One of the most common prayers of thankfulness some of us offer up is that of "saying grace", or the blessing, or the giving of thanks before we eat our meals.
It has been a joy at times to hear my grandchildren recite such a prayer as the family has prepared to eat together. There's nothing quite like a sweet, innocent voice lifting up those simple expressions of gratitude to God -- "God is great; God is good; let us thank Him for our food" or "God our Father, once again, we just want to thank You".
However, as time has gone on, I've also noticed some not-so-pleasing trends that have developed in those same kids concerning those pre-meal prayers. Sometimes they will recite the prayer so fast that I can hardly make out the words, leaving in doubt whether the one praying is sincere or is merely hurrying through a meaningless ritual.
It's also interesting that there were once conflicts over who would get to say the blessing for the food, sometimes resulting in our sitting patiently through the process of each child saying a prayer.
But now it seems that there is often more of a reluctance to be the one to volunteer to give thanks. Of course, there's that perennial issue of some child going ahead and sneaking some bites of food while someone else is leading the prayer.
While some of those issues simply reflect the humorous immaturity of childhood, they also remind us of attitudes that we all may need to guard against -- not just when expressing gratitude for our food, but in connection with our general spirit and practice of giving thanks to God.
Let's be careful that we don't allow our expressions of "thank God," "praise the Lord," and "thank You, Jesus" to become simply habitual phrases which have lost their meaning to us.
It's good for us to acknowledge the role of God in bestowing His favor on us. But we need to be sure that behind those spiritually-sounding exclamations is a heart that is truly grateful for what a gracious God has done for us.
Let's not lose or lessen our expressions of thanks, in our conversations with others and in our prayers. But let's also keep an eye on our hearts to make sure those statements and prayers aren't just empty words.
Another lesson we might learn from those children's prayers is the necessity of maintaining a right attitude about thankfulness. Giving thanks to God should be something we are anxious to do, not words which have to be pried from our lips.
Sometimes it's easier to focus on the negative side of our lives. We can always find something to complain about.
But no matter what is happening in our personal lives or in the world around us, there are many good reasons to give thanks to the Lord. We need to practice what a beloved song says and count our blessings.
I'm afraid too many of us are like those kids who can't wait to eat their food or who can't pause for a moment in order to express gratitude to God for what He has set before us. We're so busy enjoying and devouring God's provisions and gifts that we fail to return thanks to the One who has given them to us.
So let's take time to say thanks to God, and to do so willingly and sincerely. God is great; God is good; let us thank Him for our food -- and for all His other wonderful blessings.
The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.