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October Prayer Prompt Cultivating Thankfulness
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Provided by the Christian Churches Network of London (CCNL) (Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash)

How would you answer these questions from a curious four-year-old at the dinner table: "What does 'saying grace' mean?" "Don't I have to thank mommy and daddy - and does the dog say grace before he eats?" "Why don't we say grace after we eat instead of before?" "Do I have to pray for snacks - just bigger snacks, not little snacks?"....and many more profound life questions.

A theologian might be tempted to answer those enquiries with sound explanations. “Saying grace” is a traditional prayer of blessing, like in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: "Bless this food to our use and us to Thy service, O God." It means offering thanksgiving to God - the word grace comes from the Latin gratiarum actio, "act of thanks". 1 Timothy 4:4–5 (MSG) says: "Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy."

A thoughtful parent would probably gently explain how important it is to establish early polite habits of saying "please and thank you" - the social graces. But also add that it is especially important to thank God. However, even as adults, saying "please" does seem easier for us to practice than saying "thank you" - and actually mean it.

A literary buff might share this fascinating quote of British author /philosopher G.K. Chesterton: "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink." We really do have much to be thankful for beyond just our food. But this answer might raise many more questions for a four-year-old!

And then, the ever so helpful-ten-year old sibling might just speak their deep wisdom: "Just thank God for the food so we can get on with eating." So, let's pay attention and get on with praying!

It's October - and usually we focus on thankfulness, gratitude, appreciation. It is our harvest time with mental images of farmers in southwestern Ontario taking crops off the fields, orchards and garden plots full of produce, and many kitchens full of tastes and aromas of turkeys and apple crisp cooking or pumpkin spice coffees.

But this thanksgiving season, it seems needful to acknowledge that our society is in a somewhat harsher critical space - not nearly as charming or winsome a picture. Anger seems to be the "emotional crop" that is flourishing most according to many recent news reports and studies. There is this underlying tension of antagonism, frustration and anxiety that is fueling increased discord and division. Grown people behaving like playground bullies. We have seen too much sad evidence of that in London recently with some of the election responses; in rising abuse statistics; in broken family communications; in social media, workplaces, neighbourhoods, and churches; in deepening concerns over sexual assaults in schools like Western and Fanshawe; and increased gun violence on our streets. Months of pandemic isolation, financial uncertainty, strained healthcare workers and hospitals, severe climate events, and global unrest... all made it too easy to completely forget about gratitude as uncomfortable truths revealed these painful issues. We confess are all maybe a little fearful, more than a bit wearied, and pretty frayed around the edges.

Together this month, as followers of Jesus, may we strive earnestly to demonstrate more gratitude, to speak frequent words of gracious appreciation, and to cultivate sincere hearts of abundant thankfulness in response to the epidemic of anger and unrest swirling around us. It can make a tremendous difference in our homes, our churches, our neighbourhoods, our health care and educational services, our businesses and our city.

So, we cry out to you, our God. Colossians 3:15 (MSG) says " Let the peace of Christ keep us in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing our own thing. And cultivate thankfulness." We encourage each of you to make an ongoing list this month of things for which you are grateful, other than just food, big and little snacks and family members! May we suggest some interesting things we put on our list to get you started. Our deep prayer for each of you, as you pray these things, is that it may stimulate you to grow your thankfulness daily. But let's start with an easy one:

For beauty of the earth, we give thanks.

Especially at this time of year, we look around and see you Creator God everywhere. You absolutely love colour - bright, glorious colour - there is so little beige or grey this month! Your artistry takes our breath away and should cause us to notice it more often, to pause and praise you. Even the lightshows in the skies that we experienced in recent severe storms have been glorious. May the words of an old, old hymn of thanksgiving rumble around in our heads, maybe buried in that amazing memory capacity God have given to us. "For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our joyful hymn of praise." Click HERE if you wish to hear a beautiful rendition of it.

For the gift of laughter, we give thanks.

