"Prayer of a Thankful Heart:
Channel of Blessing"

Advocates
in
Prayer

 

 

Introduction

THE OBJECTIVE OF OUR TEACHINGS is to guide us into an effective prayer life.  Like any worthwhile pursuit in life, effectiveness in prayer requires both discipline and balance.  Discipline speaks for itself.  We need to commit ourselves to daily devotion in prayer.  As for balance, prayer should be a juggling act between the mind and the heart.  To illustrate this, I'd like to use the analogy of prayer as a science and an art.

Prayer is a science.  There are principles that govern effective prayer.  In the Lord's Prayer, for instance, we enter God's presence in worship, invoke His sovereign reign, petition for our needs, extend and receive forgiveness, request divine protection from evil, and end on a note of praise that acknowledges God's sovereignty and glory.  This six point prayer outline suggests the content and flow of prayer.  It keeps the mind on track.

Prayer is also an art.  To speak of prayer as an art is to focus on the heart that prays.  We pray with a devoted heart.  Daily devotion to Christ produces the fruit of His character within and assures effectiveness in prayer.  Jesus said, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you."  (See John 15: 7.)  We pray with a humble heart.  When we approach God in humility, we position ourselves to receive His grace.  James writes, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."  (See 4:6.)  We pray with a thankful heart.  Thanksgiving is the gratefulness of heart that gives us a gracious welcome into God's presence.  The Psalmist exhorts us to "enter his gates with thanksgiving."  (See 100:4.)

In the last couple of teachings.  We've talked about the need to have a devoted and a humble heart in prayer.  We've seen that the prayer of abiding is our key to fruitfulness and the prayer of humility is our passport to grace.  In this lesson, we will talk about the need for a thankful heart in prayer.  We will see that the prayer of thanksgiving is the channel of blessing.  I believe that God will use this teaching to inspire us to pray with thanksgiving so that we may receive and minister His blessings.

The title of this teaching is "Prayer of a Thankful Heart:  The Channel of Blessing."  To help us grasp the significance of a thankful heart for an effective prayer life, we will present this teaching under three headings:

  • The relationship between prayer and thanksgiving

  • The focus of the prayer of thanksgiving

  • The power of the prayer of thanksgiving

The Relationship Between 
Prayer and Thanksgiving

My earliest lessons in prayer as a young Christian underscored the need for  thanksgiving in prayer.  As a teenager newly baptized in the Holy Spirit, I used to watch Christian television.  I watched a variety of programs, but The 700 Club was my mainstay.  In those days, the program was always introduced with the theme scripture:  "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."  (See Matthew 18:19; KJV.)  Prayer was a prominent part of the program, and basic teaching on prayer was a regular feature.  The show hosts encouraged believers to pray with childlike simplicity and to practice three simple lessons:

  1. Come to God as a child coming to his father.

  2. Base the petitions of your prayer upon the promises of God.

  3. Expect to receive God's answer and thank Him for it.

I took these three simple lessons seriously, and I made a practice of demonstrating my faith that God would answer my prayer by thanking Him for the thing I had asked.  Needless to say, I saw lots of answers to prayer.  Thanksgiving demonstrates faith for the answer.  It is the seal of prayer.

A couple of key New Testament passages, both from the Apostle Paul's writings, gives us rich insight into the relationship between prayer and thanksgiving.  As we will see, thanksgiving plays an important role in watchful prayer and petitionary prayer.

Thanksgiving and Watchful Prayer

There is a vital connection between spiritual watchfulness and thanksgiving in prayer.  We see this in Paul's exhortation to the Christians in Colosse.  He writes, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."  (See Colossians 4:2.)  

This passage is an exhortation to have a strong prayer life.  The word translated "devote yourselves" is built upon a root word meaning "to be strong."  [NIVBC: Col. 4:2.]  Just what does Paul mean in exhorting believers to be strong in prayer?  How do you describe a strong, devoted prayer life?  Paul describes it with two words:  watchful and thankful.

Watchfulness and thanksgiving are bosom buddies in prayer.  Two analogies make the point:

ANALOGY ONE:  A child on an adventure ride is watchful and thankful.  His senses are animated by the sights and sounds all around him.  The joy of the experience makes him grateful for being invited to come along for the ride.  When prayer is a joy for us, our spiritual senses are quickened to the things God desires to show us.  We are grateful to him for the spiritual truths He reveals and the blessings He imparts.

