December 30, 2004

New Year's Eve

In 2005, the members of the northern California churches in my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), have been invited to commit themselves to praying ten minutes each and every day. To help with this, prayer bookmarks are being made available, with prayer suggestions for each day of the week.

As pastor, I thought I would get a head start, and so I looked at the bookmark, and noticed that today (Thursday), it said that I should pray "prayers of thanksgiving for our many blessings as individuals and as a nation."

I started by opening my Bible and reading Psalm 2 ("Be warned, O Rulers of the earth"). Then I closed my eyes to pray ... for ten minutes.

Ten minutes is a long time to pray, even for a pastor. The truth is, I pray a lot, but most of my prayers last less than 30 seconds. They're spur-of-the-moment prayers, as in, "God, let this traffic light stay green,"or, "God, don't let that check bounce." There's nothing wrong with such prayers; they're good "on the go," just like a Big Mac is good on the go; however, a diet that consists of nothing but Big Macs isn't exactly healthy.

So I welcomed the invitation to spend ten minutes in prayer each day. I figured this would wean me off my fast-food prayers and onto a more healthy, more balanced prayer life. But ten minutes, focused on prayers of thanksgiving for personal and national blessings, proved to be a challenge.

First of all, I didn't exactly start out in a very thankful mood today. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and my wife and I have been trying to make plans. It's difficult, because we have young children (boys, ages 3 & 7), and babysitters are in short supply on the last day of the year. We thought that maybe we'd invite some people over to our house, but everyone, it turns out, is already busy. They've been invited to parties elsewhere, none of which, I might add, was I invited to. I try to be understanding---I mean, come on, who wants their pastor watching them have fun on New Year's Eve?---but still, it would be nice to do something besides watch the ball drop on TV.

Recognizing that I wasn't feeling very thankful, I also realized that I'm rarely in a thankful mood when it comes to either me or my country. I wince when I think of my personal shortcomings and faults. I complain about my government's agression and lack of compassion. Psalm 2 comes to mind again. I find it hard to pray a prayer of thanksgiving and not ask God to make some improvements to me or my nation.

But I did. And the first thing I thought of was my family. I have a wonderful family, a wife who is beautiful inside and out, and two wonderfully compassionate and smart young boys. Thank you, God.

Realizing that I had successfully thanked God for one thing, I decided to try for something else, something even more personal, something about me. Here is how it went: "Thank you God for calling me to where I am, and for giving me the gifts I need to do what you have called me to do. Thank you for the ability to preach and to tell stories that are meaningful. I know that sometimes I don't--- oops, I almost said something critical. OK, thank you God for my gifts. And thank you for putting me where I am, at this stage in my life, 33, with a family; it's a good place to be. Thank you for my home, my community, my church, and yes, my nation. It's a good nation. Help it to be--- no, that's a prayer of petition. OK, thank you for our nation's natural resources, the beauty of this land, the opportunity, and for the people of this country, who, as has been demonstrated this week, are always willing to reach out in compassion to those who are suffering, those in need, even if they are a world away."

And finally, after a few more minutes of praying, I said this to God: "Thank you for allowing me to be thankful, and for making me aware of these blessings which, I know, are just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, God, you have been good to me."

After praying, feeling better than I started, I decided that I am going to throw a New Year's Eve party after all. It will be for my sons, and even though we won't make it until midnight, I know that it's going to be the best New Year's Eve party in town, and that there's nowhere I'd rather be.

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