Praying With Thanksgiving
“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Two words are often overlooked in the less about prayer that Paul gives us in Philippians 4:6-7. The two important words often disregarded are “with thanksgiving.” In approaching God to ask for new blessings, we must never forget to thank Him for blessings already granted. If we would just stop and think about how many prayers God has answered and how seldom we have thanked Him, I’m sure we would be overwhelmed. We should be just as definite in returning thanks as we are in making our requests. We come to God with very specific petitions, but when we thank Him, our thanksgiving is indefinite and general.
Doubtless one reason why so many of our prayers lack power is because we have neglected to thank God for His blessings already received, if anyone were to constantly ask us for help, and never say, “Thank you” for the help given, we would soon get tired of helping one so ungrateful. Indeed, our respect for the one we were helping would stop us from encouraging such rank ingratitude. Doubtless our Heavenly Father, out of wise regard for our highest welfare, often refuses to answer our prayer in order to bring to us a sense of our ingratitude. We must be taught to be thankful.
God is deeply grieved by the thanklessness and ingratitude of which so many of us are guilty. When Jesus healed the ten lepers and only one came back to give Him thanks, in wonderment and pain, He exclaimed, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”(Luke 17:17). How often He looks down on us in sadness at our forgetfulness of His repeated blessings and frequent answers to prayer.
Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach Gods with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate on and thank God for blessings already granted. As one meditates on the answers to prayers already granted, faith grows bolder and bolder. In the very depths of our souls, we come to feel that nothing is too hard for the Lord. As we reflect on the wondrous goodness of God on one hand and on the little thanksgiving offered on the other hand, we may well humble ourselves before God and confess our sins.
As we read the story of the Israelites making their way from the slavery of Egypt to the blessings of Canaan, we discover that it was their attitude of ingratitude that brought them again and again to the place of calamity. At each obstacle, their response was that of complaint for it appears they quickly had forgotten the last blessing and the last provision of God.
We read that God brought them up from Egypt with His strong hand. After more than 400 years of slavery with no way out, God intervenes in their situation. They had no capability to free themselves, so through the plagues God began to display His power and finally on the last night- the Passover- He broke the resistance of Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. We read in that story that none of the Israelites children died that night while all around then the Egyptians lost their firstborn. You have to wonder how the Israelites forgot to be grateful. Not only did God deliver them but He moved on the Egyptians to give gold and jewels-payment for their years of slavery. I think for me that being set free would be cause enough to give thanks but to have on top of that blessings ought to cause one to fall on their face in abject gratitude to such a generous God. But just as soon as they got to the Red Sea they forgot all that God had done and began to complain. “Are there not graves in Egypt?,” they said. “Why did you bring us into the wilderness to die?” Such was the clamor of complaints that God had to tell them to stand still and be quiet. We read how God brought them over the Red Sea and how the army of the Egyptians was drowned. For a little while the Israelites rejoiced but soon as their bellies grew hungry, they began to complain. God gave them manna and they were satisfied for a while but soon they complained again for meat. And God in His graciousness gave them quail. They complained about thirst and twice God brought water from a rock. Over and over we read that ingratitude was the attitude of the day and rather than remembering all the past blessings and answered prayers, the Israelites chose to forget what God had done. At each place of adversity their doubt and fear overwhelmed their faith and trust in God. I’m sure when we read their story we wonder how could people respond in such a fashion. Here was a people that had experienced the mighty power of God intervening for them; they were overshadowed by the visible presence of God in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night; and they had seen first hand the miraculous provision of God. Yet they were so ungrateful and so focused on what they didn’t have that they forgot every time all the blessings that God had given.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 reminds us to consider the story of the Israelites as our lesson.
“For I do not want you to be unaware, believers, that our fathers were all under the cloud [in which God’s presence went before them] and they all passed [miraculously and safely] through the [Red] Sea; And all [of them] were baptized into Moses [into his safekeeping as their leader] in the cloud and in the sea; and all [of them] ate the same spiritual food; and all [of them] drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not well-pleased with most of them, for they were scattered along the ground in the wilderness [because their lack of self-control led to disobedience which led to death]. Now these things [the warnings and admonitions] took place as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did. Do not be worshipers of handmade gods, as some of them were; just as it is written [in Scripture], “ The people sat down to eat and drink [after sacrificing to the golden calf at Horeb], and stood up to play [indulging in immoral activities].” We must not indulge in [nor tolerate] sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand [suddenly] fell [dead] in a single day! We must not tempt the Lord [that is, test His patience, question His purpose or exploit His goodness], as some of them did—and they were killed by serpents. And do not murmur [in unwarranted discontent], as some of them did—and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example and warning [to us]; they were written for our instruction [to admonish and equip us], upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let the one who thinks he stands firm [immune to temptation, being overconfident and self-righteous], take care that he does not fall [into sin and condemnation].” (1 Corinthians 10:1-12)
What we learn from this is that ingratitude, complaining and unthankfulness will open the door to temptation. The person who approaches life with gratitude will not be subject to the sin of jealousy or envy for they have learned to be content with who they are and are thankful for all that God has made them to be. They know that they are the fully loved and accepted child of God and they have no need to compete with others for attention or affection. Their source of contentment is in their relationship with God so they do not need position or prestige to feel good about themselves. The grateful person will not be subject to the sin of greed and it’s accompanying sins. As Paul said, they have “learned to be content in whatever state they find themselves.” It is a wonderful thing to live with an attitude of gratitude for in it you find great faith. As you remember and are thankful for how God saved you, how God gave His only Son for you, and in addition to that wonderful blessing that gives answers to prayers, meets every need and blesses you more than you deserve, you will find yourself approaching God in prayer in wonder and faith and thanksgiving. You will discover that in doing so the blessings will be heaped upon you as you remember the past blessings as you receive the present blessings.
Bill Gaither wrote a song that says:
If He keeps on blessing and blessing
If he keeps on pouring it on
If His love just keeps on getting richer
If He keeps on giving a song
If my cup gets fuller and fuller
If my prayers keep on getting through
If it keeps getting better and better
Oh Lord, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.
May this be our song of praise!
Dr. John Thompson