Put your finger on your pulse—feel it pumping away? Now with your finger still on your pulse, hear the prayer of the English poet George Herbert who lived in the 1600s:

Thou that hast given so much to me —

Give one thing more — a grateful heart;

Not thankful when it pleaseth me,

As if thy blessings had spare days;

But such a heart,

Whose very pulse may be thy praise.

What does it take to make us grateful? Sudden fortune? Sudden tragedy? Does it take a tragedy in our family or in our own life to make us grateful?

I heard of a mountain preacher who saw one of his most wayward and irregular members, old Jed, in the congregation one day. At the close of the service, old Jed got the pastor over in the corner and, wringing his hat, begged the preacher to come to his home for there was an emergency.

The preacher went with Jed to his home. Going to the bedroom, he found one of Jed’s boys very sick, suffering from a snakebite. The family wanted the preacher to pray for the boy and to stay with them until he began to come around.

The good minister thought it over, then asked the entire family to get on their knees. And he began to pray.

“Lord, a miracle is happening here,” said the preacher. “I haven’t seen old Jed in church in 10 years until today. Nor his boys, Sam and Clem, neither. Now Clem looks about to die from that snakebite. Lord, I don’t rightly know how to pray, but I guess I ought to just say this, Lord: Please send another snake, Lord, because that snake you sent has done more for this family than anything in the last 10 years. It put old Jed in church this morning. It’s got them wanting the services and ministry of the church, and wanting to pray. Lord, send another snake to bite Sam, and Lord, send a big one to bite the old man — maybe they will all turn to you. Amen.”

This little story is humorous, tragic, and so true! It is sad that many of us only realize the goodness of God when his hand is removed from us; when misfortunes strike us.

But tragedies have only a passing power to make us grateful to God. When the crisis is gone, so is the religion, the realization of our need for God.

If tragedies won’t make us grateful, will unexpected blessings make us grateful?

No, as with misfortunes, so it is with unexpected blessings. The gratitude is temporary. Don’t we all have a tendency to think that the good things that happen to us, the blessings we enjoy, are the result of our hard work or our smart thinking? Don’t we all have a tendency to claim as our right, our just due, what is really the grace of God?

What did we do to deserve being born into a land of such freedom as America? When you look around you at refugees who come to these blessed shores, do you ask yourself why we are the lucky ones? Clearly even the poorest among us is a rich person compared to the rest of the world. If we are willing to work, none of us need live in a cardboard lean-to and go hungry.

What will it take to make this great nation — including you and me — grateful to God for our blessings? Simply put, it will take a reorienting of our values, a fresh realization of the presence of God in our lives — in short, a listening to the beat of our heart, and the making of George Herbert’s prayer our own this Thanksgiving

. . . such a heart,

Whose pulse may be thy praise.

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