- - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I’ve found that as seasons of life change, so do my prayers. My fights with God as a troubled teenager were far different from the prayers I’ve uttered recently as a high school football coach, fired for the very act of praying.

But I’ve found that no matter what I’m going through, there is one kind of prayer that has the power to change everything — the prayer of thanksgiving.

It took me a long time to realize that.

As a child, prayer was something I did in church, but couldn’t understand.

As a 13-year-old returning from two years in foster care to find that my family had moved without me, prayer was falling on my knees, fists in the air, cursing at the God I didn’t even know.

Later as a young man in a Christian boys’ home, prayer was a constant debate as I tried to reconcile my doubts about God with the unconditional love I saw in those who mentored me.

Though I gave my life to the Lord in that boys’ home, I grew distant from God while serving in the Marine Corps. Prayer became only about what I thought I wanted.

It wasn’t until after I retired from the military that God really became real to me. It happened when my wife and kids persuaded me to go to church with them. That day, as I stood in church, I knew it was time to get serious about my walk with God, and I did.

Suddenly everything about my prayer life changed. Instead of being desperate, I was grateful. Instead of asking for what I wanted, I thanked God for what I already had.

Through prayers of thanksgiving, my life changed in three important ways.

First, my perspective changed. Going from constantly asking God to constantly thanking God, I realized life isn’t all about me. Thanking God made me focus on my blessings instead of my problems. Now I can’t help but see God and his goodness no matter where I look.

Second, giving thanks made me stronger because it forced me to stop worrying about my own capabilities. Instead, I thank God for the grace and power he’s already given me through Jesus Christ, knowing that he will help me overcome any obstacle.

Third, praying in thanksgiving gave me a new kind of freedom.

It’s like when you dump a jigsaw puzzle out on the table. At first you don’t know what to make of all the mismatched pieces in front of you. If you don’t have a point of reference for where to start, the uncertainty can be paralyzing.

But when you pray and thank God for what he’s already done in your life, things start making sense. You can see where the pieces of your life fit into his big picture. Your life has purpose.

Now I see why I went through what I did as a kid. It prepared me to become Bremerton High School’s football coach, where I was called to serve and help a new generation of young men dealing with similar problems. Realizing this has set me free to go where God leads and trust him with the outcome.

But all of this doesn’t mean I don’t struggle through hard times anymore.

Just last fall, I lost that job as a high school football coach because of my prayers. Specifically, I was suspended midseason and ultimately terminated because I chose to give a prayer of thanks as I have done after every game for the past eight years. The experience has been extremely hard for me — but I still give thanks.

I give thanks for the time I did have with my players, even though it was cut short. I thank God for his continued faithfulness throughout this difficult time for my family and me. I thank God for the strength he’s given me. And I thank God that this is all part of his greater plan — that even though I don’t understand, I am free to follow him, knowing that he has a purpose.

Thanking God in my prayers has become a way of life for me. More importantly, it’s changed my life. I’ll never stop giving thanks.

Joe Kennedy is a former football coach for Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington. He was suspended and later terminated for taking a knee to offer a private prayer at the 50-yard line after football games. Coach Kennedy is represented by First Liberty Institute, a national law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom.

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