The thirsty person who is given half a glass of water can complain that it’s not a full glass or be grateful it is no less than half full. It’s a matter of perspective and of choice. Learning to give thanks in all things is a life-changing, and heart altering, exercise.
Prayer is mentioned only a few times in the book of Proverbs and always in the context of the righteous person. Prayer is a spiritual discipline reserved for the righteous.
The only prayer God hears from the unrighteous is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
God hears and answers that prayer for salvation when any sinner cries out for forgiveness. Otherwise, prayer is reserved for the righteous, those who walk uprightly in a covenant relationship with God.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. – Proverbs 15:8 ESV
The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. – Proverbs 15:29 ESV
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. – Proverbs 28:9 ESV
It is believed that one of the kinds of prayer God delights in hearing from His people is the prayer of thanksgiving. Indeed, God invites His people to bring their petitions and supplications and intercessions to Him, and He answers all those prayers. But as a heavenly Father, God must take special pleasure in His children coming to Him to say “Thank you” when a need has been met or a gift of grace has been received. It is truly a special moment when we get an authentic “thanks” from someone.
What is your most treasured memory of receiving “thanks” from someone?
THE PRIORITY OF THE PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
Just as we say it is unnatural for a non-Christian to express thanks to God, so it is spiritually unnatural for a Christian not to thank God. The believer is to
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! – Psalm 100:4 ESV
In the context of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, praise and gratitude were so integral to worship that certain priests were assigned the task of leading the worshippers in giving thanks. They wanted to make sure it didn’t get overlooked.
Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. – 1 Chronicles 16:4 ESV
And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, division by division, each according to his service, the priests and the Levites, for burnt offerings and peace offerings, to minister in the gates of the camp of the Lord and to give thanks and praise. – 2 Chronicles 31:2 ESV
And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. – Nehemiah 12:27 ESV
Gratitude and thanksgiving were important parts not only of formal Old Testament worship but of the lives of individual saints as well. Daniel was a man who, while in exile in Babylon,
He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. – Daniel 6:10 ESV
And the same seems to have been true among the New Testament saints. Paul and many others not only gave thanks continually, but exhorted the church to do so as well.
Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. – Philippians 3:1 NLT
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15 ESV
If we are obedient, Spirit-filled Christians, we will be grateful and express our thanks to God continually— not just on special occasions but as a way of life.
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. – Colossians 2:6-7 ESV
In that text Paul says we are to abound in faith “with thanksgiving.” Our entire life should be a walk of faith characterized by thanksgiving. Expressions of gratitude should always be upon our lips.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he said a spirit of thanksgiving was a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. When one is filled with the Holy Spirit it leads to “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father” (verse 20).
Have you ever noticed that when we meet a person who is grateful and thankful for all God has done for them, that person usually stands out. There is a spirit of gratitude and humility about them that is almost tangible. You are refreshed just by being around them. I am learning more and more that behind a grateful person’s thanksgiving is usually a life that has been broken by terrible periods of suffering and anguish. Like a flower that is crushed and releases its fragrant odor, so the life that has been broken by suffering releases a sweet fragrance of thanksgiving to God. To the world, a sufferer who is thankful is not normal. And that’s the point—thanksgiving comes only from being full of the Holy Spirit.
So the priority of thanksgiving is throughout the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some Christians, when it comes to giving thanks to God, tend to focus on health, the weather, and whatever pops into their mind at the moment. But there are many deep issues of the spiritual life for which thanks should be returned to God—for who He is and what He has done. Thus we come to the purpose of prayers of thanksgiving.
THE PURPOSE OF THE PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
It could be thought that the Apostle Paul is perhaps the most grateful person in the Bible. From letter to letter, his words exude gratitude. Knowing a bit about the Apostle Paul helps us understand why his thankfulness is so significant. He didn’t live in a penthouse. He left his privileged, Pharisaic status behind when he became an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul’s life was one of constant trouble, harassment, and persecution for his stand as a believer. In fact, the letters in which his words of thanksgiving are most prominent are those he wrote from prison. Paul’s “prison epistles” (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) reflect an attitude of gratitude that is hard for some Christians today to imagine. In the midst of undeserved suffering and pain, Paul still found reason to give thanks to God.
Second Corinthians 11 contains a snapshot of the kind of suffering Paul went through as an apostle. It summarizes a number of things we read in the book of Acts (and some that aren’t even recorded there!): stoned at Lystra, driven out of Thessalonica, rejected at Athens, jailed at Philippi, apprehended in Caesarea, imprisoned in Rome, released, then imprisoned again in a dungeon, and ultimately martyred.
When we compare the minor sufferings and inconveniences we have to go through with what the Apostle Paul experienced—and compare our complaining with his gratitude—it makes us feel a little sheepish.
Here are some of the things Paul expressed thanks for in his life, and which we would do well to express thanks for, too:
Thankful for Salvation in Jesus Christ
God’s gift of salvation was, for Paul, an “indescribable gift”.
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. – 2 Corinthians 9:5 ESV
And it should be the same for every believer. When a new believer is baptized in our church and they give a brief testimony of their faith in Christ…I never tire of hearing those stories. After hundreds and hundreds of them, every testimony of what God has done is new and deserving of praise and thanks to God. We praise God for the salvation of others, but do we praise Him for our own as often as we should?
