Though praying to God indeed includes requests and supplications, there is more to prayer than simply asking God for ‘things.’
Of course, there are many commands and examples that pervade the holy Scriptures, and we are certainly not incorrect in regularly and desperately “asking” and “seeking” and “knocking” when we come as needy children to our sufficient and generous Father.
However, one of the greatest evils that pervades our wealthy culture in the west is ingratitude and thanklessness. Unfortunately, this has not left our prayer lives unaffected. If you don’t believe me, try to spend an entire hour in solely giving thanks to God without beginning to ask Him for things.
But rather than bewailing and bemoaning this, let us rather endeavor to make giving thanks to God more of a predominant theme in our times of prayer.
Prayer, we remember, is really just spending time conversing with God, responding to His Word and His deeds with words of our own. And in any healthy relationship, thankfulness and gratitude is essential to fostering greater fellowship and communion.
Rather than providing a plethora of Scripture citations that emphasize thanksgiving, I simply want to look at one verse from Psalm 9, which, by God’s grace, I hope will help us in our endeavor to be a more thankful people, especially in our times of prayer.
Psalm 9:1 - “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.”
First, we are reminded that giving thanks to God is more than mere ‘lip service.’ In the Hebrew, “heart” meant the control center of one’s life, and includes one’s thoughts, emotions, and will. But how does engaging our entire hearts in thanksgiving come about?
The answer, I believe, is in the second line of the verse: “I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.”
In the classic BBC series “Pride and Prejudice”, the main character, “Lizzy”, finds herself falling in love with the all-handsome “Mr. Darcy” when she begins to realize all of the amazing things that he has been doing for her and her family. But it is not until all of his previous generosity is “accounted” for and “recounted” by Lizzy that her heart begins to really become engaged and her affections enlivened for her generous benefactor.
I believe that in the same way, when we begin to intentionally “recount” all of God’s mighty deeds, especially with regards to our salvation through Christ (read the rest of Psalm 9, especially 9:13-14; cf. 86:12-13), our hearts will inevitably begin to thaw and become tender once again under the warming influence of the Spirit.
As we begin to recount all of God’s deeds - in creation, in salvation, in providence; in His faithfulness, in His kindness, in His grace - “commands” such as “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:18) or “be anxious for nothing, but in everything, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God” (Phil. 4:6) will not induce guilt in us, or end up being so burdensome for us.
I’ll never forget in my first year of seminary when we spent an entire day praying together for God’s blessing. In the session immediately after lunch, we spent over an hour just “shotgunning” various thanksgivings to God as students, and its effect has never left me anything but amazed at the great blessing there is in gathering together to recount God’s goodness to us and thank Him for every one of them, no matter how ‘big’ or how ‘small’ they may have seemed.
And so, let us endeavor to spend our time this evening, in the words of David, “giving to our Triune God the thanks due to His righteousness” (Psa. 7:17). He is most certainly worthy and deserving of all our praise and thanksgiving.
A brother quoted Spurgeon to me this morning: “Our best prayers are those with veins of praise and thanks.” How true this is indeed!
In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth, through His church,
**it may be helpful to have some categories in mind to help in the dull moments when the reservoirs of our minds seem empty. Think of God’s attributes and thank Him for who He is, and spend 10 minutes thanking Him for these; think of His salvation in Christ, and thank Him for how He brought it about in our lives, and spend 10 minutes thanking Him for that; think about His faithfulness in answering past prayers, and spend 10 minutes thanking Him for that; think about a million blessings we so easily overlook (clothing, literacy, families, friends, being part of an evangelical church), and spend time thanking Him for all of these. Truly, if we just take a moment to do an inventory, we will not run out of things to thank God for.