a theology of vocation, nay of life ended with this question: How do I construct or order my life in such a way that I understand my work, as a means to pursuing my end, which is God, my Lord?
At 58 years old, having been a Christian for 40 years, one would think that the answer to this and a few other routine and basic questions would have been incorporated into my life a long time ago. After all, if Jesus is the smartest man to have ever walked on the planet, and if I have been a disciple of His for decades, then by this time, I should have made significant progress in virtue and the ordering of my life. As I will show in a future post, my experience of failure in this most important facet of life is not uncommon, revealing one of the main failings of modern Christianity.1
Two principles that I have learned late in life are that a grand plan is achieved best by taking baby steps, and “if you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” Ordering my life so that I can see and experience God at the center is best accomplished by starting small and focusing.
With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the Lord. (Ps 109:30)
One of my prayer times each day includes an extended period of thanksgiving. Because it is “extended,” there is plenty of time to get beyond the usual focus of such prayers: health, food, family, job. I start at the beginning of my day, recalling everything that I did, thanking Him for all that He gave me so that I could accomplish all the tasks set before me. I thank God for my bed and the blankets and the carpet under my feet and my alarm clock and my shower and my toothbrush… I thank Him for specific resources that He has provided so that I can carry out the responsibilities of my job… I go through the day noticing all that He provided and did for me. The list is very, very long. I leave a lot out, not because I have other things to do in life besides pray; it’s because I am a novice at noticing all that God has given me. I am confident this will come with time and practice.
This prayer is a very simple activity that is having several surprisingly profound effects.
First, I am becoming more aware of how much of what I have comes from God: all of it.
Second, a sense of my own poverty is becoming more prominent. The more I thank God, the more I notice all that He provides, even things that I had never thought about before.
Third, my thanksgiving is accompanied, more and more, by a genuine feeling of gratitude.
Fourth, my awareness of how much God gives to me each day, including the fact that my eyes opened this morning, makes God’s role in my life much more visible. I cannot overstate the importance of this particular effect that my prayers are having. In fact, if my prayers did not connect my everyday life with God, I would quit.
There are effects for which I am still waiting, though:
First, the notion that “all I have comes from God” makes for good theology, which is to say that it is a doctrine that is easy to repeat as if I believe it. But, the truth is that I notice every day that there are events where I do not acknowledge God’s hand. Trials and difficulties and “things that break” are some examples. Sometimes I am not even willing to thank God. This is a really big problem that, no doubt, hurts God.
Second, my sense of gratitude is developing much more slowly than I would like. In this observation is a hint that there is a deep spiritual problem and I am asking God for help at getting to the root of this one.
Third, I find it relatively easier to thank God at the end of the day, when I can take time to reflect on all that He has done on my behalf. I am still quite unskilled at noticing what God is doing as the day is happening.
1 [In the REVEAL study, conducted by Willow Creek Community Church, a] quarter of the “close to Christ” and “Christ-centered” crowd described themselves as spiritually “stalled” or “dissatisfied” with the role of the church in their spiritual growth. Even more alarming to Willow Creek: About a quarter of the “stalled” segment and 63 percent of the “dissatisfied” segment contemplated leaving the church. (“Willow Creek’s ‘Huge Shift'”, ChristianityToday, 2008.)