Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©

Chapter 4 THE ASPECTS OF PRAYER (Continued)

2. Thanksgiving

Praise and thanksgiving are indeed interwoven, but if we distinguish between them, thanksgiving names the gifts of God, the acts of love and grace and power which are recognised by those who acknowledge him. While many of the Psalms are pure praise, more still are very specific in thanksgiving for what God has done. The people of Israel were taught to be thankful to God for all his gifts to them.

In the Old Testament we most frequently have thanks expressed to God for what he had done for the whole people of Israel. Thanks were due especially for his saving work, and from the time of the Exodus onwards (see Ex.15), God was thanked in regular worship and annual festival for that great salvation. A number of the Psalms (like 105 and 136) are simply grateful recitals of the past acts of God on behalf of his people, and within the Pentateuch Deuteronomy 32,'The Song of Moses', is similarly a hymn of thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his people.

Thanks were due for the gift of the land and for its regular harvests. "When you have eaten and are satisfied" the people were told, "praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you" (Deut.8:10). Some of the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament were specifically sacrifices of thanksgiving, and several times the people were told to rejoice in their offerings, recognising the gratitude they owed to God for all his blessings (e.g. Deut.12:11-12 and 14:26). Deuteronomy 26:5-10 is a beautiful liturgy of thanksgiving that the people were to offer as they brought their first fruits to the Lord, harking back to t heir ancestor as "a wandering Aramean", their people in Egypt crying to the Lord and finding deliverance, and then the gift of their land, "a land flowing with milk and honey". It follows that we, as Christians, should equally partake of our daily food with unfailing thanksgiving (see 1 Tim.4:4-5), and it was clearly the habit of Jesus to do this (see Matt.14:19, 15:36 and 26:27 ).

The Psalms are both thanksgivings and exhortations to give thanks. Words that echo and re-echo through the Psalter are "Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good, for his love endures forever!" The Books of the Prophets sound the same call, sometimes in the same words (e.g. Jer.33:11).

The Bible also tells of thanksgivings of individuals. There is the humble and heartfelt thanksgiving of Abraham's servant when God answered his prayer for guidance in the finding of a wife for Isaac (Gen.24:26). The Song of Hannah after the birth of Samuel expresses Hannah's delighted thanksgiving to God (1 Sam.2:1-10), foreshadowing Mary's Song as she gave thanks for the unspeakable privilege of being the Mother of the Lord, brought about by a reversal of all the world's standards of greatness and power (Lk.1:46-55). There are some beautiful examples of personal gratitude to God in the New Testament, like that of the woman who had been crippled for 18 years and at the word of Jesus "stood up straight and began praising God" (Lk.13:13), and the lame man at the temple gates who was given power in his limbs, and "entered the temple --, walking and leaping and praising God" (Acts 3:8). 1 Timothy 1:12-17 is a notable example of thanksgiving as it tells of God's grace in bringing the persecuting Saul of Tarsus to conversion and to become a supreme example of the "patience" of God. We may set alongside of this the way that Paul in Galatians 1:22-23 says that when he was converted, people glorified God that "the one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy (Gal.1:23-24). As Paul went on in his missionary life he had great occasion to thank God for enabling grace in the face of tremendous difficulties and opposition (2 Cor.1:3-11). In the same Letter (2:14) his thanksgiving is for always being "led in triumph in Christ".

The New Testament also has many passages that speak of thanksgiving to God in relation to communities who have come to believe. Most frequently this is for the work of the gospel and the fruit of preaching. In Romans 1:8 the apostle Paul says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world." In Philippians 1:3 and 5 he says, "I thank my God every time I remember you -- because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." Examples of this kind from the Epistles could be multiplied. For the Christians at Thessalonica Paul gives thanks for their "work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.1:3). In writing of Christian giving in 2 Corinthians 9:11 Paul said that Christian generosity served to "produce thanksgiving to God".

Sadly, however, the Bible must testify to the ingratitude of men and women for God's great blessings. What is all too common a feature of our human lives is illustrated by the incident in the Gospel where ten lepers came to Jesus for healing, and only one turned to give thanks to God (Lk. 17:11-19). Thanksgiving should be a basic human attitude to God, and indeed the unwillingness to give thanks suggests a self-centred life the implications of which Paul spells out in Romans 1:21-22. In thanksgiving we move to centre our lives on God and we glorify God as we should (2 Cor.4:15). It is understandable, therefore, that a thankful spirit is an attitude often urged on Christians. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your to God" (Phil.4:6) "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful" (Col.4:2). "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this God's will in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18). It has often been pointed out that what Paul challenges others to do he exemplifies himself as is seen in the introductions to nearly all of his Letters.