This week, my Bible study and I looked at thankfulness in the Bible. Looking at the prayers of faithful people in the Scriptures isn’t a bad way of teaching yourself how to pray—and when once you look, the whole book is littered with prayer after prayer of thankfulness, moment after moment of rejoicing. In the first two chapters of Luke, Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon have long prayers of thanksgiving; in Exodus 15, after God rescues the Israelites from Egypt, Moses and Miriam give thanks; and, of course, the psalms are full of moments of thanksgiving. There is no shortage of ready models to follow.
One pattern that we noticed is that most of the prayers of thanksgiving we looked at don’t thank God for just the most recent benefit given—they recount the whole history of God’s love and blessings, from our creation to the present moment. The prayers go into loving detail about every gracious act, every overwhelming mercy, every saving deed. I think that this is important trait for us to use in our own thanksgivings, because it is so easy for us to say, “Well, God gave me a beautiful sunny day today, sure, but then I have this problem set, and I just had a fight with my best friend, and my breakfast wasn’t very satisfying, so on the whole I have more to complain about than to be thankful for.” If we instead cast our minds back and remember that God created all of life and all the beauty of this world, that he continually reached out to humans, even when they sinned against him, that he sent his Son to save us from the death that we had wandered into, that he sent his Holy Spirit to be with us until Christ returns, that he was faithful to his people in every generation of the Church, that he came to each of us, in our separate ways, and made us living members of his Son through baptism, that he is continually working in our hearts to bring us to life eternal…well, the negative side of the balance sheet seems a lot punier after that. So recount all of God’s blessings, and rejoice in his love.
Giving extended thanks to God is a wonderful exercise not just because God deserves our thanks (which, of course, he does), but because it actually makes us feel more thankful. I have a suggestion for you: the next time that you are in a really awful place emotionally, and just feel that everything is going wrong for you, start to thank God for all the things he has given you. It certainly isn’t a magic bullet, but I guarantee that you will feel better. And if you just can’t find the words to give thanks, pray through Psalm 107. Try it, and you’ll see.