Following Jesus should never become a business deal. “Jesus, if I follow you, what will you do for me?” It is, however, difficult to avoid the conclusion that there are real benefits to biblical Christianity. I’m working my way through Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book Confronting Christianity. In it she takes up this topic. If you aren’t a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, this is worth pondering.
1. Giving leads to a blessed life
The Bible teaches “…it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This idea cuts against the grain of a society that values acquiring more so than giving. However, more and more research is demonstrating the value of of giving. Volunteering, caring for others, and financial generosity all contribute to our mental and physical health. Atheist social psychologist Jonathan Haidt observes:
“Surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people…Religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbors. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood.”
2. Happiness in all circumstances
The apostle Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (Phil. 4:12-13). Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert uses the term ‘psychological immune system’ to describe Paul’s mindset. Gilbert uses 17th century polymath, Thomas Browne, as an illustration of this. Browne once said, “I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.”
Bold statement, I know. Gilbert asked in response: “What kind of remarkable machinery does this guy have in his head?” Well, as it turns out, Browne was drawing on his Christian faith to immunize himself against suffering.
The contentment that the gospel offers possesses a staggering correspondence to the ‘psychological immune system’ Gilbert speaks of.
3. Gratitude is good for us
The apostle Paul writes, “…give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16). Paul wasn’t writing theoretically. He had been physically beaten, shipwrecked, sick, and materially impoverished. Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough discovered that conscious, daily gratitude is quite literally good for us. They noted those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week. This led Emmons to call gratitude “the forgotten factor in happiness research.”
May I be so bold? If your life is miserable, turn to Jesus!