In honor of Thanksgiving, I share one of my favorite chapters from the new edition of Praying Like Jesus--"Gather 'Round to Give Thanks." I love it because it reminds us of the way we humans expect to receive good gifts from God--even demand them. And then when we do, we tend to forget to give the return gift of gratefulness to Him for what He provides--mercies (undeserved gifts) new every morning.
We devote a day of every year to our next subject in prayer, but Jesus never directly mentions it in John 17. That subject? Thankfulness. In two of His other recorded prayers in the Gospels, Jesus begins with the words, “I thank You, my Father, that...” (see Luke 10:21; John 11:41). In truth, Jesus’ thankfulness for the gifts of the Father is implied, if not overtly stated, throughout the high priestly prayer. His tone expresses gratitude to the Father for the gift of glory, the work assigned to Him, the provision of means to do the work, and the followers who would soon take on the mantle of fulfilling the work.
In the now-clichéd prayer acronym ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), a thankful heart takes the third place in the prescribed pattern of prayer. This may be, in part, because many times in the Epistles, prayer is coupled with the companion principle of a thankful heart. “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” Paul told the Philippians (4:6). And when it came to advising his protégé, Timothy, Paul said, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:1). Similarly the psalmist wrote, “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:2). Go ahead and pray, but be sure to include thankfulness and appreciation as you proceed.
As we opened this study, we focused our prayer on adoring God for who He is. In thanksgiving, we focus our prayer on appreciating Him for what He does for us. It is a subtle difference. Where worship leaves our needs out of the picture, thankfulness (sometimes called praise) calls attention to God’s mercy and kindness in His dealings with us.
Apparently, thankfulness is yet another godly characteristic that doesn’t come naturally. I’d like to think if I had been one of the children of Israel traversing the wilderness behind a pillar of fire, I would have been thankful for every time He provided manna from heaven, for the fact that He saw that my shoes didn’t wear out on the journey, for every time He routed an enemy before my eyes. I’d like to think so. But it is unlikely. Instead of thankfulness, God received from the Israelites grumbling that the manna was too bland in comparison to the aromatic spices of Egypt, unfaithfulness in worshiping golden non-gods, and greediness in taking for themselves forbidden spoils from God’s victories.
I think too of the ten lepers who begged Jesus for pity.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15-18)
Do you feel the grief in Jesus’ words? Can you empathize with the broken heart of the Healer—that His gift was received but not acknowledged with thankfulness by nine of the ten lepers? Which leper would I have been?
We like to think we are independent, self-sufficient, in control of our lives. If we amass our own fortunes and maintain our own welfare, we have no one to thank but ourselves. But as believers in Christ, we have, by definition, acknowledged that Someone greater is in control. That Someone deserves our constant gratitude.
Earlier I mentioned the holiday of Thanksgiving, a day supposedly set aside to be thankful to God. In actuality (I’m not preaching to anyone if not myself here), it is a day when we women slave from the wee hours to stuff a bird, to dice and mash and bake and boil all the requisite fixings, while the family-room television blares the Macy’s parade and a succession of football contests. I’m thankful, all right! Thanksgiving evening when it’s all over I’m thankful this holiday comes only once a year.
When President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day (to bolster morale during the Civil War), I’m certain this isn’t what he had in mind. Throughout the history of the United States, days of prayerful thankfulness were declared by presidential order. In times of drought or emergency, they were declared for fasting and prayer. (Fasting, not overeating.) This is consistent with the biblical model of presenting our requests to God with thankful, expectant hearts. But today Thanksgiving is just another excuse for a day to take off work, to watch sports, to overeat, and to shop enticing holiday sales.
It’s not that thanksgiving can only take place on Thanksgiving. Quite the contrary. Paul says, “In every thing give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV). Not necessarily for everything—our hearts cannot be grateful for everything that happens in this life—but in every circumstance keep giving God thanks, keep doing what the old-time hymn writer suggests: Keep counting your blessings.
Prayer coupled with a thankful heart is pleasing to God. We come to Him, acknowledging our dependence on Him, asking for favors, and appreciating all the favors He already has bestowed on us. Let’s be like the Samaritan leper, rather than the wandering Israelites. Let’s place thankfulness to God for what He has done in its proper order in our prayer lives.
Julie-Allyson Ieron, Praying Like Jesus: Discovering the Pattern of Godly Prayer, , Updated 2nd Edition ed. (Park Ridge, IL: Joy Media, 2010), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "Section Seven. Postlude to Prayer".
Thanksgiving Blessings to you and your loved ones,
© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: firstname.lastname@example.org