by Elaine Maust
November 20, 2005
Psalm 95: 1-7
Anne Lamont says there are really only two prayers. There is “Help me, help me, help me,” and there is “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Today, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I’d like us to think about “Thank you, thank you, thank you” prayers. I suggest that there are at least four kinds of “thank you” prayers. Let’s take a look at them.
Thursday Morning Thank You
First, there is Thursday Morning Thank You. It is curious to me that Thanksgiving Day, our national day of gratitude, is on a Thursday. A pretty ordinary day. And thank yous to God, spoken of ordinary things on ordinary days are an important discipline of a grateful heart.
There is “thank you for this day.” “Thank you that I woke up this morning.” “Thank you that I am on this side of the green grass.” There is “thank you for the sunshine.” “Thank you for my dog.” And my personal favorite, “thank you for hot running water.” You get the idea. Thank you, God, for the simple, ordinary blessings of life that could be noticed on any Thursday morning.
In some ways this is the simplest form of praise. A two-year-old learns to say, “Thank you, God, for my food.” It is basic. But it is essential.
Our text for this morning, Psalm 95:1-7, is a song of simple praise. (Ps 95:4-5) (Ps. 104)
So, what are your personal favorite Thursday Morning Thank Yous? “Thank you, God, for my truck.” “Thank you, God, for the way the leaves blow when I drive through them.” “Thank you, God, for a phone call from a friend.”
If you are just learning to pray, Thursday Morning Thank Yous are a great place to start. “Thank you for a job.” “Thank you for the rain.” “Thank you for my wife.” If you have been praying for 50 years, Thursday Morning Thank Yous can remind you to mind your manners with God and not only ask but also express appreciation.
So there you have the first of the four Thank Yous: Thursday Morning Thank Yous.
Christmas Morning Thank You
No, I have not gotten confused about what holiday this is. It’s just Thanksgiving, I know. I’ve just chosen this way to express a certain kind of thankfulness. Here’s what I mean.
I once heard Elmer Jantzi, who was a favorite professor of mine, preach about the “prayen’st prayer he ever prayed.” He told about the time when his daughter was learning to drive. And the car started spinning around on the road, out of control, and traffic was coming… And right that minute he grabbed hold of the dashboard and prayed what he called “the prayen’st prayer I ever prayed.”
Do you know that kind of prayer? My guess is that we have all prayed those prayers. Some people call them fox hole prayers. They are prayers like, “Dear God, please let our baby be born healthy.” “Let the tests come back negative.” “Please, God, oh please, just let me pass chemistry.” “Please, Lord, just give me someone to love.” They are desperate prayers that are sometimes closed with something like this: “And, dear God, if you will just _________, then… Then I’ll never ask for another thing. Then I promise I’ll…” You get the idea.
Well, we all pray these kinds of prayers from time to time. Sometimes those are the only prayers that we can squeeze out of our little hearts in desperate times. On the positive side, these prayers show that we believe. When we are in an impossible situation, like a reflex we cry out to our God.
Can you remember one you have prayed? It could have been a long time ago. Of course sometimes we don’t receive what we want so desperately. But you know, often we do. We pass chemistry. The baby is born pink and screaming. Our daughter does not slam into oncoming traffic.
Luke 17:11-19 tells the story of a man who prayed his prayen’st prayer. (tell story) His prayen’st prayer was, “Jesus, Master, have mercy.” There’s a lot more to this story, but the picture in my mind this morning, is this guy lying in the dirt, grabbing onto Jesus’ feet and saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” A Christmas Morning Thank You. The answer to the prayen’st prayer you had ever prayed.
I’m calling this Christmas Morning Thank You because it reminds me of a three-year-old on Christmas morning who opens up a package to find exactly what he wanted! Amazing. Unbelievable. Stupendous. He runs to his parents and grabs a hold of them and says, “It’s just what I wanted.” Amen.
So, think with me. What is the prayen’st prayer you’ve ever prayed? And yes, I realize some of you didn’t get the answer you hoped for or at least not yet. Hold onto that for now, it’s coming later in the sermon. But when we stop and think about it, most of our worst fears have not been realized. In the moment of our extreme anxiety, God heard our prayer and rescued us. When we cried, “Have mercy!” God had mercy.