ANALOGY TWO:  A soldier on a battlefield is watchful and thankful.  His senses are fine tuned to the sights and sounds around him that would alert him to the presence and tactics of enemy forces.  He is also alert to communications from his commanding officer that would warn him of an enemy presence.  He is thankful for any military intelligence that is there to safeguard his life. We are to be spiritually alert to revelation from the Holy Spirit that would warn us of demonic schemes set against us and to an internal radar system that would guide us to safety.  Naturally, such alertness would lead to thanksgiving.  We are thankful that God would spare us from harm -- as well as those for whom we pray.

These two analogies should help us grasp the connection between being devoted in prayer, i.e. strong in prayer, and being watchful and thankful.  Beyond these insights, Paul elaborates in the following verses on two benefits of being watchful and thankful in prayer.

Being watchful and thankful in prayer leads to effective evangelistic outreach.  Paul's mind moves quickly from exhorting the Colossian Christians to be watchful and thankful in prayer to asking them to pray for him that God would both open a door for him to proclaim the gospel and enable him to proclaim it clearly.  (See 4: 3-4.)  For Paul, the Colossians' watchfulness and thankfulness in prayer would lead to effective evangelistic outreach for him.  Through being watchful, they would see the tactics of the enemy to prevent opportunities for the spread of the gospel and would be able through prayer to break through all hindrances to effective ministry so that Paul would have an open door for evangelism.  As for thankfulness, it would seal their prayers for Paul in that it would be an expression of faith that God was hearing and answering.

Being watchful and thankful enables us to be wise and gracious in our conversations with unbelievers.   Paul continues by exhorting the Colossian Christians to be wise in their conduct and gracious in their conversations with those outside the church so as not to miss any opportunity to bring others to Christ.  (See 4: 5-6.)   Being spiritually watchful will keep them from overlooking opportunities to bring outsiders to faith in Christ.  Living life with a thankful heart will assure that they are adorned with the graciousness that will be appealing to unbelievers.  

We are reminded in these verses that God wants our prayer lives to be instrumental in bringing others to know Him.  This happens as we pray for the evangelistic effectiveness of other believers and as we pray for the opportunities God will give us to impact others.  We must be watchful in prayer so that we will be alert to the tactics of the enemy, the plans of God, and the doors of opportunity for our Christian witness.  Thankfulness in prayer assures that we live always before the Lord with a grateful heart and are always prepared to demonstrate a sweet spirit toward those who come across our path.  

Thanksgiving and Petitionary Prayer

We've seen that there is a vital connection between thanksgiving and watchful prayer.  Scripture also shows that there is a vital connection between thanksgiving and petitionary prayer.  Consider these verses from Paul's letter to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (See 4:6-7.)

Petitionary prayer should not simply be about making requests of God.  More than that, it should be about giving our requests to Him.  Petitionary prayers should be prayers of relinquishment.  The burden of the concern expressed in prayer is no longer ours to carry.  We have cast our care upon Him.  When we are thus relieved of the burden of our earthly concerns, the natural outcome should be thanksgiving.

Notice two results of casting our cares upon the Lord through prayers of petition coupled with thanksgiving:

  1. Such prayer allays all anxiety by focusing upon God rather than upon the matter that troubled us.  Oral Roberts says we should never tell God about our big problems; we should tell our problems about our big God.  There is a change of focus that needs to take place.  We might look like grasshoppers compared to our big problems.  But, our problems look like grasshoppers compared to our big God.  Focusing away from the problem and onto the Lord will allay our anxiety.

  2. Such prayer results in God's peace guarding the heart and mind.  When our focus is upon God's faithfulness to take our prayers of petition, shoulder the burden of our care, and work through all circumstances for our good, the heart and mind are released from the burden of care.  There is an excited anticipation of what God will do.  These verses from Paul reassure us that when we turn our problems into prayers, He turns our worries into wonders.  This confidence is the basis for a heart and mind at peace.

