The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.

Psalm 28:7

Years ago, I used to start every day off with a negative thought, something like “darn the alarm” as my alarm clock went off. My first thoughts went to things like “I never get to sleep enough” or “is it time to wake up already,” or “I wish I could sleep another hour.” Those thoughts were either negative, ungrateful or self-serving. I had an impactful conversation many years ago with a priest who is now a dear friend, who shared some of his struggles, which were exponentially greater than me not sleeping enough. Turns out that he was taking care of a child who was very ill (and who would later die) and that he rarely got a full-night sleep. This priest has the biggest smile and heartiest laugh. If one didn’t know his story, they would think his life was hitting all aces. When I asked him what was the reason he could smile each day, even with the heavy cross he was carrying, he said the reason was that he was thankful. His first thoughts every day, he told me, were thoughts of thanksgiving. He had those thoughts throughout the day. As I said, this conversation was extremely impactful on my life. It made me rethink a lot of things, especially how I wake up each morning.

It took me a few years to retrain my brain but now each morning when the alarm goes off, my first thought is “thank You God that I am alive.” Before I think of anything else the day may bring, I offer five words of thanks to God. On any given day, there is at least five things to be thankful for. I’ve also made it a point to begin every prayer with at least one phrase of thanksgiving. Even in a serious or sad pastoral situation, such as when a parishioner passes away, I still begin a prayer with words of thanks, such as “We give thanks to You Lord for Your many blessings. We thank You for the life of (name). Even though we are sad, even devastated by his/her passing, we thank You for the years you gave them, and for the years you gave us to be with them.”

People often are confused on how to pray, which is why many people don’t pray. A prayer should have several elements. Most of us know about the supplication element (where we ask God for things) but we forget the other elements that should be part of a prayer. The first element to prayer is a respectful address to the Lord, giving Him glory. This might be a phrase like “Heavenly Father,” or even a more simple “Dear Lord.” Once we’ve addressed God, the first thing that should follow ideally is a word of thanks, if for nothing else, just to be alive to offer the prayer. That’s correct, even in the most dire of circumstances, we should be able to muster a words of thanks to God. After this comes confession (asking God to forgive our sins), intercession (praying to God on behalf of someone else), and supplication (where we pray for ourselves or the needs of others). But it all starts with a word of thanks.

We didn’t pray at the table in our home growing up. We made the sign of the cross (usually hastily) but that was about it. Once a year on Thanksgiving, we offered the Lord’s Prayer together, probably out of guilt, like who doesn’t say a prayer out loud on Thanksgiving. Most people go right to supplication, as if God is just our vending machine we put prayer into and expect Him to deliver our way, right away.

So before we pass the mashed potatoes and dig into the turkey, make sure that we offer words of thanks to God. If the food isn’t hot enough or if you really just don’t like the green bean casserole, make sure that you still thank God that you have food to eat, because a lot of people in the world do not. And make giving thanks a part of every day, not just on Thanksgiving. It’s kind of odd that we have a day set aside on the calendar to give thanks, when really that is something we should be doing every day. Celebrate everyday with thanksgiving.

Today’s verse, Psalm 28:7 is a good reminder to us about our relationship with the Lord. If you filled in the blanks of the first part of the verse, “The Lord is my _________ and my ________,” what would those words be? Would they be words that indicate that we serve the Lord, or that He serves us? Would they be words of gratitude or words of supplication? Trust and thanksgiving go hand in hand, so if our hearts really do trust in the Lord, thanksgiving will follow. And if we are thankful, then trust will follow. The verse concludes that “my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.” Giving thanks will help our heart be exultant towards God, to beat in rhythm with Him. When we are angry or ungrateful, it is heard for our heart to beat like His.

I used to start my days off with negative thoughts. Now I start them off with thankful thoughts. And while I still sin and have bad days, just like everyone. I no longer start them with a deficit of ingratitude. I give thanks to God for each new day, each new possibility. As we mark Thanksgiving this year, I wanted to say how thankful I am to all of you who read the things I write, and who offer encouraging feedback and even some constructive criticism. I’m thankful to God for you. Saint Paul reminds us in I Thessalonians 5:18, that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” That does not mean we have to give thanks for all circumstances. Terrible things happen to everyone but we don’t have to thank God for those things. However, it is important to thank God in all circumstances. It is easy to be thankful when everything is going right. There isn’t much faith needed there. Faith grow when we are thankful even when everything is not going right, even when nothing is going right. And this is something we can all improve on. Learning to thank God first thing in the morning, before any new circumstances occur is not only a good spiritual discipline but is also an act of faith, to thank God for the day, regardless of what happened yesterday, and regardless of what today has in store. Make sure to make Thanksgiving not just something we celebrate once a year, but something that factors into every day, every prayer, and ideally in every thought.

Mary, why are you amazed and awed by what was done in you? And she answers, “For in time I have brought forth a timeless Son. But I have no understanding of His conception. Husbandless am I: how can I bear a son? Who has ever seen seedless childbirth? But where God wills, the order found in nature is overcome, as it is written.” So Christ was born from the Virgin Maiden, in Bethlehem of Judea. (Kathisma, Orthros, Nativity, December 25, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Personal Reflection Point: How can you give thanks to God today?


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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