“In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We must be told this because by nature we are not thankful people. It is more natural for sinners like us to complain and to be ungrateful. Regrettably, Jerry Bridges is correct when he writes, “We are anxious to receive but too careless to give thanks. We pray for God’s intervention in our lives, then congratulate ourselves rather than God for the results.” Therefore, we must discipline ourselves to practice the discipline of thanksgiving. Maintaining an attitude of thanksgiving expressed through constant prayer provides at least six benefits.
Thankful prayer reminds us that God is our Provider (1 Tim. 4:4–5)
Scripture teaches that all food is from God and therefore should be recognized as such by offering a prayer of thanksgiving to Him: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5). Jesus even modeled this for us in the account of the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men and their families. The Gospel of John is careful to note that before Jesus distributed the loaves and fishes He had already “given thanks” (John 6:11). It is assumed that, because food is God’s provision to us, we will bless, or thank, Him for it. When traveling in the former Soviet Union I always appreciate the believers’ dedication to prayer, which is marked by the simple custom of standing to give thanks to God not only before a meal, but also afterward, prior to anyone leaving the table. This form of thankful prayer is a simple yet important reminder that God is faithful to provide for His children.
Thankful prayer brings glory to God (2 Cor. 9:12–15)
One of the reasons why Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthian church was to challenge them to get back on track concerning their giving to the Lord’s work. False apostles, who attacked Paul’s leadership by accusing him of being in the ministry for the money, had led the believers astray. Therefore, Paul called them to follow the example of the Macedonian believers, whose sacrificial giving had become well known. He believed with all his heart that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). The apostle identified one aspect of this bountiful harvest as the thankfulness that the believers’ giving produced in the hearts of the recipients and, ultimately, the glory that was received by God (2 Cor. 9:12–15).
Thankful prayer proves we are filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18–20)
Believers are not to be controlled by alcohol (or, by application of principle, any other foreign substance): “do not get drunk with wine,” but instead “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be willingly controlled by Him by means of daily submission to the Word of God which He inspired. When this is true we speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (v. 19), and we also give “thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (v. 20).
Thankful prayer combats anxiety and invites peace (Phil. 4:6–7)
Thankfulness is a mindset; it is a choice. As such, it is a remedy for worry. Philippians 4:6–7 instructs us to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Why did Paul add the words “with thanksgiving”? It is because an anxious spirit cannot coexist with a thankful one. Thankful prayer summons the security guard called peace to stand post at the doors of our hearts, forcing out worry and forbidding its reentrance. Thankfulness is the proper attitude of prayer: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2, emphasis added).
Thankful prayer reminds us that Christ alone qualifies us to be God’s children (Col. 1:12)
The Apostle Paul frequently prayed for the spiritual growth of believers under his care. At the end of his list of the spiritual qualities that he asked God to produce in the hearts of the Colossians is that they would always give “thanks to the Father, who has qualified [them] to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col. 1:12). When we pray we must never forget that the only reason why God hears us is because Jesus, our Mediator and Advocate, intercedes for us at that very moment (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1; Heb. 7:25). Though we are sinners by nature, thought, and deed, God graciously receives us through faith in the sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of His dearly beloved Son. Thankfulness protects us from the prideful thought that we possess even an ounce of virtue in and of ourselves that obligates God to listen to us. We come to God’s throne of grace in prayer because of Christ and Christ alone (Heb. 4:15).
Thankful prayer recognizes God as the source of strength (1 Tim. 1:12)
In times of weakness we discover just how strong the strength of God is. This is a lesson God taught Paul by permitting Satan to afflict him with a “thorn in the flesh,” which the apostle repeatedly pleaded with God to remove. However, although Satan’s goal is always to kill and to destroy, God had certain plans to use that thorn to further the development of Christlike character in the apostle. God knew that Paul was susceptible to the pride of self-sufficiency and therefore he needed to learn that the strength of God was made perfect in His servant’s “weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In addition to his own personal struggles, Paul faced severe treatment from others: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8–10). One might be tempted to think that this much suffering would result in a spirit of complaint and bitterness, but such was not the case with Paul. Instead, he wrote to Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim. 1:12). The secret to Paul’s strength was his inner reliance on Christ, who had not only called him into the ministry, but also promised to strengthen him to persevere to the end.
[This post is adapted from Chapter 2 of Teach Them to Pray.]