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A thankfulness challenge

Lynne Baab • Thursday November 26 2015

A thankfulness challenge

In this week when most Americans are thinking about thankfulness a bit more than usual, I have a suggestion. A challenge, really. Consider trying this: Pick two situations that you are concerned about – one personal/local and one international – and spend time thanking God for everything you can dream up related to that situation.

Suppose the personal/local situation you’re concerned about is your sister’s cancer treatment. Your prayer might go like this:

God, I am concerned about my sister. I want to take some time to thank you for all the signs of your presence in the situation. Thank you that she likes her oncologist so much. Thank you that the side effects of the chemo are localized to only a few days after each treatment. Thank you that several of her friends are coming to visit so often. Thank you that you’ve given me some really good talks with her. Thank you that my work schedule is light enough right now that I can visit her often.

Now, maybe there are a bunch of really scary things going on with your sister’s situation, and maybe the majority of the time you pray desperately for those things. Those desperate prayers are perfectly appropriate. God loves us so much that God wants to hear the deepest desires of our hearts. But the thankfulness prayers are also appropriate because they help us shift our focus toward God’s goodness in the situation.

Pick an international situation as well. It’s a bit harder to think of as many positive things when the news is so awful, but here you can use your imagination a bit. Suppose you want to focus on the killings in Paris. Maybe you'll say something like:

Lord, I am so sad about Paris. But in the midst of all the painful news, I want to affirm that you are at work there, like you are at work in every situation on earth. I see signs of the love you implanted in humans when I hear about the people who opened their homes to strangers that night. Thank you for everyone in Paris who showed care and support for others. I know people all over the world have prayed for Paris. Thank you for Christians who pray for people in need. Thank you for these signs of your presence in all situations.

Why do these kinds of thankfulness prayers matter? At the same time that I affirm the significance and value of pouring out our pain to God, I also want to say that intercessory prayers can connect us with our consumer culture, where my needs and wants are preeminent. We don’t want to view God primarily as someone who meets our own needs and wants. God is Lord of the whole earth, majestic in spendor, overflowing with steadfast love, free to act in whatever way is best for us. God is at the center, not us.

Prayers of thankfulness shift our focus away from what we don’t have to what we do have. Thankfulness prayers help us see God’s many and abundant gifts. Thankfulness prayers give us new eyes. And thankfulness prayers help us keep God at the center. 

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
   to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
   and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
   to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
   at the works of your hands I sing for joy (Psalm 92:1-4).

(Photo credit: Ian Thomson. Sunset in Bergen, Norway. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the left hand column.)

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