Christmas Morning Thank You. It is an appropriate prayer response to a passionate request. To be just as grateful as we were frantic. To fall down in front of Jesus and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Ps. 95:6: “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
So now we have Thursday Morning Thank You and Christmas Morning Thank You.
Easter Morning Thank You
And now, here’s number three. Easter Morning Thank You.
Think with me a minute about the days after the resurrection. What are some of the scenes that come to mind? Turn to John 20. There’s Mary in the garden with Jesus, right? She is sobbing and crying and then amazed that he is alive. (20:11-18) And then there’s the disciples in the upper room and Jesus comes right through the door without opening it and says, “Peace be with you.” (20:20) The gathered believers “rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Then there’s the story of Jesus reappearance to reassure Thomas. (20:26-29) And Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” Then in the first part of chapter 21, Jesus meets his friends out by the lake and fixes them breakfast, and Peter says, “It is the Lord.”
There is something that all of these stories have in common that I never noticed before. No one is asking Jesus for anything. Now that’s unprecedented. Earlier in his ministry there was not time even to eat or sleep for all the requests. But after the resurrection, people were just so glad to see Jesus, that they didn’t even think to mention things like, “Oh and by the way, while you are at it, could you please heal my mother-in-law?” They were just amazed, grateful, and relieved — just glad to be with him.
I call this Easter Morning Thank You. It is a thank you that looks into the eyes of Jesus in humble gratitude just to be a friend. It is “thank you for being with me as I sleep.” “Thank you for the forgiveness that allows me to start this new day with my head held up.” It is “thank you that no matter what I face today, you will be there.” It is simply thanking God for being God and for being with us.
Ps. 95:3, “For the Lord is a great God, is a great King above all gods.” (7) “For he is our God.” Not give me anything, not thank you for anything, just thank you for being there. St. Bernard of Clairvax wrote about the stages of love. He calls this one “loving God for God’s sake.” He says, “We begin to love God not merely for our own sakes, but for himself.” That’s Easter Morning Thank You.
Good Friday Thank You
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
And one more. Good Friday Thank You.
Remember the Good Friday story? (Matthew 27:45-56) It is dark at noon and there is an earthquake. Jesus dies and it is bloody, a terrible thing to watch. In fact, most of his friends don’t. For them it is all over. It is their darkest night. They lock themselves into the upper room and wait their fate.
This is Good Friday. Could there be such a thing as a Good Friday Thank You?
This is thanking God when the cows are out and the plumbing is stopped up and the baby is still crying. This is thanking God when our team doesn’t win, in fact when we didn’t even make the team. This is thanking God like Job did when after all he suffered he was able to say, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10) and “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
Psalm 116:17 says, “I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.” I’m not entirely sure what this means, a “thanksgiving sacrifice,” but for me it means that sometimes saying thank you involves a little sacrifice. It’s thank you in the dark times, Good Friday Thank you.
St. Bernard wrote, “This love is pure because it is disinterested.” It is not offered in order to obtain something. He goes on to say, “We have obtained this…when we can say, ‘Give praise to the Lord for he is good, not because he is good to me, but because he is good.'”
Ps. 95:7: “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” Sometimes we are only God’s humble sheep. We won’t always understand, we don’t always get what we want. But we belong to him and we are grateful.
Have you tried out the Good Friday Thank You? I invite you to try out this kind of thank you this year. Saying thank you as a sacrifice.
(Lamentations 3:19-25) Good Friday Thank You never discounts the reality of pain or disappointment. But in faith and hope, says thank you anyway.
This morning I have talked about four kinds of Thanks you:
- Thursday Morning Thank You – everyday, simple thank yousChristmas Morning Thank You – colossal, fall on your face thank yous
Easter Morning Thank You – grateful, “thanks for being there” thank yous
Good Friday Thank you – faithful, sacrificing thank you.
Which of these thank yous have you offered in the past? Which have you never tried, or neglected for a long time? Try out some new kind of thank you this Thanksgiving week. Look into God’s eyes and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you… thank you.”