Thankfulness or Blessing – what comes first?

What comes first, the thankfulness or the blessing? We give thanks for our food before we eat it. It is sitting right in front of us. But we normally give thanks for our blessings after we receive them, if we remember to give thanks at all. Often we are so caught up in the fact that we finally have what we want that we forget to be thankful.

But what if we are thankful before we get what we want? What if we pray our prayer of thankfulness even before we can see what we are going to get? What if we are thankful even before we know what we are going to get?

Jesus tells us to pray as if we already have received. In Mark 11:22-24 “22 Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. 23 I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.” (HCSB)

Then you may think, but I don’t have that much strength in my prayer. I can’t pray that well. I have doubt. It is hard to believe. In Matthew 17: 20 we learn from Jesus that not much faith is required. “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (HCSB) Just pray for it, and know that God will do the rest. A tiny bit of faith is a lot in God’s hands.

Does God need us to pray before we get our blessing because it is already on the way? Might it be that we need to be prepared to receive our blessing?

I have noticed that when I pray before anything, I’m the one to change first. I start looking for God. I start looking to see where God is going to pop up and surprise me. I pray before helping patrons at work. I pray before leaving my house. I pray before meeting with friends. I am trying to be in a constant state of prayer. I’m not very good at it, but I’m trying.

I remember when I used to smoke pot. I’d smoke, and I’d wait to see what happened. Food would taste better. I could hear parts of an album that I’d never noticed before. In reality, all of that was already there. I just put myself in a position where I was looking for it. I expected to experience life in a different way. I think prayer is the same way. I think prayer opens us up to receiving God. We open the door and God steps in.

I think that God was going to send us that blessing anyway, but we just wouldn’t have noticed it. How often do we take things for granted? How often do we think that what we have is just OK and not that much?

I heard once that praying before meals proves that we are not animals. One goal in Judaism is to be a mensch, a real person. We need to become human, to win over our animal nature. The goal of true alchemy is to transform the lead of our animal nature into the gold of our human nature.

Praying makes us human. Praying makes us better.

So what should we pray for? A new car? Extra money to pay off our mortgage? The get-rich-quick pastors of the megachurches would tell you that. Their message is the “prosperity gospel”. The fact that it has to have an extra word to describe it should be a clue that it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.

Pray for big stuff. Pray for things not for yourself. God is big. God wants to hear from you. That is part of why God made you.

Pray for nuclear disarmament. Pray for peace and understanding among the nations. Pray for an end to war and greed. Pray for people to wake up to their true nature. Pray for us all to take care of ourselves and our planet.

Don’t be hesitant. Pray hard. Pray without ceasing. Pray as if we already have it. And remember that God always answers prayers. Sometimes it isn’t what we want it to be – but it is always what is needed. Pray for the grace to be able to accept God’s answer. But most importantly, pray.

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In silence, the tree

In silence, the tree.
Sitting under a tree, so often, alone.
Alone, but with God.
My abandonment by my parents made me
seek my true Parent, my Source,
my beginning and my end.
Where I came from, and where I will go.

In death, the tree
still. A place of silence for mourners.
Grown from an acorn in the hand,
nourished by the ashes of bones.
Live giving energy from the litter of leaves,
life from death.

The tree of silence,
the tree I walked so fast to I thought
my lungs would burst.
To sit under, alone
when my parents were again
arguing. Unreasonable. Unlistening.

Under that tree I knew God was listening.

It isn’t our tree. It isn’t a shrine.
It isn’t the bodhi tree of the Buddha,
sat under by bored and scowling monks,
waiting, waiting, waiting.
It isn’t the tree in the garden,
the tree of temptation.
Who would put poisoned candy
within reach of children anyway?
(Is that the truth of Sleeping Beauty?)

It is the tree of Zacchaeus,
desiring to see the Lord,
stunned that he was noticed
and singled out.

It is the tree in a flood,
a place of refuge, a sure point.
It is the tree of the cross.

I sit at the base, alone
yet surrounded by then and now and
future, of past and far away
witnesses to the
Glory that is God.

It is the tree in the backyard
At the group home –
I didn’t know where I was.
I didn’t know who those people were.
I didn’t know how to get home.
But I knew that tree was safe.

The light was bright on my
pale skin, but I knew the leaves
would protect me.
Natural sunscreen, that green shade.

How frightened I was by that rope,
frayed, high up
like a snake, a lariat, a noose.
The electric fear even now
lets me know
I am safe.

My fear of death, of
harm to myself at my own hand
is so great I feel a charge,
a shock, a jolt.
That knife laid out on the counter is a sign.
My fear of it lets me know that I’m safe.

God is stronger than my weakness,
And God needs my weakness to
get in.

Epthatha.

(I was at a retreat on 4-6-13 and we were told to sit in silence and think about something that was big that happened to us for 20 minutes. We were to try to remember the sensations of being there. I thought I was going to think about when my parents died, but the image of me sitting under a tree came to me. I decided to go with it, and I thought about all the times I had sat under a tree. There are a lot. And I thought about what that meant. I spent a lot of time alone as a child. I’m coming to understand that. I’m beginning to process that. I think the abandonment by my parents caused me to seek God.)