Pray, praise and give thanks

by David H. Petersen

My congregation’s public prayer, like that at most Lutheran churches, is marked by its intercessions for our members and for the members of our community experiencing tragedy, sorrow, sickness or pain. Prayers of gratitude for our people in their moments of joy, however, are not so noticeable or common.

We are not completely negligent in this regard. We do typically include intercessions on Sunday morning for those just married and for babies just born awaiting Baptism. We normally pray for those who have been released from the hospital or have successfully undergone surgery. But we don’t go much beyond those particular events. For example, while not unheard of, it has not normally been our practice to thank God every year around graduation time for our recent graduates, nor to announce new jobs or promotions in the worship service, nor to celebrate other such moments of good news.

This could (and actually should) change. Our life together should certainly include bearing one another’s burdens and interceding for the sorrowful, but it is also important to celebrate together. St. Paul admonishes us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” even as we also “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

I’ve been thinking about this because I recently came across an article summarizing the book The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work by Eli J. Finkel (Dutton, 2017). The article broke down the book’s message into seven easy tactics, backed by research, to strengthen marriage. (You can read the article here: “How to Have a Happy Marriage.”)

One of the tactics promoted in the article is for spouses to “capitalize” on one another’s good news by listening and responding with genuine enthusiasm and interest. Some research has suggested that this is even more important for happy marriages than is sympathy for one another’s sorrows and setbacks. The book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman is often cited as demonstrating this.

The authors of these books and article are not dismissing the need for sympathy. Rather, they are saying that, along with sympathy, happy relationships also need mutual rejoicing.

As I think not only about our marriages, but also about our congregational life together and how that is made manifest in our worship, it seems to me that my congregation could easily increase its mutual rejoicing in the prayers of the Church without taking anything away from the sympathy and prayers offered for those who are hurting. As their pastor, it is my hope and intention that we will do so in a greater way, and I challenge others to join us in this. Such prayers of joy and thanksgiving might have a psychological benefit. They might increase the bonds of friendship and love among us. Whether they do or not, they would certainly be a fuller embodiment of St. Paul’s admonition to not only weep with those who weep but also to rejoice with those who rejoice.

But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)

The Rev. David H. Petersen is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

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