We live in a world of consumerism. We are constantly discovering new needs and new wants and buying something to fill them. Ads appear regularly in our email accounts, and catalogs in our mailboxes, all featuring a tempting array of products which leads us to reach for our wallets. Moreover, cheaply made products, from wristwatches to ovens, break down often, requiring immediate replacement. Between weekly grocery shopping, sundry other errands and on-line browsing, we as a society spend an inordinate amount of time acquiring new things.
As necessary as much of this shopping is – after all, most of us can’t grow all our own food or make all our own clothes – this frequent shopping tends to foster a materialistic and acquisitive attitude. We’re always thinking about things, primarily things we don’t have but want to have, and this focus can lead us as a society to a certain restless dissatisfaction and a general lack of gratitude for what we do have.
Yet gratitude is crucial for a genuine Christian spiritual life. If we bring our consumerist, dissatisfied attitude to our prayer, we will always be asking God for things, and probably not primarily spiritual things, either. While of course supplication is an important part of prayer, totally dependent as we are on God’s all-might power, asking should not be the dominant theme of our prayer. Praising and thanking God for His goodness and for the wonder of His creation should.
If we read through the Psalms, which are the models of prayer that our infinitely wise God has given to us, we might be surprised at how much time the Psalmist spent on praise and thanksgiving. “O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord, which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee!” exclaims David in Psalm 30. “I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou has upheld me,” David says in Psalm 29. “The heavens show forth the glory of God,” he proclaims in Psalm 18. The examples are too numerous to even begin to list.
Moreover, on many occasions, David enjoins this type of prayer on his readers in no uncertain terms: “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just: praise becometh the upright. Give praise to the Lord on the harp . . . sing to him a new canticle: sing well unto him with a loud noise” (Psalm 32: 1-3).
G.K. Chesterton wrote in his wonderful collection of essays, Tremendous Trifles, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.” How true! So busily immersed in figuring out what we want to buy, finding the lowest price, buying it, and earning enough money to buy more, we forget to appreciate all that we have. We neglect to notice the beauty of the marvelous world around us and the unique people God has sent into our lives; even more importantly, we forget to spend time meditating on and thanking the all-good Creator Who has given all these things to us.
This Lent, we may be turning to the Book of Psalms to read the moving penitential psalms. But let’s not close the Bible too quickly when we’re done. Let’s take the opportunity to read some of the psalms of praise and learn to cultivate an attitude of appreciation for Our Lord and all that He has done for us.