God, the Preacher and Giving Thanks
When you don’t know whom to thank, you start thanking yourself. Praise turns inward. This is a double bondage. When you have only yourself to thank, you end up having only yourself to depend upon.
You have to deal with God one way or another, as David says: “When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:29–30).
How much better to have God sent in Spirit—that means with a preacher, rather than hiding without one!
Before the preacher arrives, people are living (often rather well), but they must make a deal with the devil like Goethe’s Faust taking some stance toward death. They usually just deny death, but if they still have some energy that attempts to be courageous, grasping their fate (Nietzsche). Live every day as if it were your last! But Christians cannot deny death because of the crucifixion of Christ. If it happened to him, it will happen to us—but there is a cure. Once a preacher comes, we learn to fear God and just so lose our fear of death.
Those who fear God say, “Manifold are your works!” (Psalm 104:24).
Not my works but God’s will provides everything necessary for life. God’s works are his words he speaks to you by a preacher in which he gives two great gifts of prayer.
The first is to know whom to thank for your bounty. Most do not know this. When I eat with pagans, they awkwardly pause, wondering if there should be a prayer because a preacher is in their midst. I take pity on them since they do not know the most basic matter of life. So I say, “Let’s thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has given us everything needed for life!”
If you do not have the right God to thank for this good, the responsibility for securing your goods falls back upon yourself. When an uncle sends a check, a niece should write a letter of thanks. Yet the problem is not just that people should learn how to say thank you as a courtesy but that when you don’t know whom to thank, you start thanking yourself. Praise turns inward. This is a double bondage. When you have only yourself to thank, you end up having only yourself to depend upon. I have a family member who prays: “Thank you, Universe.” Now, in part, this is just to stick it to the Christians, but mainly it is to ignore both her maker and the many people sitting around the table who have sacrificed as means for God to give things to her. Instead, she composes a dream that “the universe will provide”—until it does not.
Here the second gift is even greater: to know whom to ask when you are in need. Only faith knows where to go in times of trouble. Believing that God is my creator is no piece of cake since what I need is sometimes taken from me precisely because faith is in that which is not seen. Then the hardest part of praying is learning to pray against my own feelings.
So David teaches us how to pray: “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season” (Psalm 104:27).
Who are we waiting for? The Lord, the Giver of life! Otherwise, people do not know who feeds them and end up like New Yorkers who have never seen a farmer. For this reason, J. S. Bach used this Psalm at the beginning of Cantata 187. The choir begins with the hymn: “All things wait upon Thee that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.”
The reason we should pray comes after the bass aria sings Matthew 6: “Take no thought saying, ‘What shall we eat or what shall we drink … for your heavenly father knows they you have need of all these things.’”
Then the soprano sings: “God provides all life that breathes on this earth. Is He to deny me alone that which He promises to all others? Begone worries! His pledge also embraces me and is renewed daily to me by many acts of fatherly love.”
It is always a great occasion to assemble your family or even when eating alone, to pray this way. Then you are freed from the fear of death and learn to speak to a loving Father: “My Lord, look at how you take care of me, even when I do nothing or even worse, offend you. You give me food, clothing, home, family, etc., though I do not deserve it.”