Prayers of thanksgiving make up a big part of all my daily prayer times. I thank the Lord for all the marvels of his creation and love. I praise him for this vast universe of one hundred billion galaxies, for this beautiful planet he made as a dwelling for us, his sons and daughters, and for the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us as Jesus Christ, in whom we have salvation and eternal life.
I also express my gratitude to God for a long list of his kindnesses to me. I thank him for creating me from nothing. For sustaining me in being. For giving me a human nature made in his own image. For conferring on me a share of his own divine life at my baptism. For my good mother, father, sisters, and brother. For my lovely wife, children, grandchildren, and a small army of friends. For always taking care of my needs. For removing the mountain of my sins as far as east is from west. And for extending to me the opportunity to share in the saving work of Christ.
On days when I feel like praying, giving thanks causes joy to well up and overflow in me. I feel as though I am participating in the thanksgiving songs that ring through Scripture, from the hymn of Moses at the exodus to the canticles of the saints in Revelation. But when dryness has set in and I don’t feel much like praying, I lift my spirit by thanking the Lord for everything he has done. Julian of Norwich, the great anchoress and mystic, says that thanking Christ for his passion and goodness to us “quickens the heart, by his grace starts it working properly, and makes it pray most blissfully.” I experience this as the joy that Paul calls a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22–23). Like all of these Spirit-inspired behaviors—for example love, patience, and self-control—joy is an activity, something that we do. I express my joy by giving thanks to the Lord, and it enlivens my prayer.
Binding Me to God
When a friend gives us a gift or does something for us, we say “thank you.” More than a mere polite gesture, expressing thanks tightens the bond that links us with our friend. It works the same way between the Lord and us. “What we see happening,” says theologian Patrick D. Miller Jr., “in the human activity of beneficent act and grateful response identifies, if only indirectly and partially, what takes place in the relationship between God and human beings … that begins in the cry for help and moves from God’s gracious response to the praise and thanksgiving it evokes.” This has been my experience. I sense a oneness with the Lord when I take time to give him thanks. Thanksgiving prayer makes me aware of my closeness to him, not so much as a feeling, but more as a recognition of its reality. It strengthens my bond of friendship with God.
In All Circumstances
I have not always been thankful to the Lord when significant things have gone wrong. For example, I have responded ungratefully in the face of failures or rejection. I am correcting my behavior in such circumstances by considering the thankfulness of Jesus. I reflect on his prayers when he encountered rejection and anticipated his passion. When his opponents criticized him and towns where he had worked many miracles refused to believe, the Lord turned to his Father with a prayer of thanks: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; … for such was your gracious will” (Matt. 11:25). Before leaving for Gethsemane, while anticipating the worst circumstances of his life, Jesus still sang Psalms 113–18, the songs of thanksgiving for Passover.
When I am able to thank the Lord for an inconvenience, I believe he chips away at my mountainous need to be in control. “Thanksgiving,” says Patrick D. Miller Jr., “whether to other persons or God, is an inherent reminder that we are not autonomous or self-sufficient … Praise to God does that in a fundamental way as it directs our love away from self and all human sufficiency.” In my case it will take a lot more thanks and a lot more chipping away of my self-sufficiency before an adjective like “heroic” could even remotely apply to me.
Expressing gratitude to God gives shape and substance to my daily prayer. It fills me with joy, binds me to God, carries me through hardships, erodes my self-sufficiency, and engages me with Christ in his eternal self-giving. Those are big benefits for just saying thanks.
This excerpt is taken from The Power of Daily Prayer by Bert Ghezzi. Available from the Word Among Us Press at wau.org/books