A few weeks ago I got asked to share at my home church’s prayer meeting. As I prepared, I realized that what was coming out on paper was the culmination of my and Joyce’s journey so far in America. I could not see it as I traveled along, but I see now that the Lord was teaching me among many other things to be thankful.
The response from this service was overwhelming. I received requests from many people asking for a copy of my notes. For those who maybe wanted to ask but did not see me, I decided to post my notes on our website. However, I must apologize beforehand if this post seems rather wooden in comparison to my others. I did flesh my notes out a little, but because of times constraints and word limitations, there was no getting away from the clunkiness of a sermon outline.
We can always thank God for these three things
Psalm 100.4-5: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.”
We can always thank God for these three things:
- God is good
- His mercy is everlasting
- His truth endures to all generations
We can still thank him for these things even when we think we have nothing for which to thank him.
This verse also shows that God is the focus of our thanksgiving.
God is the focus of our thanksgiving
When we think of giving thanks what often springs to mind is a list of things like, our job, home, family, car, health, etc. What happens is we look at what we do have in comparison to what other people don’t have, and we thank God for what we’ve got. Our thanksgiving ends up becoming a list of comparative statements.
In a way, there’s nothing wrong with comparing ourselves to others and thanking God because it puts our life in perspective, but at the same time, it can also become unhealthy. Remember the Pharisee? “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
But I do not feel like giving thanks
We will go through times in life when we do not feel like giving thanks, but that is no excuse to stop giving thanks. We must realize that giving thanks to God has less to do with our feelings and more to do with our behavior. Just because we may not feel like giving thanks does not mean we should stop. Indeed, there may be times when we think we have a legitimate excuse not to thank God, but we must realize that we give thanks to God because of it his will for us to do so. It has nothing to do with how we might feel at a particular time because of one specific circumstance.
1 Thessalonians 5.18: “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The verse says, “in everything gives thanks.” So, no matter what you are “in,” you still give thanks. Whether you’re up or you’re down, and life’s coming against you, still give thanks.
It doesn’t matter what we feel like or what the reason is. We still give thanks because it is the will of God concerning us.
Moreover, as I observed, there are times in a Christian’s life when they are doing the right thing at the right time. They are walking in their calling, but at the same time, they may feel detached from God. The chances are that they’re not giving thanks to him. Although everything’s going well in their lives and they are going in the right direction, they are actually outside of God will for their lives because they’re not giving God thanks. “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Giving thanks helps us pray for people
One reason we pray is to pray for people. What we tend to do is approach God with a list. We’re like, “God, please bless…” or “God, please heal…” or “God, keep my children safe…” We petition God by giving him a list of requests.
I often pray like this, but as I’ve been meditating over this topic, I began to see that it is not the way Paul prayed and it might not be the best way for us to pray. Look at these verses,
Philippians 1.3-4: “3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making requests with joy,”
Colossians 1.3: “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,”
1 Thess 1.2: “We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.”
In each of these verses Paul begins with giving thanks to God for the people, and then he prays for them. The reason why I think this is a more efficient way to pray for people is that if I come to God listing all their prayer needs, I may end up erecting a huge faith barrier to having the requests answered.
I have come to God before listing all the things the person needs, and a mountain of impossible odds faces me at the end of it. I stand discouraged in its shadow, and I think, “There’s no way God can help that person.” But if I begin by thanking God for the person and everything he has done in their life, my faith is built up by the time I come to the requests, and I find it easier to believe that God can intervene. Therefore, I build up an attitude of faith by beginning with giving thanks.
Giving thanks helps us pray for wayward Christians
Likewise, if we are praying for wayward Christians, we will likely start by presenting to God a list of how they have erred or how they have sinned. However, what we are doing is accusing the brethren before God. And that’s Satan’s job. He is the accuser of the brethren, not us. God already knows how they have erred. We must begin praying for them by thanking God for the person before we intercede.
Giving thanks helps us pray for those who offended us
This is also relevant for people who may have wronged and offended us. God knows their wrong so we must not accuse them before him. It just makes the wrong bigger in our sight, and we will turn a molehill of unforgiveness into a mountain. Instead, we should begin by thanking God for the person. That way we will not be doing the devil’s job, and we will break down the hurt in our own heart.
