I still remember sitting amidst the fresh mountain air of the Pinecliff Camp and Retreat Center just east of Coalville, Utah, as we listened to Ron Kincaid teach us about Jesus. I remember him asking a powerful question that struck a chord in my soul: If God knows everything, including what you and I need, why then do we pray?
It’s just as powerful a question today as it was almost a decade ago. Even today, the only answer that I can give is that it fosters a sense of our dependence on the Creator. Test this: Take a survey of your life, and tally up all the things that rely on “luck” or “chance” or whatever term you like to use. Consider that your paycheck only comes if your company makes the money it needs to pay you, and that your company probably only makes the money it needs to pay you if a whole host of macroeconomic variables that are beyond anyone’s control are in a favorable state. Consider that your children and spouse only continue to live because the countless bad things we call “freak accidents” didn’t happen to them this week. Consider that your ability to live in your house, to put food on your table, to pay for your kids (or yourself) to go to school, is all dependent on your paycheck, the vulnerability of which we’ve already exposed.
So much in our life chalks up to what we dismiss as “luck” or “chance,” but when we come face to face with the living God, we quickly come to see that none of it is “luck” or “chance.” Answer this: can you surprise God? Try and throw God a surprise party. Christmas is coming up soon. It’s when we celebrate his birthday. Go ahead. Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.
The truth is that you cannot surprise a Being that is all-knowing and all-powerful. It’s utterly impossible. But (and this is the scary part for most people) if you cannot surprise Him, then nothing is a matter of “luck” or “chance.” If you cannot surprise God, then God is in control of everything. If you cannot surprise the Creator, then nothing is random. Everything is rich with meaning. Sure, we may not always understand the meaning (just think of all the times when you did not understand why you were going through that season of doubt or pain until much later), but if you cannot surprise God, then meaning abounds everywhere you look.
This brings me back to my initial assertion: we pray to foster a sense of dependence on the Creator, the Father of Lights. We pray because we recognize that if God is God, if God is truly all-knowing and all-powerful, there can be no such thing as chance. But prayer alone is insufficient to foster that dependence. Indeed, prayer by itself would be insufficient because it would fail to acknowledge that dependence in our everyday lives. What we need is an attitude of gratitude.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
—James 1:17 NIV
Gratitude is perhaps one of the simplest, yet one of the most overlooked spiritual disciplines in our lives. In plain terms, it is the discipline of thanking the Creator for what he has done, is doing, and will do. Gratitude forces us to look around at our lives and see His fingerprints everywhere. When we come to understand that nothing is left to chance, we see just how much God continues to provide for us, to nourish us and pour out his love on us, even (and especially) when we don’t deserve it. This, in turn, fosters even greater gratitude, and with it, a deep sense of humility, as we recognize that nothing good in our lives comes from our effort, for the success or failure of our efforts to achieve desired outcomes is, in the long run, dependent on—you guessed it—”chance.”
At some point in my spiritual journey with Jesus (I’m not sure when), I came to develop what has become perhaps the single most important habit in my prayers to the Creator. Each and every night, when I sit down in his presence to go over my needs, before I even start to get into what I need tomorrow I thank him for what he has done today.
This Thanksgiving, I would encourage you to carve out a half an hour, or even just fifteen minutes, to go to a quiet space where it’s just you and Him, to take a survey of all the good things in your life—your spouse, your children, your house, your job, your health, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your church, your mosque, your synagogue—take a moment to survey all the good things in your life and thank the Father of Lights for the blessings he’s poured down on you.
But don’t stop there. Indeed, if you stop there, you won’t develop an attitude of gratitude. If you stop there, you won’t foster a sense of dependence on the Creator, but simply an emotional response that happens once a year on a day with lots of turkey. Make gratitude a habit in your life. Even if you’re not one for prayer, even if you’re not ready to entrust your needs to the Father of Lights, begin taking fifteen or thirty minutes out of your day to just sit down with God and say, “Thanks.” By taking the time to make gratitude more than just an emotional response, you will not only develop an attitude of gratitude in your life, but a deep and abiding sense of His everlasting love for you. Give it a shot.