How do we give thanks in prayer when our personal lives and our nation are in such unsettling times? Here are some guidelines to help you say prayers of thanksgiving even during difficult life situations.
1. Reasons for giving thanks are all around you.
Child custody battles, heart attacks, financial crisis, the death of a loved one, persecution at work, no more Hostess Twinkees…all of these sound like reasons for not being thankful. However, the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV) “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” As has been pointed out before, the word “all” in the original Greek means “all”.
Do I know your situation? No. Do I know where you are in life? No. You may be someone who lost everything that you own to a hurricane. You may be surfing the Net on your mobile device because that’s the last thing you grabbed on the way to shelter, and landed on this site. I’m glad you’re here. Give thanks because God is good no matter the situation. I know how hard this can be because the first paragraph is filled with situations I’ve endured in the past couple of years. I know hard it is to say “thank you” to God when it seems that there is no reason to thank Him.
Why give thanks in times like these?
We have the very breath of God in our nostrils (Genesis 2:7) and the life we have comes from God. It is in the critical times that we come to understand that the stuff of earth does not satisfy. We were created to worship something or someone. When all the stuff of earth is gone we are left with a choice between the worship of another man or woman, or the worship of God. I would make a horrible god. So would you.
2. Learn from the Bible
The Bible is full of verses about giving thanks.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34. ESV)
“We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.” (Psalm 75:1, ESV)
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” (Psalm 30:4, ESV)
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 92:1, ESV)
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4, ESV)
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1, ESV)
If one were to read the verses before and the verses after each of these verses listed what would not be found is a list of circumstances where giving thanks to God is optional. We see injustice, persecutions, erosion of liberties, disease, sickness and in all of these situations and many others we see opportunities to thank God for His goodness. His goodness in your situation and your opportunity to be thankful may just be thanking God for being God. He hears, sees, understands and knows everything that is happening. He is with you.
3. Learn from our nation’s past.
In the midst of the worst fighting ever seen on American soil President Lincoln called on the country to pray to God and give thanks. 620,000 people lost their lives from 1861 to 1865. Mothers lost sons, wives lost husbands, brothers and sisters were lost, families lost their fathers, and brother fought against brother. How could they be thankful in the midst of such a tragedy?
Yet in the United States of America, we pause on a Thursday of every November to give thanks as a nation. This observance was given to us as a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln. A portion of his proclamation read as follows:
“Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union”. (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863)
How do we, with our nation in such unsettling times, pause to give thanks? We should follow in the steps of our forefathers and give thanks to God for our nation, warts and all.
4. Learn and practice thankfulness in little things.
Think about this: the stuff of earth belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). Do you think about your stuff belonging to God? I used to not think that way, but Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, changed my thinking a few years ago. (For you resource junkies, I’m sorry, but I don’t have this sermon referenced.) Because of that sermon you may hear one of my children thank God because chicken nuggets and french-fries taste well together. You might hear how good mashed potatoes and chicken on a stick taste. How good pancakes are. How good peanut butter/chocolate chip toast is. We thank God for our home and everything in it…even the dust bunnies. It all belongs to God.
5. Pray symbolically.
How do we do it? How do we live a thankful life? Here is my suggestion: Take a can of your favorite soda, and hold it in your hand with the bottom of the can in the palm of your hand. Next, hold the can with your fingers wrapped securely around the can. Then…let go and balance the can in the palm of your hand. The can of soda represents whatever it is that you have in your life that is between you and God. The can of soda can represent whatever is holding you back from worshipping God. That soda also may represent whatever it is in your life that you are holding on to and will not let God take charge of.
Now, look at the soda can. Name the soda can whatever it needs to be. It can be pornography, obsession with social media, your child(ren), your spouse, sports, politics, work, church. Now, balance the soda can in the palm of your hand and do not let any of your fingers touch it. Pray the following prayer:
“Father, I give thanks to You because you have what is in my hand. I’m letting go. I give it to You. I’m going to live my life with open hands so that You can take from me what will harm me, and place in my hands everything that I need for life. I give thanks that You are in charge and I am not. Thank you that a life with open hands waiting for Your blessings is far greater than holding onto the stuff of earth. Thank you. For Your beautiful name I pray, amen.”
How do we give thanks? Give thanks with open hands. With open hands we allow God to take out of our grasp the things that may harm us, and replace them with things that may bless us instead.
Thanksgiving for the Body of Christ does not come one day a year. Giving thanks is for every day. Open your hands and give thanks to God because He is good.
Copyright David E. Shelton, 11/23/12, All rights reserved.