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Try This Approach to Thanksgiving Prayer Today. . . .

daily text logoNovember 27, 2014*

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

to him who divided the Red Sea asunder
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

CONSIDER THIS

The Thanksgiving holiday often produces a sense of awkwardness when it comes to actually giving thanks before the big family feast. The “standard meal prayer” just doesn’t seem to do justice to the occasion.  And the “let’s all say what we are thankful for” routine tends to peter out after the more extroverted family members take their turns. Then there’s that MSP in every family (“Most Spiritual Person”) who likes to get the stage on these occasions to further demonstrate their spiritual prowess, often with some kind of pre-prayer reading from the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul release. A final common approach is to just turn to the designated family patriarch to offer the “standard meal prayer on steroids.” (see Phil on Duck Dynasty). And we won’t mention the infamous Ricky-Bobby Prayer.

Despite our best and most sincere intentions, whatever we choose to do to mark the occasion can easily turn out to be a more obligatory formality than anything else. Then it’s on to the annual ritual of overeating and not actually watching a Dallas Cowboys football game. It’s fascinating how a holiday designed to invite profound giving of gratitude to God so easily degenerates into ritualized consumption. Then there’s “Black Friday,” or Thursday is the new Black Friday!”

If I can pull it off, this Thanksgiving holiday, our family is going to try an experiment in biblical thanksgiving. Psalm 136 provides an ancient format that can inspire spontaneous individual expressions of thanksgiving while also enabling others to participate in a more hearty yet less conspicuous corporate response. You remember Psalm 139- it’s the one that says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” And then the group response, “His love endures forever.” The Psalm gives us some prescribed things to remember and give thanks for while at the same time giving us a framework or pattern to offer more present day expressions of gratitude.

Here’s the six steps to the plan:

  1. Grab a Bible. Try to go with a more standard translation (NIV, NRSV, NASB, etc.) rather than something like The Message.
  2. Decide how far into the Psalm you want to read. Best practice is to go with the whole thing. However, about halfway down the Psalm gets into the killing of Kings and other such challenging issues. Perhaps you have family members present for whom the divinely sanctioned violence in the old testament stands as a stumbling block to faith. In the event you are not ready for a conversation attempting to reconcile the love of God with the killing of enemy Kings over turkey and dressing, you might want to stop the psalm short of that portion. (i.e. stopping at v. 9 or v.15)
  3. Instruct those gathered that we are going to engage in a litany, much like at a football game when people chant back and forth across the field. The leader will say a phrase and then the people will respond, “His love endures forever.” Give that a practice round by saying, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” And guide the people to respond, “His love endures forever.” Do it a couple of times to give them a comfort level with the practice.
  4. Then instruct the people that when the psalm proper ends, anyone is invited to say a phrase for which they want to give thanks (i.e. for this incredible turkey and the hands that prepared it, for healing aunt jane from cancer, etc.) As the leader, be prepared to get that going by saying something like, “We thank you for the gift of our family and for this day to be together,” and the people respond, “His love endures forever.”
  5. You might want to prepare Uncle Jim and/or another family member or two to be ready to follow your lead and keep the momentum going. After each entry, you as the leader be prepared to lead out the corporate response with, “His love endures forever.”
  6. Let er rip.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you should be so bold as to try this, let me know how it goes for your Thanksgiving gathering.

Happy Thanksgiving! His love endures forever!

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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*This post appeared originally at jdwalt.com on November 25, 2013.