We must always remember, even if we can think of no reason to thank God for the person, then we should thank him according to Psalm 100.5, that he is kind towards them, his mercy is everlasting in their lives, and that his truth is going to endure to the next generation.
Giving thanks helps us pray for decision-making and asking direction
Another reason people pray is for help in making decisions and also to ask God for guidance. So how does thanksgiving relate to both?
1. Giving thanks helps in decision-making
Colossians 3.17 says, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Quite simply, if we can’t do something in Jesus’ name while giving thanks, then we should not do it at all.
For those times we are struggling about whether to do something or not, then it is wise to run it through this little filter: can I do it in Jesus’ name while offering thanks? If we can, then it is okay to do it. If we cannot, then we should not do it.
We could save ourselves from a lot of sticky situations and compromises if we run our decision-making process through this little filter.
2. Giving thanks helps in receiving direction
Thanksgiving also helps when it comes to praying for guidance. The bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1.5, KJV)
But then it says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1.6-8)
It is interesting how James spoke about asking for wisdom and immediately continued to discuss not doubting and being double-minded. This is especially true when asking for wisdom concerning direction. What happens is that we pray for wisdom. The wisdom comes, so we know what to do, but then we begin to rationalize the wisdom, and we end up doubting the wisdom we asked for in the first place.
Giving thanks stops this from happening. We ask for the wisdom, God gives it to us, and we then thank him for it. In doing so, we prevent the rationalization process from making us double-minded.
Giving thanks releases God’s power
Another reason people pray is to experience God’s power. So how does thanksgiving relate to this point?
I heard that in some cultures when you give a child a cookie or a gift, the child says thanks after they receive it. But in other cultures, the expectancy is that the child thanks to the adult for the cookie before they receive it. This is also true of Christianity. Often we do not receive until we give thanks beforehand. Look at the following examples.
1. Giving thanks delivered Jonah
Jonah prayed a long prayer to God within the belly of the whale. When we read hit, there seems to be a tension between moaning about his situation and trying to turn to God and recognize him in the situation. But it’s not until he begins to thank God that he is delivered.
Jonah said, “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” (Jonah 2.9-10, KJV).
It wasn’t until he gave thanks that his situation changed.
2. Giving thanks fed the 5000
Jesus feeding the five-thousand was such a momentous event that all four gospels speak record it. John 6.10-13 says,
“ Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6.10-13)
All four of the gospel writers include the fact that Jesus gave thanks to God before the miracle took place.
John described how people came looking for Jesus later in the chapter. He wrote, “(Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks” (Jn 6.23).
John was so impressed by the miracle that he named the location where this miracle happened as the place where Jesus gave thanks. He did not call it the place where Jesus fed the five thousand. John’s emphasis is on giving thanks.
3. Giving thanks raised Lazarus
Another example is from John 11.41.
Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead “…Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out…” (Jn 11.41-44, NIV).
Notice that Jesus began by thanking God.
Giving thanks stops the Blessing-Theif
When you get your miracle, never stop thanking him. I heard someone say that outside every church service there is a blessing-thief waiting to strike. It is true.
In the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12.9), the Apostle Paul mentions a gift of miracles and gifts of healing. I have heard it described that a miracle is typically something that is creative and happens instantaneously. However, gifts of healing (note “gifts” is plural, meaning that there are many ways someone can be healed) is something that can be gradual.
I am convinced that more Christians would experience full healing if they continued to thank God after asking for it. But what happens is that the pain comes back, or there appears to be no immediate change, so they think God’s not touched them or the situation. This is the blessing-thief doing his work.
Therefore, after praying it is essential to keep plugged into the Spirit by continually thanking God for touching us and for healing us. We continue to thank him even though we may not see the immediate results. It at first, then over time what we prayed for becomes manifest.
I think the reason it tends to happen like this is that our faith is very precious to God. We would not need to exercise our faith if God healed us or answered our prayers all the time instantaneously. This is what Thanksgiving is – it is the easiest way in the world for us to express our faith.