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.
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.
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.)
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.
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:
relationship between prayer and thanksgiving
focus of the prayer of thanksgiving
power of the prayer of thanksgiving
Prayer and Thanksgiving
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:
to God as a child coming to his father.
the petitions of your prayer upon the promises of God.
to receive God's answer and thank Him for it.
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.
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
and Watchful Prayer
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.)
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.
and thanksgiving are bosom buddies in prayer. Two
analogies make the point:
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
and Petitionary Prayer
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
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.)
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.
two results of casting our cares upon the Lord through prayers
of petition coupled with thanksgiving:
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.
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.
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.
Focus of the Prayer of Thanksgiving
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.
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.
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.)
logic is simple:
good gift comes from God. (See James 1:17.)
sins have separated us from God. (See Isaiah 29:2.)
Christ has reconciled us to God. (See Romans 5:10.)
Jesus' grace, we receive every good gift. (See John
Jesus is the focus of our thanksgiving. (See 1 Thess.
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.
Christ has delivered us from a life of human wretchedness.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
references are to Jesus giving thanks over the bread and
wine of communion.
references are to Jesus blessing the loaves and fishes
before multiplying them to feed the hungry multitudes.
reference is to the resurrected Jesus breaking bread with
the two dejected disciples he met on the road to Emmaus.
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.
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.
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.
Power of the Prayer of 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
passage suggests several ways in which thanksgiving in prayer
shapes history. Consider the following:
intercessory prayers should give thanks for everyone we pray for.
others, we should give thanks for governmental leaders.
with thanksgiving for leaders results in godly leadership.
leadership results in peace and harmony in society.
peace and harmony in society promotes holy living.
living enlightens people to the truth so they can be saved.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.