I stopped mid-sentence in my prayer, realizing that my wording sounded like I was trying to order God around the universe as if I actually knew what was best! The more I realize my own ignorance and the Lord’s omnipotence, the more uncomfortable I become with such requests. The Thanksgiving season is a perfect time to remember a higher, better way to pray.
In the October 2008 General Conference Elder David A. Bednar included the thanksgiving kind of prayer in his address “Pray Always.” I highly recommend studying that whole talk (Click here to read that talk). I was especially impressed with his story about hosting a member of the Twelve in his home the day he and his wife had received news of the unexpected death of a dear friend. They felt an urgent desire to pray and ask for comfort and blessings for the surviving spouse and children. However, as soon as Elder Bednar asked his wife to offer the evening prayer, the visiting authority kindly suggested she express appreciation for blessings received and ask for nothing.
Her response was beautiful and helped me realize how easy it should be to pray always within the framework of gratitude-and how that framework swells the heart and invites the Spirit. Some of the lessons I learned from Sister Bednar’s response are:
Instead of asking for the Holy Ghost to comfort us, we can thank the Lord for this great and holy gift-and for all the other gifts of the Spirit that help us overcome adversity.
Instead of asking for specific outcomes we can thank the Lord for the all the specific blessings that the gospel of Jesus Christ showers down upon us: for the plan of salvation, for the Atonement of Christ, for His resurrection that broke the bands of death and promises all of us a resurrection.
When faced with loss we can thank the Lord for the eternally significant blessings of the ordinances and covenants of the gospel that bring such hope in the face of death and pain.
Transitioning from Prayers of Asking to Prayers of Thanksgiving
The more I’ve thought about this principle over the years, the less comfortable I’ve become with “asking” prayers and the more I enjoy “thanksgiving” prayers. Let me give you some personal examples:
Instead of saying “please bless my children today,” I might say, “Thank Thee for blessing my children. Thank Thee for being with them and watching over them and caring for them and knowing what’s best for them. Thank Thee that Thy work and glory includes to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. Thank Thee that Thy love reaches out to them and holds them and keeps them safe.”
There is an element of “bearing our testimonies” to the Lord in such prayers. In thanksgiving we are clearly expressing our faith, and staying out of fear. Such prayers open the door of our hearts to an affirmation of and strengthening of our testimonies by the Holy Ghost.
Instead of saying, “I ask for Thy special blessings to be with me today,” I might say, “Thank Thee for breath, for hope, for sight, for chances to learn and grow and make wise choices today. Thank Thee for the beauty of the earth and for the blessings of nature, and fresh air.”
There is such power for uplifting our hearts in prayers of thanksgiving!
Seeking Personal Guidance Through Thanksgiving
Instead of saying, ” I ask for Thy guidance,” I might say, “Thank Thee for the assurance of Thy guidance in my life. Thank Thee for life itself and for this day and the choices it offers. Thank Thee for the whisperings of the Holy Ghost to help me know Thy will–and for the help of the Spirit to carry it out.”
Instead of saying, “I ask that I might feel good about myself,” I might say, Thank Thee for safeguarding my thoughts and keeping them from anxiety, negativity, and all the temptations of the adversary. Thank Thee for keeping me from self-denigration and criticism and judging. Thank Thee for lifting me from my sadness with assurance of Thy joy. Thank Thee for understanding my heart and my weakness and offering to increase my strengths. And thank Thee for being aware of whatever strength is there already-even when I have a hard time seeing it.”
Instead of saying, “I ask that I might make good food choices today,” I might say, “Thank Thee for fresh food, for pure water and sweet juices, for wholesome grains and nuts and berries and fruits and for giving me the good sense to enjoy good food in the natural form thou hast provided for me.”
Seeking Charity Through Thanksgiving
Instead of saying, “I ask Thee for charity,” I might say, “Thank Thee for the knowledge that I can be Thy disciple indeed by having Thy love abound in my heart. Thank Thee for every glimmer of charity I feel and for the assurance that each day as I seek this blessing charity may grow in my heart. I am truly bereft and nothing without it.”