Thankful for the Strength God Gives
We use the word “grace” in Christian circles without a very practical understanding of what it means. When the grace of God is given to God’s people, they have strength to do His will and His work. Therefore, Paul was thankful for the grace of God which was manifest in the life of the church.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, – 1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV
Thankful for Spiritual Fellowship
Have you ever stopped to think about, and thank God for, the spiritual fellowship you enjoy with others in the body of Christ? I know people who have spent a number of weeks on the mission field where there might be just a few believers located—and suddenly they get really thankful for the body of Christ back home! It’s easy to take for granted all the people we sit with in church on Sunday morning, or attend a Bible study with, or serve on a church committee with. Think what it would be like if you were the only Christian in your community or neighborhood. You would be so appreciative of one or two Christians to have fellowship with that you would probably thank God consistently for them in your prayers. That was Paul’s attitude toward those he had fellowship with, and whom he knew were having fellowship with one another.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV
Thankful for the Sustenance of God’s Word
The church at Thessalonica was a church whom Paul commended for their love of the Word of God:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13
If you are not in the habit of doing so, you should give thanks to God for His Word and for the privilege of attending a church where it is taught faithfully. I’m sure you know that some churches do not preach and teach the Bible. Rather, they focus on sociology, politics, and education. Those subjects have merit, but they are not to dominate the pulpit of the church of Jesus Christ.
God’s Word is the source of life for the believer. It is through His Word that we came to hear and embrace the Gospel and be saved. And it is through His Word that we continue to learn doctrine, receive reproof, gain correction, and receive instruction in righteousness.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
Beyond Christ and the Holy Spirit, is there anything the believer should be more thankful for than the Word of God?
Thankful for the Service of God’s People
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him – Ephesians 1:15–17
It is impossible in this brief lesson to list all the things Paul enumerates in his letter that he was thankful for. They are available to any who will read his epistles with an eye toward gratitude—especially the “prison epistles.” Whether it was a report of believers standing firm in the faith, hearing of the love of the saints for one another, a report of the advancement of the Gospel, or gratitude for material supplies brought to him while in prison, Paul was a man thankful that the saints were serving the Lord faithfully.
Thankful for the Support of God’s Work
whatever [we] do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him – Colossians 3:17
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. – Colossians 4:2
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
We are a blessed people, the church in America. We above all Christians ought to give thanks to God, not only in prayer but as evidenced by our words and deeds. Giving out of guilt is not how we should give. Rather our thanks should be from a spirit of gratitude for all God has done for us.
Dale Carnegie used to recommend to people who came to his seminars that they take out a pencil and paper and make a list of every good thing in their life. Then he told them to imagine that each one of these things had been taken away, and to imagine what life would be like without them. When they had fully realized the emptiness, they were to gradually give the things back to themselves one by one, counting their blessings and being thankful. What an exercise! Make a list of everything that is good in your life, and then one by one, take them away. And then give them back to yourself with a spirit of thanksgiving to God who has provided them for you.
THE PRINCIPLES OF THE PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
Notice first of all that thanksgiving is a choice.
Thanksgiving Is a Choice
“Where there is a reason for gratitude, there can always be found a reason for bitterness. It is here that we are faced with the freedom to make a decision. We can decide to be grateful or to be bitter.” – Henri Nouwen
To become better or be bitter is the choice we face in every moment of adversity or trial.
One day a young mother explained that she felt cheated because she had been diagnosed with cancer not long after giving birth to her first child—and she didn’t think she would get to see her child grow up. David Jeremiah told her, “God has given you these days with this child. God has given you these days on this earth. God has given you the love of this man. In the midst of it all, there is this pain and anguish. Let me remind you also that the doctors can tell you what they think, but God makes the final decision.” We can choose heartache or we can choose hope. Every situation in life presents us with that option. You can’t deny the diagnosis, but you can defy the verdict. The famous Bible teacher, Matthew Henry, was robbed one evening, and here is what he wrote about it in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First I am thankful because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.” All of life is a matter of perspective which we are free to choose.
Thanksgiving Is a Catalyst
In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance added to a solution to accelerate the desired effect. Thanksgiving is a catalyst in the spiritual life. Add gratitude and praise to the formula for any part of your life and it will have a dramatic effect.
1. Add it to your prayers:
Paul said, “But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” – Philippians 4:6
2. Add it to your memories:
Paul also said, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day …” – 2 Timothy 1:3–5
3. Add it to your life:
Finally, Paul said, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him”. – Colossians 3:17
Remember: Thanksgiving is not a natural act for carnal man. It is a supernatural act prompted by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, you need to cultivate a receptive spirit which obeys the promptings of the Spirit to be intentionally and proactively thankful.
Thanksgiving Is a Command
Thanksgiving is not only a choice and a catalyst, but a command as well: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). If you choose to be ungrateful, you choose to be disobedient. That’s just simply the way the Word of God reads.
How would you evaluate your own “thanksgiving quotient” recently? Have you done more protesting than praising? Be encouraged to look around you and within you and discover those things (everything!) that has come from the hand of God for your temporal and eternal benefit. And then, give thanks in all things.
Jeremiah, D. (2002). Powerful principles from proverbs: Study guide. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.