It is not God's will that His children should live lives that are void of His peace.  Jesus endured agonizing suffering so that we might experience deep peace.  We read "the punishment that brought us peace was upon him . . . ."  (See Isaiah 53:5b.)  Not only did Jesus pay the price for our peace, but He invites us to come to him with our burdens and receive deep soul rest.  He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  (See Matthew 11:28.)  To see the suffering Jesus endured to secure our peace and to hear His invitation to come to Him for rest should elicit within us a heart of thanksgiving and a confidence to bring our requests to Him.  To do otherwise is to live our lives outside of the peace of God and to waste what Jesus did for us.

The Focus of the Prayer of Thanksgiving

We've discussed the relationship between prayer and thanksgiving.  When we pray in faith believing, it is natural to thank God for the answer.  Thanksgiving is the rightful seal of prayer.  We come now to discuss the focus of the prayer of thanksgiving.

I remember when a small group fellowship I was a part of met once on  Thanksgiving weekend.  When we came to the portion of our meeting in which we prayed together as a group, the leader encouraged each one present, in keeping with the season, to express a prayer of thanksgiving for one special thing he or she had to be thankful for.  It was a helpful exercise as we all need to learn to count our blessings and cultivate a thankful spirit.  However, the teaching of the New Testament emphasizes a unique role that thanksgiving plays in the Christian's life.  Rather than counting our blessings and focusing upon all the good things God has blessed us with, the focus of our thanksgiving is specifically upon what God has done for us in Christ.  Jesus is the focus.

The Christian's prayer of thanksgiving focuses upon God's gift of grace in Christ.  Of course we are to be thankful for every good thing in life that God gives us.  For the Christian, though, there is an awareness that every good thing God gives us comes through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The prologue of John's gospel expresses this point in these words:  "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another."  (See 1:16.)

 The logic is simple:

  1. Every good gift comes from God.  (See James 1:17.)

  2. Our sins have separated us from God.  (See Isaiah 29:2.)

  3. Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God.  (See Romans 5:10.)

  4. Through Jesus' grace, we receive every good gift.  (See John 1:16.)

  5. Therefore, Jesus is the focus of our thanksgiving.  (See 1 Thess. 5:15)

We have every reason to be filled with gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  He has both restored us to God, the source of all good things, and has given us the privilege of serving with him to bring others back to God and to a life of blessing.  Notice how Paul graphically makes these two points.

1.  Christ has delivered us from a life of human wretchedness.  In Romans 7, Paul discussed the inner unrest he experienced due to his fallen human nature.  He had the internal desire to obey God's laws and please him.  However, he found himself imprisoned by sin so that he was powerless to honor and obey God.  (See verses 21-23.)  This internal "war" reduced him to a "wretched man."  In shear desperation he exclaimed, "What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?"  (See verse 24.)  His answer?  "Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!"  (See verse 25.)  For Paul, the wretchedness of the human condition finds its cure in the grace of Jesus Christ who took our wretchedness in his own body at the cross and gave us peace with God, the source of all blessing.  Thus he makes the circuit from despair to thanksgiving.  

2.  God has invited us into a triumphant life and a joyful ministry.  In 1 Thessalonians, Paul described the Christian's victory over the wretchedness of life apart from Christ by appealing to the analogy of a Roman triumphal march.  It was customary after the Roman militia won a military campaign to march triumphantly through the city of Roman showing off their prisoners of war as defeated wretches.  The sprinkling of perfume or the burning of incense along the way was a part of this ritual.  Christ's atoning death has delivered us from our wretchedness by invited us to share His triumph.  Paul states:  "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him."  In layman's terms, life apart from Christ stinks to high heaven, but Christ's grace and favor restores us to the springtime of life with all it's accompanying fragrances.  More than that, we have the privilege of leading others from their own wretchedness to the glory of life in Christ.  Our experience of new life in Christ and the privilege of leading others to the same are both causes for thanksgiving to God.

Our prayers should be offered in a spirit of thanksgiving.  To do so is to focus our prayers upon Jesus Christ.  It is He who has reconciled us to God, delivered us from human wretchedness, re-connected us with the source of every good gift, and privileged us to point others to Him.  

