“Who does not thank for little will not thank for much”
Prayers of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is so closely related to praise they’re often spoken in the same phrase. But where praise was all about God, giving thanks gets us into the picture. We’re thanking God for blessings received or “on the way,” either for us or others we’ve prayed for. The fact that we’re involved doesn’t make it less pure or important than praise. In fact, there are people who strongly believe that the ONLY prayer we should ever say is “Thank you, Lord.”
In a recent poll, 67% of the people said their prayers relate to giving thanks to God all the time. Almost 80% said they prayed most often at home, versus 5% who prayed most often in a house of worship. While that appears to be a lot of thanksgiving, we suspect those numbers result primarily from people saying “grace” before meals. A prayer of thanksgiving, to be sure, modeled by Jesus. But we believe prayers of thanksgiving can be so much more than bowing your head before eating.
It doesn’t come naturally. As with praise, children need to be taught to say “thank you.” Adults often need a refresher course. Thanksgiving is a learned response to someone doing something nice for us, from holding open a door to giving eternal life, and everything in between.
That learned response can get especially confusing and difficult when the gift is unexpected. Or undeserved. If you’ve ever exchanged gifts with someone where you spent $20 for their gift and they spent $200 on yours, you may understand how empty “thank you” can sound. How about if you got them no gift at all and they spent $1000 on a gift for you? Does “thank you very much” bridge the gap?
Even so, thanking God for blessings received, even undeserved and unexpected blessings, seems a whole lot easier than thanking Him when life is not going the way we might have hoped.
As Job said, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10)
Henri Nouwen called giving thanks for “all of our lives—the good as well as the bad…hard spiritual work.” Hard indeed. There will always be those things that defy human understanding or explanation. The Holocaust. The presence of evil in the world. The death of a baby. The only thing we can cling to is the love of God. We have to trust in that love. And for that love, we give thanks.
So the real difficulty with thanksgiving is a bit of a 2-edged sword.
When things are going well, when we’re being showered with blessings, we have a tendency to be inattentive and forget to give thanks. Or worse, we take credit for those good things appearing in our life. Or worse yet, we focus on wanting more, bigger, better, extra.
And when we’re being showered by—or buried under—one bad thing after another, the last thing we feel like doing is thanking God. It’s hard to have an eternal perspective when you’re in pain, when your life seems like anything but an expression of God’s love.
Here are some suggestions:
- Keep in mind that after any loss, there is a sharper and deeper appreciation for that which was lost: people who have been very sick ardently give thanks for health once it’s restored, just as people who have lost a loved one tend to express their gratitude for the relationships they do have.
- Don’t be overly concerned with your apparently conflicting motives; if you’re not yet in the habit of giving thanks, it may seem like little more than an obligatory “thank you card,” as if your heart’s not really in it; the thought may even cross your mind that what you really want is more of what you’re giving thanks for; give God credit for being able to sort though your conflicting emotions—we all have them--and trust that with time, the act of giving thanks will come more and more from your heart and less and less from your head.
- Make it a practice to give thanks for 5 things each and every morning; don’t get out of bed until you’ve given thanks for all five.
- Likewise, in the evening before bed, review your day and pick 5 things in particular to be grateful for and express that gratitude in prayer.
- Consider carrying a “gratitude stone” in your pocket or purse, so that each time you touch it throughout the day, you’re reminded to give thanks. (Please remember you don’t have to buy a $15 gratitude stone; God has graciously provided more than enough, for free, just outside your door.)
Giving thanks lends itself to every style of prayer: formal, conversational, devotional, prayer walking, and spontaneous. As we saw earlier, giving thanks is often linked to praising God, so you may want to develop the habit of giving thanks each time you offer praise and worship. That can easily be done in conversational prayer or while prayer walking. It’s often done for you in formal prayer. Two Psalms to get started with for devotional thanksgiving are 136 and 107. And as with praise, as you work at developing your “thanksgiving muscle,” you’ll find spontaneous thanks arising more and more in your life.
But remember this: it’s worthwhile to develop a spirit of gratitude that touches every aspect of your life, the high, the low, the good, the bad, the large, and the little. As you do, you’ll find it is always the right time for a simple “Thank you, Lord.”
Go to Prayers of Confession