As many Americans sit down to a Thanksgiving Day meal tomorrow, the Lord's Prayer gives us a framework for considering the importance of gratitude. I find one line to be particularly meaningful to those of us in the work world.
When we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge God as provider. Acknowledgement is the first step toward gratitude. Before any of us is likely to thank someone in gratitude, we have to acknowledge that he or she is giving us something.
Given how hard most of us work, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we provide for ourselves, entirely on our own. But in fact God provides and all we have comes from Him. God lets us participate in the process of providing, typically through work, but we would have no work at all if it weren’t for the generosity of God.
Notice that the prayer has us thanking God for our “daily” bread. In business, we tend to think in terms much longer than a single day. In the corporate world, people often focus on the next quarter’s results. Most businesses form strategic plans that consider the coming year or two. I know engineers who work on projects that are years in the making. And many people focus on retirement, which may be a decade or more away. But Jesus doesn’t ask us to think so far ahead. He asks us to focus on today – not because the future is unimportant, but because the present is so important.
Bread might seem like a small thing, particularly compared to the things we typically dream of, like a new car, new home or exotic travel. But, of course, bread is an essential thing; those big things are not. Reading Matthew 6 where Jesus gives us this prayer, I get the sense He is urging us to look at the little things. He wants us to appreciate all of His creation, not just the big, exciting things. And since our lives are filled with little things, He is really inviting us to find joy in our everyday lives. Joy should not be limited to a few spectacular moments in a lifetime.
Gratitude is not something that comes naturally to many of us. Like any virtue, gratitude is something we need to cultivate. This is something we can do with prayer, not only at Thanksgiving time, but every day. When we pray with gratitude first thing in the morning, we set the tone for the entire day. There is peace that comes with knowing God loves us so much that He gives us so much – everything we need, including His only son.
Gratitude is about focusing on what we have; it is the best defense against materialism, which typically results from focusing too much on what we want. Excessive focus on wants can leave us blind to our blessings. We all know people who live very comfortably yet spend most of their time complaining about what they don’t have. These are unhappy people. Gratitude offers a path to a much happier life.
At Thanksgiving time, we focus on what we have, while remembering those who have less than we do. No matter what our situation, we can think about how fortunate we are. We take time to consider the things we may overlook the rest of the year, starting with our own family members, home, health, intellect, friends, work and our daily bread.