The Christian's prayer of thanksgiving focuses upon the provision of God through Christ.   This point is closely tied to what we've already discussed -- namely that our thanksgiving should focus upon God's gift of grace in Christ.  The reason I'm taking this point a step further to say our thanksgiving should focus upon God's provision through Christ is because there is a distinct emphasis in the gospel's upon Christ being God's provision for our spiritual nourishment and strengthening in the same way that wholesome food nourishes the body.

If you were to run a listing of scriptures from the gospels that use the words "thanks" or "thanksgiving" using the New International Version, you would find 16 instances of these words being used.  Note the breakdown of applications:

  • Six references are to Jesus giving thanks over the bread and wine of communion.

  • Eight references are to Jesus blessing the loaves and fishes before multiplying them to feed the hungry multitudes.

  • One reference is to the resurrected Jesus breaking bread with the two dejected disciples he met on the road to Emmaus.

  • One reference is to the prophetess Anna taking the baby Jesus up in her arms and giving thanks to God for Him in acknowledgement of His messiahship.

Notice that in all but one reference, thanksgiving is associated with Jesus' breaking of bread.  The one exception is when someone is giving thanks to God for Jesus Himself.  (See Luke 2:38.)  Jesus referred to Himself as "the bread of life."  (See John 6:35.)  It requires no stretch of the imagination to see that when Jesus blessed the bread by which he fed the multitudes, the bread of the Lord's Supper, and the bread He broke for two saddened disciples on the road to Emmaus,  He was simply signifying in the natural realm what He would forever do in the spiritual realm -- give himself as the bread of life that would nourish the hungry hearts of humanity.  He is God's provision for our needs.  Just as He thanked God each time He broke bread, so we should forever be thankful to God in prayer for the provision of Jesus as our bread of life.

It should not escape our attention that as thanksgiving is associated with the breaking of bread in the gospels, it is associated with the cup of communion in Paul's writings.  As Jesus gave thanks in the breaking of bread, Paul refers to the cup that signifies Jesus' shed blood as the "cup of thanksgiving."  He states:  "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?"  Christ is God's provision for the meeting of our needs insofar as His body was broken for us and His blood shed for us.  In fact, the Lord's Supper is referred to as the Eucharist, based on the Greek verb eucharisteo, which means "to give thanks."  Truly, Jesus is the focus of the Christian's thanksgiving.

 The Power of the Prayer of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving seals our prayers as it expresses trust in God to hear and answer us.  Thanksgiving focuses our prayers as it brings Jesus center stage as the one who reconciles us to God and to a life in His blessing.  But thanksgiving does more than sealing and focusing our prayers:  it empowers them.

It is not difficult to see how thanksgiving would serve to empower our prayers.  When we are thanking God for all the good things He has brought into our lives through the grace of Jesus Christ, prayer becomes worship.  The worship of God, in turn, releases the power of God.  Let's look at three ways that thanksgiving empowers prayer.

1.  Thanksgiving releases the blessings of God into our lives.  The Lord said through the Psalmist, "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God."  (See 50:23.)  When our prayers are prayed in a spirit of gratitude and include a season of thanksgiving, those prayers ascend to God as thank offerings.  It is little wonder that the writer of Revelation describes the prayers of the saints as incense.  (See 5:8.)  And what is the effect of offering the incense of thanksgiving before God?  There is a three-fold effect:

  • It honors God.  When we are thankful to the Lord for the gift of salvation through Christ and for the good gifts that He provides to enrich our lives, we are simply conferring upon Him the honor that is His due.  

  •  It prepares the way for God.  It rolls out the red carpet upon which royalty strides.  Just as a John the Baptist was needed to prepare the way for Jesus coming by calling for repentance and change, so thanksgiving puts us in the right frame of mind and condition of heart to receive the manifest presence of God as He comes to meet with us.

  • It ushers in the presence and power of God to save.  God wants to show us His salvation.  That is, He wants to bring wholeness, peace, harmony, prosperity, and blessing into every area of our lives.  When we thank Him for all that He has done for us, we are essentially beckoning Him to come and do more of the same.  To thank God for what He has done is to embrace what he will do.  Thus thanksgiving releases more of God's grace and power in our lives.

