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#87 Give Thanks to the Lord

Summary:

Giving thanks isn't just for Thanksgiving. As Christians, it's an important part of our daily lives. It's the way to see God even in the midst of difficult times, to receive the blessed happiness that only comes when we open ourselves to God's grace. 

Questions: 

1) Why do we have to be thankful for what we have?

2) What is the difference between praying for something and thanking with prayer?

3) What do we have to be thankful for?

4) Why do we find it easier to pray when we need something and not for thanksgiving?

Links:

Bible Gateway, Psalm 136

Ancient Faith Radio, "A Voice from the Isles," Let Us Give Thanks

Mystagogy, Thanksgiving and Supplication Prayer for the Church and Clergy

Orthodox Way of Life, Beatitudes

 

Script:

Hey everybody, this is Steve and giving thanks isn't only for Thanksgiving. I've been thinking about this since I picked up a book called "Flourish" which my friend, Dr. Anthony Bradley, recommended to me. It frames a really interesting problem, even though we become more wealthy and more advanced over the last 50 years, even as technology has made our lives longer and healthier, our quality of life hasn't kept pace. A problem that's hitting young people especially hard. 

"There is much more depression affecting those much younger, and average national happiness- which has been measured competently for a half century- has not remotely kept up with how much better the objective world has become." "Happiness has gone up only spottily if at all." By the way, links to the book and all the sermons and article that we'll talk about today, down in the dooblydoo. In "Flourish", Martin Seligman presents five factors that according to his research, contribute to a life that's more fulfilling and full of well-being. Positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning & purpose, and accomplishment. P.E.R.M.A. for short. 

When Tony recommended this book to me and described the five P.E.R.M.A. factors, he made a great point, these five factors that contribute to a life that's happier and healthier and full of more well-being, are what they Church has always been. Even though "Flourish" is about psychology and doesn't use language that is very theological, as a Christian, I found a lot in the book that sounded very familiar which shouldn't be surprising because our truest deepest needs are universal and whether we know it or not, they're drawing us to God. The Church fills our lives with positive emotion, not judgement or exclusivity or shame, but kindness and forgiveness and love. She fills our lives with engagement which Seligman describes as flow or being in the zone. When you do something without distraction, when you're not even aware of the passage of time because you're so caught up and immersed in the experience. 

We are engaged in this way as we immerse ourselves in reading the scripture and chanting hymns and offering prayers to hGod. I mean, think about how time seems to stand still on Pasha when we chant again and again "Christ is Risen" for hours and hours in the middle of the night. She fills our lives wit relationships as we're surrounded by the community of believers both those who walk the Earth today and those who came before yet are still alive in Christ. And the Church is founded on the most important relationship of all, the relationship between God and His people. She fills our lives with meaning and purpose, as the Church points out the true direction of life, that we're all called to be Saints, to spend an eternity with God in His Kingdom. 

She fills our lives with accomplishment, the small victories in our lives as we grow and love in discipline, purifying our hearts in Christ and of course there's the greatest accomplishment of all, as we join Christ in His victory over death. And the Church can offer us all these things which lead to a deep and truly abiding happiness which is driven not by the world around us, but by our connection to Christ. In Scripture, someone who has this deep happiness is called μακαριος. And though it's a little hard to translate precisely from the Greek, someone who is μακαριος has the deep happiness that only comes from our faithful response to God's blessings. It’s the word that opens each of the Beatitudes and many of the Psalms, blessed or happy are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful. It's the happiness that only comes from living united with Christ. The Church will offer us this blessed happiness if we approach Her, not as a burden or obligation, but with a spirit of gratitude offering thanks to God for all the blessings He gives us. 

One exercise suggested in "Flourish" asks people to write down on a daily basis three things they're thankful for, to write down three things that went well and why they went well. This can be anything from being thankful you got a good grade to being thankful you spent time with someone you care about, it gets you to focus on positive emotions, on all the times you engaged in a rewarding activity, on the important relationships in your life, on the deeper meaning and purpose that drives your life, and on all the accomplishments that you're proud of. Doing this simple exercise, taking the time every day to write what you're thankful for and why has been shown to make people less depressed and more fulfilled. Fr. Alexander Schmemann in his last sermon at St. Vladimir's Seminary before his death, began with the words "Anyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy. "Thanksgiving is at the very heart of the Christian life, we see this throughout the Scripture, especially in Psalm 135 which thanks the Lord again and again for His Mercy and Love. We see this in service like the Paraklesis, the small service of supplication to the Theotokos where we thank her for all the good gifts she has given to us. 

And of course we see this in the Divine Liturgy, Holy Communion itself is called the Eucharist which comes from the Greek word, ευχαριστια which means thanksgiving. Maybe the most powerful example of this is in the Akathist of Thanksgiving also called "Glory to God for All Things". It's a beautiful prayer that talks about the blue skies and the sweet smelling flowers, all the incredible gifts from God. You'd never guess that it was written by Father Gregory Petrov, who died in a prison camp in 1940. I can't imagine what it must have been like for Father Gregory to be in that prison camp, to be surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, by misery and death. Yet despite all that, he held on to the spirit of thanksgiving. He was able to see through the darkness to Christ's unfading light. He lived in the blessed happiness of the Kingdom of God. Even in our most difficult times, God is still with us and it's easier to see Him when we approach Him with gratitude. 

So I want to invite you to cultivate the spirit of thanksgiving by writing down three things you are thankful for each and every day. Write down what went well and why it went well and offer these blessings back up to God. Lift them up in prayer, give thanks for them. As Father Alexander ended his thanksgiving sermon, we too can pray. "Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate your miracles. Lord it is good to be here! Amen." So let's Be the Bee and give thanks to God for all things. Be the Bee and Live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe and share. I'll see you all next week.

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