Giving Thanks, Without Being Perfunctory

During my prayer time last night, the subject of thanksgiving entered my mind because, well, it is Thanksgiving!  Philippians 4:6 came to my mind: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (KJV).

There are many verses that I have read in the Bible.  Some have been impressed in my mind.  Some, not so much!  I first came to appreciate this verse when I read John MacArthur’s book, Anxiety Attacked, back when I was in high school.  I read that book a couple of times.  I read it once, then I reread it during the final exam period, a time when I was particularly anxious.  John MacArthur had a chapter in that book about Philippians 4:6.

But the years passed, and I have not thought about that verse that often since then—-maybe sporadically.  But I thought about it last night.  And what I thought was this: I spend a lot of my prayer time making requests to God.  That is not all that I do, of course, for I read something devotional: the Bible, the pseudepigrapha, and currently the “Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan.”  But requests are a significant part of my prayer time.  I pray for others first, one reason being that I care for the people I pray for and want to see good in their lives, and another reason being that I want to cultivate compassion within myself.  Then I pray for my own needs and desires: help me to get paying employment so that eventually I can pay off my student loans, help my blog to do better, help me to have more peace in social situations, fill me with your Holy Spirit, help me to make progress on my dissertation, help me to move on from past hurts.

I make these requests, and I do not think that is a bad thing.  This is a broken world, after all.  I am broken.  Others are broken, looking for a breakthrough, or at least peace.  Life is broken.  I would be wrong to refrain from praying for things, for that would imply that everything is all right.  It’s not.

But, unfortunately, I rarely make these requests with thanksgiving.  It’s not that I never give thanks.  It’s just pretty sporadic.  I thank God for the good that happens in the lives of others: when someone fears that she has cancer and learns that she does not, I give God thanks.  Yes, bad things happen to people in this life, but it is good to be happy about the good things that happen in people’s lives.  I also thank God for some of the joys or conveniences that I experience: that movie, TV show, or book that really moved me or made me think; that resource that I found for my dissertation (and, believe me, resources are not always easy to find!).

But I think that I should make thanksgiving a regular part of my daily prayer time.  But I want to do this without being perfunctory.  I don’t like having a long list of obligatory things that I have to say when I am praying.  I get to the point where I am not feeling what I am praying.  Currently, I have my standard list of people I pray for each day, and I keep that pretty standard: I rarely add to it.  But there is also a part of my prayer time in which I pray for people who are not part of my standard list—-people who come to mind at that moment.  That can vary by the day.  I find this approach more authentic than feeling as if I have to pray through the phone book.

I can do something similar with thanksgiving.  I can set aside a part of my prayer time in which I mention something that I am thankful for.  I don’t have to go through a laundry list, but I can mention something, and maybe more than one thing.  It can pertain to myself, or to something good that is happening in the life of someone else.  There is a lot to be thankful for: people who have helped me, our cats, and the list goes on.

I spend a lot of time complaining and griping about life.  That probably won’t change.  I believe that I have things to complain about!  I might as well not pretend otherwise, though I generally will try not to burden my readers with that (which is not a promise, but just a policy I may follow).  But I should spend more time than I do being thankful.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Giving Thanks, Without Being Perfunctory

  1. Esther says:

    Happy Thanksgiving James! I am thankful for your blog. 🙂

    “I spend a lot of time complaining and griping about life. That probably won’t change. I believe that I have things to complain about!” – lol. You’re in good company. Just read many of the Psalms and the prophets. Even God spends a lot of time complaining about His people!

    “But, unfortunately, I rarely make these requests with thanksgiving. It’s not that I never give thanks. It’s just pretty sporadic.” – I struggle with that too. I find that while actively noting things to be thankful for — unexpectedly light traffic, time with a friend, a good meal – helps, what I really need is a change in my sense of reality. In Paul’s epistles, he often opens with a long paean about the redemption and inheritance that God has provided for us in Christ — it’s as if everything else — the specific problems afflicting his churches, his immediate condition (whether in prison, or shipwrecked, or whatever),.. has to be seen and understood in light of that.

    Like you, more often than not my prayers are weighted towards requests spiced with complaints and anxiety. But I want to move towards Paul’s understanding of reality, of all the immeasurable gifts that we *already* have to be thankful for, and to make my requests in light of that.

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