God, there are truly so many funny things in our world. Hippopotamuses. Frigatebirds. Pink Fairy armadillos - even their names are funny. Grant us the ability to smile with others, to laugh at ourselves (oh, how we need to do that more often), and to delight in humorous things. It is a great antidote to anger and fosters better mental health. We are fairly certain God, that you have not only giggled with us, but that you have certainly laughed full out belly laughs at us. Humour has unfortunately sometimes become much more sarcastic, mean-spirited and cutting in recent years where people make fun of or mock others. But a good honest laugh can feel like a whoosh of fresh air into some impossibly intense situations. Sharing laughter fosters a bond between humans and brings life and levity to relationships. When a baby laughs, it’s the sweetest sound in the world. Do it again and again and again. Studies show laughter relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and stimulates the release of endorphins - that is how you created us. How awesome is that! Thank you. Proverbs 17:22 (NLT) reminds us " A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength."

For times of waiting, we give thanks.

Evidently, our timelines and your divine timelines are not always the same! There is this interesting space between our desires and demands, between our wants and our needs where we must wait.... not always so patiently, not always very happily, not really wanting to deal with "Your will be done in our lives as it is in heaven." We confess God to struggling with not only eighteen months of a Pandemic, but sitting on hold on a tech help line, or standing in line at a store. We can't even begin to imagine those who waited through decades at war, or lived years in refugee camps, or wandered for forty years in the wilderness. Make us more grateful for those tentative times, for it is in these spaces where we might discover more of your will being worked out in our lives in ways we do not fully comprehend. It feels like our own self-centred will can range between "Give to us what we want - now" all the way through to "Make this thing go away - now!" Help us to be more cognizant of those experiences where, upon reflection over time, we realize we can be grateful that you did not always actually do as we asked... and allow us to trust you with more open hands and hearts as we move forward in life. 2 Peter 3:13-15 (NLT) encourages us "But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight." Often easier said than done.

For true freedom, we give thanks.

Author Ellen Vaughn says in her book, "Radical Gratitude", that "Gratitude unleashes the freedom to live content in the moment rather than being anxious about the future or regretting the past." Teach us further God about this connection of gratitude and contentment as we engage into our current circumstances. There has been a good deal of talk about our freedoms in past few months. Galatians 5:13-15 (MSG) gives us much more to think and pray about: "It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?" Expand our understanding of what freedom for all people looks like, as we wrestle with issues of transformational justice, of peace-making, of reconciliation, of poverty inequities and consequences in coming weeks and months.

For second chances, we give thanks.

We have in the past and will in the future make mistakes. Unexpected hard challenges will come to us all. Loss, disappointment, hurt, regret. We fall down and get up and hopefully try not to do that again - yet then we often do! Let us be more thankful for those difficult moments in our lives God, where we felt like we had nowhere else to turn but to you. And sometimes honestly, it felt to us like you were not there or not listening. In those times, we may have been full of confusion, pain, shame, anger and resentment. But hindsight is such a gift when we can look back on necessary lessons learned or support, kindnesses, and compassion given or something beneficial that might have resulted despite the pain. Somehow, our greater lessons in life seem to come from our greatest difficulties, not from our successes. Help us too God, to generously offer others second, third, fourth chances as you do for us. Remind us in those difficult times that "Your steadfast love never ceases, Your mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness oh God." Lamentations 3:22-23 (NRSV)

Happy Thanksgiving! This October, as we celebrate, we pray that each of us will "let our roots grow down into you, and let our lives be built on you. Then our faith will grow strong in the truth we were taught, and we will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7 (NLT)

October 2021 Summary:
For beauty of the earth, we give thanks. 1 Timothy 4:4-5
For the gift of laughter, we give thanks. Proverbs 17:22
For times of waiting, we give thanks. 2 Peter 3:13-15
For true freedom, we give thanks. Galatians 5:13-15
For second chances, we give thanks. Lamentations 3:22-23

May we not only "say grace", but speak grace, live grace, think grace in all our expressions of thankfulness...and we invite you to add many more of your own personal gratitude observations to this list!