Thanks In Advance

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 12; 146, Isaiah 52:1-12, Galatians 4:12-20, Mark 8:1-10


From childhood we are taught to sprinkle conversations with a generous seasoning of “thank yous” until they become more of a reflex than a thoughtful response. But why do we say “Thank you?”

Usually we say it after we’ve received something, such as a gift or a compliment,  but the sentiment behind our thanks can vary in meaning. Maybe most of the time we are genuinely grateful for what we’ve received. Other times we are humbled. And then there are those times we feel unworthy of what we’ve been given. Like many phrases which seem simple and easy to interpret, “Thank you” can turn out to be quite complicated.

When Jesus asked the disciples to feed thousands of people with a few fish and loaves of bread (for the second time), he began the meal by giving thanks to God. This may seem little different than the grace said before a church pot luck, but there is one important difference: Jesus hadn’t received anything yet. When we say grace in advance of a meal, we know there is a meal waiting to be had. For what was Jesus thankful? Perhaps for the faith that God would provide.

Some people believe pre-emptively thanking God or the universe is a formula for actualizing your desires. Beginning from a place of thanks is simpler than that: it helps us acknowledge that what we have is enough – and when we have enough we find it easier to share with those who do not.

The origin of saying grace is tied to meals because long ago before eating (and before the FDA) people would pray the food would not literally kill them. What if we said a prayer of thanks before a wider range of activities? Thanking God for the time, money, resources, and love in our lives – in advance of the time we receive, need, or share them – can greatly improve our attitudes and outlook.

Let’s not reserve our thanksgiving until after we have received. Let’s give thanks in advance for whatever it is God may place in our lives, and we will be prepared to put those gifts to use in ways beyond imagining.

Comfort: Gratitude can change your life.

Challenge: Even on bad days, try to find one thing for which you can offer a prayer of thanks.

Prayer: Thank you for being a loving and generous God. I will trust in your abundance. Amen.

Discussion: What do you take for granted?

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Growing Gratitude

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Nehemiah 1:1-11, Revelation 5:11-6:11, Matthew 13:18-23


For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.

I walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.

I kept my faith, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;

I said in my consternation,
“Everyone is a liar.”

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of gratitude in improving our attitude. From bestselling books, to inspirational speakers, to social media challenges, we encounter reminders to be grateful all over the place. The United States and other countries have set aside national holidays of thanksgiving dedicated specifically to the idea (if not always the practice) of gratitude.

But there is a subtle yet important difference between thanks and gratitude. Thanks is reaction; we offer it in response to something we’ve been given – things like presents, good health, food, service, and encouragement. Gratitude is a state of mind that exists beyond and between the gifts. We may become more acutely aware of it under certain conditions, but real gratitude comes from within us, not from what others have done for us.

The author of Psalm 116 was both thankful and grateful. His reasons for thanks are abundantly clear: the Lord has kept him from stumbling, dried his tears, and rescued him from death. His gratitude is apparent in different verses. Even during times of difficulty, the psalmist keeps his faith. He doesn’t have to deny his state of affliction or the misdeeds of liars to maintain gratitude, because it doesn’t require us to be thankful for our present circumstances. Gratitude sustains us when we feel like we have nothing at present to be thankful for.

Gratitude is not just a state of heart, but a practice. We can build emotional and spiritual resilience by being intentional about our practice. Daily reflection or journaling on why we are grateful can help us through those rougher patches. Expressing gratitude is an important component of our regular worship. In times of stress, a litany of gratitude can calm us. When life is overwhelmingly busy, focusing on gratitude can help us get our priorities straight.

Gratitude is a gift and a prayer which centers and grounds us. When we have to dig deep for it, we find a wellspring of the holy.

Comfort: Our God has done great things for us.

Challenge: Let us learn to be grateful even when things aren’t great.

Prayer: I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:17)

Discussion: What are you grateful for today?

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Who Built That?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Deuteronomy 6:1-15, Hebrews 1:1-14, John 1:1-18


Shortly before the Israelites ended their forty years of wandering in the desert, Moses spoke to them about how they were to live in the promised land. These sermons, which make up most of the book of Deuteronomy, were good news for the Israelites, but not for the Canaanites – who were already living in the promised land of Cana. Moses warned the people of Israel:

“When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors […] — a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant — […] take care that you do not forget the LORD.”

How easy it is to believe we have received all the good things in our lives through our own merit, and to forget how much of it is due to the people who came before us. These people are not only direct ancestors, but those people who shaped our lives and societies through victories – and sometimes more poignantly through losses. Financial inheritance, good genes, a strong work ethic, economies stable enough to support business, roads, an education, natural resources beyond measure, civil rights: all these things which contribute to our success and survival were provided by others who either gave them or had them taken away. No matter how hard we’ve worked for what we have, we didn’t do it alone.

Our sense of gratitude is tied to our sense of history. Each person’s life is built on the bones of those who voluntarily and involuntarily contributed to it. Our sense of justice is also tied to our willingness to remember history. All societies, past and present, are a mix of what we’ve built, what we’ve been given, and what we’ve taken. When the Israelites remembered how God had delivered them to their homes, they also had to remember the people of Cana. When we give thanks for what we have, let’s also remember where it came from.

Comfort: We are all part of an ongoing story.

Challenge: Give thanks for the people who have helped you become what you are.

Prayer: God of history, help us to understand and honor the past so we may practice reverence in the present. Amen.

Discussion: Some people complain about being made to feel “guilty” about privilege. Guilt is inwardly focused and rarely constructive. What is a better attitude toward our own privilege?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group , visit comfortandchallenge.tumblr.com, or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!