If we were allowed only two words with which to call to God in prayer, what would they be? I heard that someone, in response to this question, responded: "Help" and "Thanks."
Good answer, I think. Our cries to God for help in the midst of the woundedness, pain and difficulty of our lives express a deep sense of dependence on Him for our lives and our living. I believe that is how God wants us to be before Him. At the end of the day, that’s what we’ll have to get us to heaven.
"Thanks" is a word that slips easily off the tongue, especially at this time of year when we’re about to sit down for that turkey dinner. In expressing gratitude to God, we are expressing a profound awareness that God is the Giver of that for which we are thankful.
But for what are we to be thankful as gifts from God?
One possible response is that we are thankful for the blessings God gives to us. What blessings? Stretching all the way back to biblical times, we find a strain of thought that maintains that these "blessings from God" are the material and financial expressions of wealth: A materially and financially "rich" person is seen as one favored, blessed, by God. No wonder the disciples of Jesus were so shocked when Jesus told them, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God ... for human beings it is impossible" (Mark 10:23,27).
Aren’t they God’s favorites? Shouldn’t they be in the front of the line before the pearly gates?
Jesus teaches that they may well be in the front of that line, but if so, it won’t be because of their wealth. One may accumulate wealth because of God-given talent and aptitude, but it doesn’t appear that God is too concerned that one have great wealth in this life, so probably wouldn’t "bless" someone with such.
One of the great things about having material and financial means is that it allows one the opportunity to share with those who are without. For pious people of God in biblical times, this "almsgiving" was seen as a sacred duty that they embraced with joy! And so it should be for us who have the means now — a way of truly saying "thanks" to God.
So if it is not for "things and money" that we are to thank God, what’s left?
We can turn to the Son of God, Jesus. Jesus Christ in the flesh was a man of gratitude to God.
For what was he thankful? In the earliest recounting of the Lord’s Supper in Scripture, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul reports how Jesus, knowing full well of his impending betrayal by Judas, abandonment by almost all of his disciples, and suffering and death, "... took bread, and after he had given thanks (to God), broke it and said ..."
For what was he thankful? He’d made himself poor, had nowhere to lay his head, had only minimal success in attracting followers, was about to be betrayed and killed.
"Thanks," he said to his Father in heaven. "Thanks" for his Father’s continuous presence in his life of suffering, pain and poverty; "thanks" for the presence of those around him even in their frailty and weakness; "thanks" for his faith that the Father would vindicate him in death and raise him to life; "thanks" that he could offer his life to save the world from the power of sin and death.
Apart from the "saving the world" part, we can be thankful to God for the same things. "Thanks" to God for the "help" He gives us through His word and His Word, His promise of always walking with us; "thanks" for the gifts from God of our faith, hope, family, friends, churches and the midst of all. Maybe if these are what we are grateful for, we just might be prepared for God, for whom "all things are possible" (Mark 10:27) to invite us to enter His Kingdom.
The Rev. Fr. Pat Kerst is pastor of St. Patrick and St. Francis Catholic Parishes in Walla Walla. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.