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Teach Me How To Pray: Thanksgiving

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Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Well put, Einstein! In life, you come across both kinds of people day-to-day—those who live graciously, and those who are never happy with anything! For pessimists (who of course consider ourselves realists), prayers of thanksgiving might not come naturally. But prayers of thanksgiving are crucial because they reorient our lives and correctly attune our hearts toward God.

Some of us, though, do not even remember our many blessings. As soon as we receive a gift, we say thank you, then promptly forget our heart of gratitude. The Israelites were an excellent example of this.

In the book of Exodus, they finally get out from under the reign of Pharaoh, and they start complaining to Moses that they live in the wilderness. Then they get past that complaint, and complain about their lack of water. When God gives them water, they complain about their lack of food. When God gives them food, they complain about their lack of dietary diversity. But isn’t that exactly what we do so often without realizing it?!

We must first remember everything that God has done for us…write it down! Then we must consciously thank God for our blessings. The Psalms are ripe with prayers of thanksgiving. Psalms 65, 103, and 138 are classic examples of prayers of thanksgiving. Psalm 105 is a helpful example of how we ought to remember and be grateful for what God has done. Try reading them in multiple translations/paraphrases. The NIV tends to be the most readable, but The Message paraphrase packs some powerful prose, especially in Psalm 103.

Ultimately, when you begin to pray prayers of thanksgiving regularly, you begin to cultivate a lifestyle of thanksgiving. The apostle Paul, in the New Testament, illustrates this well. He starts most of his letters, to the churches he helped plant, with a message of thanksgiving. Romans 1:8 (NIV): “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.”

And Paul did not live a comfortable life! He was repeatedly beaten for his faith, he was shipwrecked, attacked, persecuted, and barely had his basic needs met. And yet, he writes to the church in Philippi, thanking them for their gracious support of him in his ministry, but making clear he is not asking for more: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV). Paul knew what it was to have a lifestyle of thanksgiving—to consciously be grateful for the little things.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Chesterton understood and lived a lifestyle of thanksgiving.

A lifestyle of thanksgiving considers the myriad of “miracles” in the everyday.

A helpful reminder of this that has caught me off guard in recent years, is when I complain to my sister, she often gives me the look, rolls her eyes and says in a tone of mild superiority, “First world problem!” It checks my gut real fast. We often take for granted the many things in life that enrich us, the little “miracles” all around us. We also take for granted the many gifts that we have simply grown accustomed to as a way of life (hot water, electricity, cell phone data, high-speed internet, clean drinking water, clothing, food, etc).

I spent a couple of months in Guatemala back in 2010 living and working at an orphanage with babies and toddlers and teaching English at a school. During that time, I learned gratitude…and slowly forgot it since. Each day I spent about two minutes in a cold shower before the crack of dawn, in a lightly cockroach infested bathroom, before heading to work with twenty babies and toddlers for the day. During the kid’s nap time, I would normally spend a couple of hours reading, and after I finished all 8 books I had access to, I spent time writing on recycled scrap paper that I found in the orphanage office. A very simple life, where nothing could be taken for granted.

We ate three meals a day, which was an overwhelming extravagance for the staff and kids on site. Breakfast consisted of atole almost daily (a beverage somewhere in between cream-of-wheat and soupy oatmeal). Lunch was normally rice and refried black beans, sometimes a small portion of meat, and Monday, Wednesday, Friday tortillas as well. And dinner was normally rice and refried black beans again. On special days of harvest, we would also get a vegetable fritter of some sort for lunch. Those were the days I looked forward to!

About a month into my time there, a nearby hotdog factory had cases and cases of unsold product that were about to expire that they graciously donated to us. So, for a week or so, hotdogs were served with every meal. It wasn’t until my time there was drawing to a close, that another orphanage traded some of their nearly-expired donated yogurt, with our nearly-expired donated hotdogs. That truly was a luxury!

My point is that by third world standards, we had it good at the orphanage…really good! We had food on the table and purified water to drink. We had clothing, education, and general safety (a premium in Guatemala), and we even had vegetables on occasion.

But everyone around me knew how good they had it, and they cultivated a lifestyle of gratitude.

I met a fifteen-year-old mother there, who had an 18-month-old son, who was conceived neither out of love, nor choice. But every morning she brought him to the baby house; and when she picked him up, she poured forth colourful praise and gratitude to all the woman who cared for her son so that she could go to school. That little girl, despite the horrific circumstances of her childhood, lived a lifestyle of gratitude.

Those who travel to “help” people often come back with much more than they give…If I learned nothing else in my time there, it was to cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude toward God. We have been given much!

Journal Questions:

  1. Read Psalms 65, 103, 105, and 138. What similarities and differences do you see in these Psalms? What emotions do you feel when you read these?
  2. Do you currently live a lifestyle of gratitude? If not, what steps would you need to take to get there?
  3. Write out a prayer of thanksgiving. (Be sure to include the people, things, and intangibles that you are grateful for).
  4. Try praying a prayer of thanksgiving right when you get up in the morning every day this week. How does it change your outlook on the day?

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