart.
But notice how Paul says we are to give thanks in every situation, not necessarily for every situation.
Now I know that Peter tells us to rejoice in our trials because it purifies our faith. Personally I am not quite there yet, but hopefully I will be someday.
But I don’t believe this is what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he told us to be thankful in every circumstance, not for every circumstance.
And I believe the key to joy is developing a thankful heart.
In the midst of these difficult times, instead of focussing on what is happening all around us, we need to focus on the little things that we can be thankful for.
Researchers at the University of California decided to study the impact that thankfulness had on people with serious heart conditions.
They ran psychological tests on 186 people who were classified with a Grade B heart condition. This meant, they had some type of heart issue, that could have included a heart attack.
These people needed to drastically change their lifestyle, or they would progress into Stage C which meant their chances of dying from a heart attack increased by 500%.
After their testing was done, the researchers discovered that the people who were more thankful had better moods, better sleep, and lower rates of inflammatory markers which contribute to a lower risk of heart attack.
But then the researchers selected people from this group and had them to one additional test. For eight weeks, they had them simply write down three things each day that they could be thankful for.
For the people who did this, the researchers noted there were several reductions in inflammatory markers and as well an increase in heart rate variability which both reduce the risk of a cardiac problems.
And this was after just two months of consistently finding something to be thankful for.
Professor Paul Mills who headed the study said:
“It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health.”
So does the Bible have anything similar to this, where we can actually do a physical act to demonstrate our thankfulness?
Aside from the several exhortations to be thankful, literally finding something in your life to be thankful for, there is something interesting that we can pull from the Old Testament.
Leviticus 7 talks about a thanksgiving sacrifice that the Jews could participate in, but it was considered a free will offering, in other words, it was not something they were required to make, it was a voluntary expression of thanksgiving or gratitude.
So while we are no longer required to make sacrifices, maybe writing down three things each day that you can thank God for, could be your sacrifice of thanksgiving?
So to have a joyful heart, you need a thankful heart. Do your heart a favour let the joy of the Lord be your strength and find something simple that you can thank God for today.