1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
The Minnesota storyteller Kevin Kling was born with a birth defect—his left arm was disabled and much shorter than his right. Then, in his early 40s, a motorcycle accident nearly killed him and paralyzed his healthy right arm. While he was in the hospital recovering from the accident, Kling learned a life-changing lesson about "the three phases of prayer."
In the first phase of prayer, we pray to get things from God. In the second phase, we pray to get out of things. While he was in rehab for his accident, Kling learned the third phase of prayer—giving thanks to God. Kling says:
"I'd been through many surgeries during my six week stay in the hospital. And each day, I would ride the elevator to the ground floor and try and take a walk. That was my job. 9/11 had happened the week before. And as our country was entering trauma, I was living one. After my walk, my wife Mary and I went into the gift shop, and she asked if I wanted an apple. She said they looked really good. Now, I hadn't tasted food in over a month … I lost a lot of weight because food had no appeal. So I said, “no,” but she persisted. “Come on. Try it.” So, finally, I said all right. And I took a bite. And for some reason, that was the day flavor returned, and that powerful sweetness rushed from that apple. Oh, it was incredible.
I started to cry, cry for the first time in years. The tears flowed and as the anesthesia and antibiotics flushed through my tears, it burned my eyes. And between the sweetness of that apple and the burning for my tears, it felt so good to be alive. I blurted out, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for this life." And that's when my prayers shifted, again, to giving thanks. (1)"
"Give thanks in all circumstances," Paul tells us. If the command was coming through another it might feel like a weightless platitude. But Paul knew suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11 we get a run down of some of the suffering Paul has endured for the Gospel. Prison, floggings, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked; just one instance of any of these catastrophes in our lives would be a life altering tragedy. Paul could have cursed God and hid in a hole. Instead he rejoices, prays and give thanks. He finds the apple in the midst of the paralysis. And if we were honest, whatever we are suffering in our lives, most of us are sitting on a bushel of apples. It is an attitude of gratitude that sees the apples in the midst of the suffering. Again, in Philippians 4:6-7, Paul talks about this third phase of praying, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." There's always an apple to find and a peace that transcends all understanding waiting for us when in gratitude we go to God with thanksgiving and praise on our lips.
Prayer: Thank you oh God for your many blessings. Thank you that even when things are tough, difficult, painful that every cloud has a silver lining, every paralysis has an apple. Transform us into the kind of grateful, praise filled, joy enriched people who see Jesus as enough of a reason that even in our struggles and pain we see reason for thanksgiving. Grant us His peace and we will face what lies before us knowing that even the worst circumstances you can work out for good (Romans 8:28). In Jesus name—Amen.
1. [Kevin Kling, "Prayer, Once a Last Resort, Now a Habit," NPR (1-10-07); On Being, "The Losses and Laughter We Grow Into," American Public Media (3-7-13);]