Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Full disclosure: The words above that make up the title of this reflection are borrowed. Shamelessly ripped off.
They come from one of my favorite books on prayer, a volume by David Hansen titled Long Wandering Prayer: An Invitation to Walk with God. By far the most memorable words of the book – or at least the words that somehow lodged in my memory – are the words that that I borrowed and placed at the top of this page. This is title six of the book. “How can something I’m so bad at be God’s will for my life?”
Great question. I’ve never said it quite that way but I’ve wondered the same thing. Maybe you have too.
Are We There Yet?Let’s get specific. Hansen is talking about prayer. The Bible instructs us to “pray without ceasing,” but that doesn’t come naturally to many of us. I don’t always feel competent or confident in my praying. Why then does God will that I do this? It seems like there would be a closer connection between God’s will and my skill.
Hang on - there’s more. The short verse that tells us to pray without ceasing is followed immediately by another short verse that tells us to give thanks. “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Turns out I’m not any better at always giving thanks than I am at ceaseless praying.
This week marks the more-or-less official launch of the Holiday season. On Thursday we will celebrate a day of ‘Thanksgiving.’ For some ‘Thanksgiving’ is little more than a synonym for ‘food and football.’ For others, the day is an occasion to genuinely express gratitude. And then there are those for whom the day poses a difficult challenge.
The scripture says to give thanks in all circumstances – but maybe you’re just not there right now. At some level the next 48 hours loom hard and painful because your reservoir of gratitude is bone dry. You know that the Bible says to be thankful; you tell yourself you should be thankful. But for whatever reason, thankfulness seems elusive this year. So how can something you’re so bad at be God’s will for your life?
If you’re just not there yet, how can you get to gratitude?
Thinking Hard and Thanking WellSome time ago I did a memorial service for a man whom I did not know, not an uncommon thing for pastors to do. When I asked his daughter to tell me about her Dad she handed to me a ten page type written document. Years before his death her Dad had written a brief history of the most significant moments of his life, beginning with his birth in the late 1930s.
The year by year synopsis contained not one word of religious language, but as I read it God’s grace and mercy kept showing up in his story, laced through the years. Did he see it or recognize it or know what to name it? Did he know where and who it came from? I believe so. But whether he ever named it grace or not – that’s exactly what it was.
You don’t have to type a ten page document, but maybe we get to gratitude by thinking hard about our life and discerning the gifts that we cannot explain or take credit for (can we take credit for anything?). We make a mistake if we expect thanksgiving to well up within us naturally, a geyser of positive emotion and good will. You may feel like you’re bad at giving thanks. But we don’t give thanks because we’re good at it. We give thanks because God is good to us.
Thanking well just might require thinking hard about your life, sighting and naming evidences of grace. Can you see them in your story this week?
Prayer:Apart from your grace, O God, our hearts are not inclined to gratitude. To give thanks in all things, we need the help of your Spirit, opening our eyes to mercies that come to us with each new day. Help us to see them, and make us thankful, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.