2.  Thanksgiving preserves us from spiritual darkness and backsliding.  Paul's letters to the Christians in Rome and Ephesus demonstrate how lack of thankfulness to God for His blessings has the effect of causing one to fall away from God.  In Romans, he explains that those who fail to glorify God and give thanks to him fall victim to a dull mind and a darkened heart that places them on a downward spiral into idolatry, sexual immorality, and perversion.  (See 1: 21-25.)  In Ephesians, he warns against sins like sexual immorality, greed, obscene language, and coarse joking and says these should be replaced with thanksgiving.  (See 5:3-4.)  The clear implication is that a lack of thanksgiving produces a void in the believer's life that would inevitably be filled by such sins as those he listed.  Both these passages show the power of thanksgiving to preserve the believer from backsliding.  This power is released in the believer's life when thanksgiving finds its rightful place in prayer.

3.  Thanksgiving empowers our prayers to shape history.  Walter Wink states that "history belongs to the intercessor."  God does indeed use our prayers to change peoples' lives and to shape history.  Significantly, thanksgiving plays an important role in such intercession.  Hear Paul words to Timothy:  

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  (See 1 Timothy 2:1.)

This passage suggests several ways in which thanksgiving in prayer shapes history.  Consider the following:

  • Our intercessory prayers should give thanks for everyone we pray for.

  • Among others, we should give thanks for governmental leaders.

  • Intercession with thanksgiving for leaders results in godly leadership.

  • Godly leadership results in peace and harmony in society.

  • Such peace and harmony in society promotes holy living.

  • Holy living enlightens people to the truth so they can be saved.

For Paul, the progression is certain.  What starts with intercessory prayers clothed in thanksgiving for everyone inevitably leads to godliness in leadership, peace in society, holiness in believers, and salvation for the unsaved.  Such sweeping claims all packed in one verse should strongly motivate us to combine every petition of prayer with the incense of thanksgiving.

 Conclusion

God desires to use our prayer lives as a channel though which He directs His blessings to us and through us to others.  This enrichment of our lives and the lives of those we influence takes place as our prayers are offered in a spirit of thanksgiving.  For the prayer of a thankful heart is the channel of blessing.

There is a vital relationship between effective prayer and thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is the seal of prayer.  When we pray according to God's promises and believe that we receive the good things that we ask for, the response of faith is to thank God for the answer.  Our response of gratitude anticipates the good things we've asked for.

Thanksgiving in prayer is underscored in the writings of the Apostle Paul in relation to both watchful prayer and petitionary prayer.  Paul encouraged the Colossians to be "watchful and thankful" in prayer. Watchfulness in prayer protects us from the devices of the evil ne as God reveals the enemy's tactics against us to safeguard us from harm.  Watchfulness also enables us to discern the enemy's attempts to hinder the gospel and to pray effectively for the advancement of the gospel.  Thankfulness in prayer enables us to live graciously and gracefully so that our lives attract the unsaved to Christ.  

Thanksgiving also has a part to play in petitionary prayer.  When we present our requests to God in thanksgiving, we focus upon God's goodness and not upon the matters we bring to him in prayer.  Thus petitionary prayers offered in thanksgiving become prayers of relinquishment in which we cast all anxious care upon the Lord and receive His peace.

Prayers of thanksgiving are fitting to the Christian because our prayers are offered in the name of Jesus, and Jesus is to be the primary focus of our gratitude.  While God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, our sins had separated us from God and from his favor and blessing.  But Jesus, in redeeming us from our sins, has delivered us from our wretchedness, restored us to God's favor, and caused us to enter into His triumph so that we reign in life through Him.  It is through His grace that we all receive one blessing after another.  He is the spiritual bread that continually nourishes our spirits.  Our celebration of His broken body and His shed blood move us to thanksgiving for every token of divine favor that God freely gives us through Him.

Prayers of thanksgiving are powerful.  They honor God, prepare the way for Him, and usher in His presence and power to save the lost and bless His people.  They protect believers from the downward spiral into a life of backsliding that inevitably follows when one forgets the goodness of God and fails to live in gratitude toward Him.  Thus thanksgiving assures us of a life of fidelity to God lived continually in His presence and favor.

I trust that this teaching has inspired you to give thanksgiving the place of prominence in your life and prayers that it should rightfully have.  As you do, I believe that God will transform your prayer life so that your prayers offered in thanksgiving will be an effective channel of His blessings to you and those for whom you pray.

 

 

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