Here’s the life principle: “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then, always be Batman.” Why? Because Batman is great. Now, it has been suggested that Batman’s greatness can be summarized in one of the following bat quotes:
- “I have one power. I never give up.”
- “All men have limits. They learn what they are and learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine.”
- “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be.”
- “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
But none of those quotes really isolate what makes Batman truly great. Here’s THE bat quote that we should focus on when discussing what makes Batman extraordinary. The Caped Crusader said:
- “The true crimefighter always carries everything he needs in his utility belt.”
In this series, I am suggesting that you put ten prayers in your utility belt so that no matter what you encounter in life, you will always have the right prayer at your disposal. Now, I am not suggesting that these prayers are all you need and that once you have these ten prayers at your disposal, you will never need to create your own prayers ever again. Not at all. These prayers are not designed to be a replacement for our private prayers; but instead, they enrich, deepen and mentor us as we allow them to shape our thoughts and words.
Our previous blog posts argued that the first spot in our utility belt needs to be a prayer of confession. Let’s face it, confessing our sins is hard work; and we are often loath to do it. Who wants to be reminded that we are miserable sinners? By the way, while we are designated as “miserable sinners” in the Book of Common Prayer, it does not mean we must feel the full misery of our sins when we confess them. The word “miserable” in old English meant “worthy of pity” or “in need of mercy.” In other words, when we confess that we are “miserable sinners” we are not saying that we are worms, but that we are in desperate need of God’s compassion, that we urgently need God’s grace. Back to my main point: but when we have a theologically-rich prayer of confession (pick either one of the two I suggested in the previous two posts; they are both great!), we find an exquisite guide who can help us get over our hesitation, see our blatant need and God’s grace, and help us as we take our first steps into confession until we are ready and able to stand on our own and speak out of our own heart.
But what prayer should be next? I would argue that we need a good prayer of thanksgiving. I’m not sure I agree with Thomas Fuller in the first half of this quote, but I am completely in line with his second clause. Fuller said: “Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of the vices.” And Meister Eckhart said, “The most important prayer in the world is just two words long: ‘Thank you.’” Both of these are expressing the rich theology of the Reformation, especially the Heidelberg Catechism. Note questions 1 and 2.
Q1. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”
A: “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death —to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Q2. “What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?”
A. “Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.”
It is not every theology that sees gratitude as the foundation of our response to God (way to go, Heidelberg!). All that to say, expressing our gratitude is critical to our spiritual lives, and that is why we need a good prayer of thanksgiving. And here’s the thanksgiving prayer I recommend (even if it is a general prayer of thanksgiving).
The General Thanksgiving Prayer
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and lovingkindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts
we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
Here are five things I love about this prayer. I love the name of God in this prayer: “the Father of all mercies.” I love that it moves me to consider how “all of God’s goodness and lovingkindness” is manifest in my life. I love that it centers our prayer on what Jesus has done to redeem us. I love that it asks God to make us aware of God’s mercy in our lives so that we can give thanks, because when it comes to thanksgiving, being aware is half the battle. (Tim Keller once wrote, “It is one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” – way to go, Tim!). And I love that it calls for us to express our thanksgiving with our words and our deeds so that we give ourselves fully to God’s service and walk before him in holiness and righteousness. In short, now that’s a prayer of thanksgiving.
The three-fold thanksgiving here is really remarkable. After thanking God for all sorts of things, we pray, “but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.” We thank God for his love in Christ Jesus. We thank God for the means of grace. And we thank God for the hope of glory. The means of grace are God’s appointed instruments by which the Spirit enables us to receive Christ and the benefits of our redemption (think things like the Word, the sacraments, prayer and preaching). In other words, we thank God for the ordinary things he uses to speak into our hearts and draw us to himself. The hope of glory speaks of Christ being in us (Col. 1:27). It is the promise of eternity, the promise of full pardon, the promise of resurrection, the promise of new life and the promise of all good things yet to come. If Christ is in us, then we can be sure of God’s love, the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives and our eventual transformation into the image of Christ. It is the hope of our inheritance. It is the hope of all of God’s blessings to us in Christ Jesus. In other words, we are thankful for what Christ has done for us, is doing for us and will do for us or, to say it this way, for Christ’s work in the past, in the present and in the future.
I don’t know about you, but I need this prayer. I need to be far more grateful for God’s grace in my life. I need to be removed from my selfishness and self-absorption and placed in the presence of God so that I can sing praises to him from whom all blessings flow. Germany Kent once commented, “It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.” And I need to be reminded to see all that God has done to bless me and be encouraged frequently and move that awareness to actual thanksgiving and praise. GK Chesterton said it this way (and I love this): “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” Amen and amen.
We need to be equipped with prayers of thanksgiving. It is our first responsibility as Christ followers, and it is a primary means of grace God uses to move us closer to him. It is a true gift of grace that gives us perspective. Bonhoeffer once said, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” I could not agree more.
I guess what I am saying is this: Batman is great, but “Thanksgiving-man” (-woman, -girl) is greater!