Praying Thankfully: A Thanksgiving Meditation
Do you ever find yourself lost for words when it is time to pray? Most of us do.
All kinds of explanations can be offered for this experience, not least of which is the thought that anything we say seems so trivial and inappropriate when addressing God. We instinctively feel that we need to be better at praying than we are. So we try to correct this perceived shortcoming and find ourselves saying, "God will only hear me if I am better at it." But this cannot be right, for God hears the "groans" of his people when words are not forthcoming. At such times the Holy Spirit identifies with our groaning, "with groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:23, 26). A mother can interpret vocal pronouncements of a child whose mind is impaired when, to us, the sounds seem utterly unintelligible; so the Holy Spirit fixes our groans and sighs on the way up to our Father in heaven.
If ever you find yourself at a loss for words, there is something you can do. Turn to the Lord's Prayer. It is a model given to us by our Lord Jesus to help us pray. True, we can use it "as is" and repeat its grand petitions. But we can also use it as a model and learn from its structure and proportion how we ought to pray.
Martin Luther employed the Lord's Prayer encouraging disciples to use each clause as a hook on which to hang thoughts of their own. From each clause of the Prayer, he recommended making "a garland of four twisted strands" by, (1) identifying the truth(s) taught, (2) expressing thankfulness for all the good gifts suggested, (3) confessing sin(s) that rise to the surface, and (4) petitioning God as needs come to our minds.
Since this coming week is the week of Thanksgiving, strand number 2 seems particularly appropriate. Perhaps it could function as a test of the seriousness with which we approach such a season. Before Thanksgiving dinner, why not ask each person to mention one or two things for which they are especially thankful?
Let the Prayer itself be your guide. Note that it begins - and stays - with God before it asks for anything. Too often we rush into prayer with our needs and wants. STOP! Breathe in the refined air of God's presence. Allow your thoughts to contemplate who he is. He is praiseworthy. Already, the familiar words of a hymn should rise to the surface: "Praise my soul the King of heaven, to his feet thy tribute bring."
So we thank God for who he is in himself. God invites our praise so that we may be reminded every time we come to him that "he is God and we are not." Praise forces out selfishness and our in-built gravitational pull toward self-deification. As Calvin put it, our minds are idol factories by nature. Praising God is what we need to do and what we are so poor at doing. Listen to the content of much prayer and discover how poor we are in extolling God.
Thankfulness corrects such poverty. Be thankful, then, for God and your relationship with him. Do not make the fatal mistake of thinking that your relationship with God is directly proportional to the amount of theology you know and can debate. Knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God. When we can say, "I know you, O Lord; and you know me," it is a matter for which we must be truly grateful. Stand in his presence, or better, kneel, and say, "Father." It is a breathtaking experience. What a privilege that is! The One who made the universe and holds it together is my Father in heaven.
And your Father in heaven did not spare his Son.
He gave him up to a cross-shaped death for us.
What wondrous love is this!
Now thank him, with all your heart. This is gospel-shaped praying. We are thankful because of what he has done for us: he has chosen us, called us, regenerated us, justified us, adopted us...And we have only just begun the glorious duty of giving thanks.
Preaching through John's gospel, I have paused to meditate upon the person and work of John the Baptist. Here was one who came as a "witness, to bear witness about the Light" (Jn 1:6). Consistently (1:7, 14, 20) we are told that the Baptist was not the Light but a witness to the Light.
One of the amusing things I have noticed in the last twelve months or so has been a shift in the rhetoric used by members of the older generation (40 plus) surrounding what twenty- and thirty-somethings will believe. Five years...