With thanksgiving

Never pray without giving thanks.  It will take you out of your worries and root you in God.

Full Text: 

With thanksgiving

November 25, 2015 – Philippians 4:6-7

 

Tonight is Wednesday night.  I don’t know what at happens Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches on Wednesday night, but at Lutheran churches there is usually confirmation class.  So, many Wednesday nights I’m teaching confirmation – basic Bible and catechism – to seventh and eighth graders.

We begin, of course, with pizza.  Then, not long after we finish our pizza, I pass out pieces of scratch paper and ask students to find a quiet spot in the parish hall.  I’m going to do that now with you.  I know the pieces are small and many have print on the other side.  Feel free to take extra piece, or write small.  If you need a pencil, there may be one in the pew rack, or just do this exercise in your head.  I don’t ask for them back.  This isn’t for me.  It’s for you.  It’s for you and God.

First, write down something you are thankful for.  It could be family.  I’m guessing many of you will spend part of your day tomorrow with family.  But, if you can be more specific.  Think of a particular person in your family or something in particular you like about your family.

Second, write down something else you are thankful for.  It could be health.  Again, think of something specific – a good doctor check-up you had recently or good physical health that allows you to do something you enjoy, like playing golf or traveling.

Third, write down one more thing you feel thankful for.  I often just ask my students to write down one thing, but most of you are older, so you have more to be thankful for.

Now – write down one thing you are concerned about. It might be something personal – a health issue or a family issue.  Or it could be about something larger – a social issue in our country, or maybe even politically motivated violence, as the world has experienced in recent weeks.

Finally – write a three sentence prayer to God about all of that.  That’s what I ask my confirmation students to do.  But feel free to do more.  I’m not checking these remember.  This is between you and God.

 

I believe that, when we pray, it is important always to give thanks.  I don’t think we thank God for God’s sake.  I don’t really think that God needs to be thanked.  I don’t think God stops giving to us when we don’t say, “Thank you,” as some of us might be tempted to do.  I don’t think giving thanks earns us some kind of reward or makes it more likely that God will respond positively to our request.

No, I believe giving thanks is for our sake.  Giving thanks broadens our vision.  It reminds us that, no matter what challenge we are presently facing, there is a bigger picture.  That no matter what the problem is that we are facing, we are also experiencing blessings.  If that blessing includes another person or other people, then giving thanks can connect us with other people.  Mostly though, it connects us with God.  It helps us to realize that there is more going on in the world than what we can hear or see.  There is a greater agenda going on in the world.

This all adds up to peace.  When we pray we are more likely to experience a confidence in God’s power and a surrender to God’s purpose when we bring our concerns to God with thanksgiving.

This is what Paul says: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Now if you are like me, you may have trouble being thankful, at least, more than once a year.  It was always a challenge for my parents to get me to write thank you notes after Christmas, especially to my grandmother in South Dakota or my aunt in Utah.  I’m not sure I’ve gotten than much better.

But there are a few things I have found helpful in the practice of gratitude:

First, set an intention to be more grateful.  Setting an intention is not like setting a goal.  It is not specific.  It is not tangible.  It may not concrete.  But while a goal is focused on a future attainment, an intention is focused on present motivation. 

Setting an inner intention is also a recognition that gratitude – like all the most important things in life – is an inside job. It is not something that happens when we get what we most want.  It is also not a quality that we’re either born with or we’re not.  It’s a skill we can cultivate.  And when we set an intention, we kick our mind – our whole inner life –

into gear.

Second, become more mindful.  You don’t need to take up a regular meditation practice or adopt a particular frame of mind.  I think you can become more mindful simply by slowing down.

We tend to think that if we go faster we will do more things and get more things and experience more things and our lives will be richer.  But often, I think, the faster we go, the less we have.  On the other hand, if we slow down, then our lives become richer.  We will be more aware of what is right in front of us.  That gives us an opportunity to enjoy what is right in front of us right now, rather than rushing off to the next thing.

Third, focus on the action and not the feeling.  Jesus said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.  Rather lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither most nor rust consume and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

If Martin Luther had written that line, he may well have written, “Where your heart is your treasure will be also.”  In writing on the First Commandment in the Large Cathechism, Luther said, “Whatever is in your heart, that is your god.”  And that is a good teaching.  We discover what matters most to us when we look in our hearts.  Or if we look at our checkbooks.  If we care about an organization – that is, hold it in our hearts - then we are more likely to offer our treasure.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  I think what Jesus meant was give and spend where you want your heart to be and then let your heart catch up.  Don’t just give to things that you care about.  Give to things you want to care about.  Put your treasure where you want your heart to be.  Let your actions lead and your heart will follow.

 

John Kralik learned this lesson.  He tells the story in his book, 365 Thank Yous.

By the end of 2007, John Kralik was at the end of his rope.  His law firm was floundering and they were about to lose their lease.  He was going through a difficult divorce with his second ex-wife, and he was supporting his two adult sons as they struggled to make their way in the world.  He lived in a small, run-down apartment in L.A. without air-conditioning. And his girlfriend had just dropped him.

On New Year’s Day, he decided to take a hike in the Angeles National Forest north of Pasadena.  Wanting to be alone, he walked deep into the mountains.  At one point he got lost and wondered if he would make it back.  Then, as he was walking along, he heard a voice:

Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will never receive the things you want.

He decided he would find one person to be thankful to each day for the next year.  His plan was to write 365 thank you notes in 2008.

He started with people who were close to him – his family, the people in his law firm, other lawyers who had supported him along the way.  He didn’t actually write a thank you note every day.  He might miss a few days and then write three or four notes.  Eventually he couldn’t think of anyone to thank.  He stopped at his local Starbucks – a regular stop for him.  The barista greeted him with a smile and said, “John, your usual venti?”

Kralik thought, “This is really kind of a great gift in this day and age of impersonal relationships, that someone had cared enough to learn my name and what I drank in the morning.”  So, Kralik wrote him a thank you note.  And on it went through the year.

His practice of gratitude rescued him from the end of his rope.  He began to see, even with all his problems, how very blessed he was.  IT pulled him out of his worries and connected him with his more deeply held values.  His practice of doing something concrete to say “thank you” connected him with other people.  And, eventually, he started going to church – not because he had any great epiphany or conversion experience.  He realized that there were even larger things in his life that he wanted to honor.

John Kralik didn’t feel grateful.  He didn’t feel thankful for anything.  But he began giving thanks.  He began treasuring.  And his heart followed.  His problems didn’t magically go away.  There were still clients who didn’t pay their bills.  He still lived in a dumpy apartment.  He still couldn’t quite work things out with his girlfriend.  But his practice of writing thank you notes opened his eyes to the gifts and resources that were already present in his life.  He was able to live, not out of his worry, but out of his more deeply held values.

So…

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.