Some of you may have noticed that I sometimes begin prayers with the phrase “Lord, we come to you with thankfulness.” This is not an accident or some rote memorization…it is something that is intentional and learned. They are words that my grandfather always started his prayers with as we gathered around the table for prayers right after breakfast. They were the words that always led into a long list of the many ways that he was intentionally thankful for what God had given our family. He would always include prayers of thanks for their church, God’s provision, the gifts of health and family, and the gifts of freedom and country. It was an intentional beginning to his morning prayer…a reminder that thankfulness is the starting point.
This approach was reinforced during my time at seminary. I learned about the power and purpose of prayer, how prayer plays a vital part in the story of scripture, and some of the thoughts from theologians who have come before on prayer. What I realized is that they all…from Christ to Paul to Augustine to Calvin to Barth…emphasize the importance of thanksgiving in prayer. And they highlight beginning by not only giving thanks for what God has done and has chosen to give us, but also adoration, simply giving thanks for who God is. We start with thanksgiving because it is the essential starting place when we relate to God. We remember that firm foundation…all that God is and all that God has done…before we even start bringing our concerns, needs, and other prayers of intercession to God. It is in thanksgiving that we realize that God has given us everything we are and everything we need.
There is something basic and grounding when we pray to give thanks in both plenty and want, peace or conflict, in security or uncertain times. We take time to stop and remember what God has done and give thanks for all that we have been given. And, hopefully, we see beyond the fog of concern to a God who continues to bring life, peace, and hope into every corner in the world. We take time to give thanks, count our blessings, and gain perspective.
I often fill my days with preoccupations of things that need to be purchased or need to be done. I run errands, have appointments, study the budget, and often look at immediate concerns and needs. In other words, I focus on the next few hours or days. Whether it is individual needs we have as church or individual spiritual needs…and when I do look at them, I spend a lot of time focusing on problems and deficits.
But every once and a while…honestly, not as often as I should…I stop. In prayer, it strikes me; whispers in the moments of pause. And in those intentional moments, I am overwhelmed by the blessings I have been given. I give thanks for a church that generously responds every year with their time, talents, and resources. I give thanks for the encouragement and friendship of our church family. I give thanks for the ways I have seen us hold together in hard times. I give thanks for a wonderful family. I give thanks for a roof over my head. I give thanks for a job I love. I give thanks for peace. I give thanks for food. I give thanks…and keep giving thanks.
And it always changes things; even in those times of great hardship, stress, or uncertainty. It reminds me of my grandfather and the simple fact that, thanks be to God, every single day there is always something to be thankful for.