Instead of saying, “I ask that I might feel the Savior’s love today in order that I might give it to others,” I might say, “Thank Thee for the Savior and His love and redeeming power and caring for each of His children-even me. I thank Thee that every bit of love I feel from Thee I can pass on to all those I come in contact with.”
Feeling the Greatness of Gospel Blessings
Absolutely nothing I’ve found in life helps me feel the depth and breadth of the gospel’s impact on my life, than expressing gratitude in prayer for each part of it.
For instance, in regard to the Atonement, instead of saying, “I ask for the blessings of the Atonement to come into my life,” I might say, “Thank Thee for the promise that as I come unto Thee, my heart can be cleansed and purified in Thine own way and time and according to my willingness and Thy will for me. I thank Thee with all my heart for the great assurance that the Atonement of Christ extends even to me-that Jesus loves me and reaches out to me and wants me to accept this great gift He has already given.”
Scriptures Affirm the Importance of the Prayer of Thanks
The Prophet Joseph Smith received two very specific “thanksgiving prayer” revelations. The first was, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (D&C 59:7, emphasis mine).
Next was, “Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks” (D&C 98:1, emphasis mine).
Things were not going well when the Lord gave these “thanksgiving” commandments to the early Saints; in fact, all hell was breaking loose. At the time the Prophet received Section 59, the Kirtland Safety Society had failed; most of the Saints, as well as the Prophet and his family, were in dire poverty. The attempt of Zion ‘s Camp to rescue the beleaguered Missouri Saints and restore them to their lands and homes had seemingly been for naught. Many key leaders had left the Church and were adding fuel to the fires of persecution.
The Kirtland Saints experienced such severe persecution that they had to leave comfortable homes and travel to Missouri in miserably cold and difficult conditions-and in Missouri they were anything but welcome.
Agitated locals, chafing at the rumors of their land being chosen as the Mormon’s ” Zion ” were like a volcano about to explode. Nothing seemed to be going right for the Saints-yet it was at this time the Lord commanded them to “thank the Lord thy God in all things” (emphasis mine).
Section 98 was given to Joseph Smith in consequence of dire persecutions upon the Saints in Missouri.
These situations are not without precedence. Elder Dallin Oaks, in the April, 2003 General Conference reminded us that the Book of Mormon peoples were “suffering all manner of afflictions” when the Lord commanded them to “give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26: 38-39). Elder Oaks’s talk entitled “Giving Thanks in All Things” is full of wisdom on this vital subject. ( You can read that talk here )
Can we look at the significance of the timing of each of these revelations? Could it be that the more outward “Ills” in our lives, the more we need to recognize our blessings and thank the Lord?
Are We Offending God When We Pick and Choose What to Be Thankful For?
In D&C 59:21 we read, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (emphasis mine).
I’ve written articles previously about my conclusion that thanking the Lord for what we see as “good” is only the preparatory law to what I call “the higher law of gratitude:” thanking the Lord in all things.
The Warmth of Faith’s Fire
Like all commandments, the commandment to “thank the Lord in all things” is for our good, for our well-being and comfort. When furious storms blow all around us, this key of gratitude unlocks the door to the house of joy, then lets us stay inside where the fire of faith burns bright in the fireplace. We can pull up an easy chair and warm ourselves by that fire of faith even when we know that the world outside our windows is in cold chaos.
If, instead, I pick and choose what I will be thankful about, I choose doubt that God is over all , and the door of my house of joy stays locked against me. When I refuse to thank the Lord for the hardest trials and choose fear instead of trust, I choose to stay outside, unprotected, in cold winter weather instead of warming myself by the fires of faith.
God’s Promises Are Sure
The promises for keeping the “thanksgiving” commandment are amazing. The Lord said, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of the earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold” (D&C 79:19, emphasis mine). May we choose these blessings for ourselves by choosing to thank the Lord in all things.