One of the regular practices in our church is to set apart a time each Lord’s Day to give thanks to God. Although I regularly compose my own prayers, I do love to utilize a broad spread of liturgical resources. One of my favorites is the English Book of Common Prayer. There we find a classic prayer called, “A General Thanksgiving.”
It begins in this way, “Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men… We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life…” This general introduction is quite crucial. It hearkens the listener back to the words of James 1:17. There we read, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (ESV)
This prayer is call to pause and recognize the charity of God. What is it that He’s done? His character has been praiseworthy enough. Everything we’ve ever received has been an outworking of His character. Just as a violent man regularly commits himself to violence, and a cowardly man gives himself over to fear, it is the lovingkindness of God that stands behind every benefit we’ve ever received in our life.
Again we return to that crucial question, “What has God done for us?” Well, we begin with the obvious: He created us. He didn’t stop there. He persisted in preserving us. This may be hard for us to imagine because we so often adopt such unscriptural perspectives concerning the universe. But God did not set it, as if it was a clock to be wound and thereafter released. Instead, He is intimately involved with each component of it. It is for this reason, that we give Him thanks. God has been behind every joy we’ve ever experienced in our lives.
The prayer continues, and hones in on the unique blessing that comes only to Christians, “but above all, [we bless thee] for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ…” Now here the Christian has the greatest reason to be thankful. It is not that they have mere biological life, but that they have eternal life. It is not that they have a biological family, or a treasury, or that they have a beautiful estate. It is that the believer has been brought into the family of God, that they have an imperishable and unfading inheritance preserved for them in Christ, and that Christ has prepared a place for them.
This is astounding! Because unlike every great holiday feast, the promise that God has given us in Christ is eternal and not merely for a day. The turkey you so loved (or pretended to for social reasons) will inevitably decay. Your family will not always be able to gather together around a table. But what God promises us in Christ is unshakably steady and nothing will ever be able to alter what God has in store for His people. As the prayer mentioned, God’s love for us in Christ is “inestimable.”
The gifts of redemption are made even more explicit. The prayer continues, “We bless thee . . . for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.” We thank God for His appointed means of strengthening us as believers. The means of grace include the Word of God, the sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer. Each of these means are God’s gifts to strengthen believers, and conform them to Christ’s image. They are tools to help us grow. They are more basically presents from heaven.
When was the last time you thanked God for these means? When did you last thank God that He provided for the authoring and preserving of the Word so that we might clearly know Him. When was the last time you thanked God that He tangibly displayed the Gospel to you in the bread and the wine? When was the last time you thanked God that He always makes Himself available for His people in communing through prayer. In short, there is much to be thankful for – even when things are hard.
Perhaps as you consider all of these things you find that you are not a naturally thankful person. Perhaps you’ve blown opportunity after opportunity. The prayer of thanksgiving contained in this prayer book adds a crucial petition, “we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service…” Our prayer of thanksgiving is simultaneously a declaration of dependence. We need more of God. But thank God that He willingly gives Himself to His people. May we thank Him for it, by our voices and our living. May He hear our cry for aid in Him.