All of us have some cute or moving story about children’s prayers. Those little events are wonderful and sweet and they often melt my heart. But let’s all be honest, most children are terrible at praying. Either they mumble something unintelligible, say things that have no reasonable place in a decent prayer, or (most commonly) they just robotically regurgitate the same prayer they said yesterday and that they will undoubtedly say tomorrow. Kids are creatures of habit and routine, and if they’ve found a prayer that takes care of their business, they’ll stick to it like glue.
The reason I mention this is that today’s hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God” was actually written by Martin Rinkart as a prayer for his children to offer up. As far as it goes, it is nigh infinitely superior to the “please bless we can be good” that my wife and I conjured up for our children. This short prayer-hymn (Psalm? Let’s call it a psalm.) is chock full of wonderful, essential doctrine and would really help put a kid on the right path. I’m not saying we should necessarily encourage rote praying, but let’s just take a look at this thing. It offers up some great lessons for everyone, not just the little children.
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his earth rejoices;
Who, from our mothers’ arms,
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.
There’s a little Primary ditty that teaches kids how to pray: “I begin by saying ‘Dear Heavenly Father,’ I thank him for blessings he sends. Then humbly I ask him for things that I need, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen!” It’s an innocuous little wisp of doctrine, but today’s psalm follows it perfectly. When we pray, the first thing we do is thank our God for all he has done for us.
And how do we do this? Of course we thank him with our voices, and hopefully our hearts are behind those words as well. But what a lesson is to be found in the inclusion of thanking God with our hands! Brother Rinkart, with just that little inclusion, provides his little ones with an incredibly important lesson summed up beautifully by the Nephite king, Benjamin: When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God. Our hands and all the actions they can do–the weary they can lift up, the tears they can wipe away, the burdens they can carry, the blessings they can give–are key in offering our sincere gratitude to God.
Something that my wife and I have really tried hard to drill into our kids’ heads of late is that they have what they have because God gave it to them. It’s a heady lesson, and it’s something I don’t feel I necessarily fully understand (or at least remember) in my everyday life. Here again, teaching the children: We have been blessed from the very beginning, from when we fit in our mothers’ arms, and the quantity of these blessings is completely beyond our ability to tally. That is enough to be sincerely grateful for right there, but then the kicker: He still continues to bless us. Even after everything we have received, our merciful Father is still doling out the blessings and the mercies. The gifts grow ever more countless by the moment.
Oh, may our bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever-joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us,
And keep us in his love,
And guide us day and night,
And free us from all ills,
Protect us by his might.
The second verse is similarly beautiful in its language and lessons, but there’s a bit less to dig into there (besides, I feel like I’m already a bit rambly on this one). It’s the request for blessings we need, the other great part of prayer. The thing that sticks out most about this is the prioritization of the requests. When we think of asking God for things, a lot of the time the first one is “Please keep me safe and/or healthy.” We think, “Man, it’s scary out there, and I’m just this fragile chunk of meat. I hope God will take care of me.” It’s not wrong, but it’s not exactly looking too far into our eternal priorities either.
Check out Brother Rinkart and his kids, though. What is the most important thing? Please, Father, be with us. Please help us to be happy and have peace, even though the world is often sad and cruel. Please love us and guide us in the right way. Oh, and if it be thy will, please keep us safe and protected.
Beautiful. What a marvelous perspective. This is where the biographical element becomes interesting. Martin Rinkart wasn’t just some guy writing pretty poems. He was one of four ministers in the German town of Eilenburg when the Thirty Years War happened. Eilenburg, for whatever reason, became a safe haven for refugees from the war. As more and more people crowded into the town, it became a veritable petri dish of disease and pestilence. One of those four ministers decides that God obviously doesn’t want him hanging around with sick people and skips off to a healthier place. The other two ministers, faithfully served until they fell victim themselves.
This leaves Martin Rinkart as the sole spiritual leader of a group of people who have been displaced from their homes, whose families were killed in battle, whose children are dying of plague. He has to help and guide and bless and lift up some of the most downtrodden of all people. He is performing an estimated 50 funeral services daily. One of those services was for his own wife, leaving him alone to care not only for his beleaguered flock, but for his young family all by himself.
This man gave more than 4,000 funerals in a single year, including his own wife. And in the midst of that, when all hope should dry up and all faith should retreat and when God is nowhere to be found… he comes up with “Now Thank We All Our God.”
This humbles me to the dust.
This is a simple little song, my friends. It’s only two verses (there’s a third not included in the LDS hymnal, probably because it gets a little Trinitarian) that aren’t really that complicated or fancy. But there is so much to learn here. So many lessons to take away. May we all learn to pray like Brother Rinkart prayed and to believe like he believed. May we all serve and thank God with hearts, hands, and voices.