The first words of prayer ought to be words of thanksgiving and praise. This is the place true prayer begins. While we often use the words interchangeably, this is probably a distinction to be drawn between praise and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is expressing gratitude for something that God has done for us while praise is acknowledging gratefully what God is in Himself. Both of them belong in the prayer life of a Christian.
Two basic convictions serve as a basis for the life of prayer and the prayer of Thanksgiving. There is the conviction that God is the source of every good thing. “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Since God is the source of all these things, He is worthy of praise; since the things come to us, thanksgiving is proper. The prayer of thanksgiving grows out of this conviction.
Another conviction undergirds such praying. The unworthiness of man is a basic conviction of the New Testament. “All have sinned” is the analysis of the Bible. Since all have sinned, we have all forfeited any claim we might have had on the blessings of God. Any blessing received is a blessing of grace. God should be thanked. Since we have been showered with blessings, the first words of prayer should be words of thanksgiving and praise.
The Prayer of Thanksgiving Should be Prayed by Every Person
The emphasis is upon this in the Bible. You cannot miss it. The Hebrew Christians were reminded, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16). This word would make it our duty and joy to offer such prayers as sacrifices to God. They are to be offered continually. Paul was specific in his instructions, “Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). Thanksgiving is to be mingled with the unceasing prayer. The word would suggest that this is to be the habit of the Christian. Importance is multiplied by adding that this is the will of God. The Hebrews were told that God is pleased with such, but here it is called the very desire of God for His people. This means that every one of us should be praying this prayer of thanksgiving.
Such prayers should be offered when the church comes together for worship. This was the practice of the early Christians. Of the life of that first group, Luke records, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all people” (Acts 2:46-47). This was their habit! When they met together, thanksgiving and praise ascended to God.
Paul including thanksgiving in his instructions to the Ephesians. “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). The prayers we offer should be filled with praise and thanksgiving. This would please the heavenly Father very much.
Such prayers are to be offered individually. The duty cannot be fulfilled just by offering them collectively. The admonition of Paul to the Colossians is very personal. “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
This may be the most difficult form of prayer for us to learn. It is trye with our children. No instructions are needed for the children in how to make their petitions known. The difficulty comes in trying to teach them how to say thank you. Jesus found this to be true. The Leprous men came to him for cleansing. They each knew how to make their petition. In response to their appeal, He told them to go show themselves unto the priest. As they were going toward the temple, they were suddenly healed. Of the ten, only one knew how to say thank you, and he was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). Do you know how to pray the prayer of thanksgiving? Are you like the one or the nine?
The Prayer of Thanksgiving Should be Prayed in Every Place
Place ought to suggest circumstance to us. The prayer of thanksgiving is not one reserved for the day of prosperity. The Christian response to every circumstance is to be characterized by praise and gratitude to God. Paul underlined this in his admonition to the Thessalonians. “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In is the key word. While here he did not say “for everything,” he did say “for everything” to the Ephesians: “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
The plain teaching of Paul is that there is something in every situation for which the Christian can be thankful. Maybe I should have said “someone”. No matter how dark the circumstance of the Christian may be, he can still praise God for His Love and Mercy.
Paul did more than teach this: he practiced it! A notable example is his experience recorded by Luke at Philippi. He and Silas went there on a preaching mission. They established a little Christian group. Trouble began to develop when a young woman with a spirit of divination started following him around town. At last, Paul delivered her from the spirit. This led to more trouble being created by the evil men who had been using the girl. A mob had Paul and Silas brutally beaten and unjustly jailed. Their crime? Helping a poor, bedeviled girl find peace with God (Acts 16:16-40).
You must admit that this was a pretty dark circumstance to be in. The response of the two missionaries is illuminating. Luke records that the midnight hour found them praying and singing. Praise was in their hearts to God. The God of the heavens was so pleased that He just sent a slight earthquake that shook the jail and loosed them from their bonds.
Whatever the circumstance of your life, this is a good day to pray the prayer of thanksgiving. praying this prayer in the darkness of a circumstance will often turn on the lights of heaven.
The Prayer of Thanksgiving Should be Prayed for Every Provision
No blessing is too small to not be included on a list of thanksgiving subjects. And none is too large. Every blessing should surely be included.
Since we have looked to Paul for the basic admonitions concerning thanksgiving in prayer, maybe we should to him for an example of this. We have found that he knew how to pray in the extreme circumstances, but for what was Paul grateful? For your edification, I would encourage you to make a detailed study of this.
Above all, Paul was grateful for the great spiritual provisions of our God. He thanked God for the Savior. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Surely there will never be a day in which saved sinners will not be grateful for the Savior. He thanked God for the Salvation. Surely the most profound thing that ever came from the pen of Paul was the moving doxology that opens the book of Ephesians. In it, Paul is glorifying God for the great Salvation. He begins, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). That is just the opening of the prayer. Read it! Paul was thankful for the Salvation provided by the God of grace for guilty sinners. Paul thanked God often for the saints. To the Philippians, he wrote, “I thank my God upon remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). They were no different from the other saints. Paul had a thankful soul for all those who shared his faith in Christ.
Paul thanked God for the privilege of Christian service. To Timothy he wrote, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful putting me into the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12). When you consider what being in the ministry involved for Paul, this thanksgiving may seem surprising. It ought not! Any man used of God in any capacity of Christian service ought to pray the prayer of thanksgiving.
Paul did not overlook the physical provisions of life. He demonstrated his thankfulness for the physical provisions in some very difficult circumstances. When he was in the ship beset by the terrific storm in route to Rome, they went for days without food. Finally, Paul assured them that God would see them through. Luke records that he took some food, “And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then they were all of good cheer, and they also began to eat” (Acts 27:35-36).
All of this makes an impressive prayer list. Yet it is all a thanksgiving list. But you can do the same thing. You may not be able to preach like Paul, but you can at least praise like him. Be thankful for everything.
There is no sin like ingratitude. It would be better to neglect all other forms of prayer than this one. Let us make the commitment of the Psalmist who said, “Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103).