I don't think it's any coincidence that the scriptural account of Daniel, who was forbidden by King Darius to offer petitions to God, makes a point to describe the nature of the prayer Daniel then offered: "He went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God."
Nor is it simply filler in the account of Jesus Christ feeding the multitude with just a few loaves and fishes that before he broke the bread and distributed it, he first "gave thanks." That same phrase resurfaces when the Savior institutes the sacrament among his apostles; taking the cup, he "gave thanks, and gave it to them."
Those same words are used to describe Anna's reaction to seeing her Savior just a few days after his birth. They're used when Paul sits down to eat with his fellow victims of shipwreck, and again when Lehi and his family make camp just a few days into their wilderness wanderings. And on and on and on.
There's no shortage of gratitude in the scriptures, just as there's no shortage of latter-day urgings to embrace it.
Said President James E. Faust: "As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. President J. Reuben Clark, formerly a First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: 'Hold fast to the blessings which God has provided for you. Yours is not the task to gain them, they are here; yours is the part of cherishing them.'"
Elder Robert D. Hales taught that gratitude "expressed to our Heavenly Father in prayer for what we have brings a calming peace — a peace which allows us to not canker our souls for what we don't have. Gratitude brings a peace that helps us overcome the pain of adversity and failure. Gratitude on a daily basis means we express appreciation for what we have now without qualification for what we had in the past or desire in the future."
Lehi took that even one step further, answering his wife's fears over her sons' returning to Jerusalem in search of the brass plates with one of the more faithful proclamations of gratitude I've ever encountered: "I know that I am a visionary man," Lehi tells her, "for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren. But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice."
Never mind that Lehi's promised land was still thousands of miles and several years away, he spoke of it as if the tent were already pitched and the seeds already planted. Then he and Sariah "did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel."
It certainly must have taken a rather seasoned faith for them to do all that in the wilderness they then called home, but I have to believe it also took hearts well-versed in what it means to be grateful.
As the poet George Herbert wrote, "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 pulse may be thy praise."
Now is the natural time of year for our thoughts to turn to thanksgiving — to borrow from Herbert, it's a natural time for gratitude to please us. But if the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us anything, it's that our Heavenly Father's blessings do not have "spare days," and that a heart "whose pulse (is God's) praise" is a peaceful heart.
And because I can think of no better illustration of that principle, allow me one more anecdote pulled from those much wiser than I: In a devotional address given at BYU-Idaho several years ago, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of President Ezra Taft Benson's grateful heart.
"In his very last years," Elder Holland said, "his counselors said of him that ... whenever they prayed as a presidency ... all he did was give thanks. They said they could hardly remember a prayer where he asked for anything."
Not to be misunderstood, Elder Holland was quick to note that we all have things we need and ought to ask for, just as the president of the church would and does. But especially during this Thanksgiving week, I am impressed along with Elder Holland that as President Benson "got closer to going home, and as he was older and wiser in his own right and had watched more of life and seen more of God's hand in things, that he simply wanted to be thankful."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company