Prayer with Thanksgiving

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There’s something about Chicago in the winter that makes everything a little gray.

Of course, there’s the lagging lack of sunlight and melting, dirty snow slush. Bundled figures become unrecognizable because of the freezing temperatures which encourage anyone to find shelter.  Loneliness looms over the skyline as words spoken by passing strangers faint into silence. Winter also means the start of another heavy academic load, a constant churning of the mundane. In the mist of such a sad season, a thankful spirit is hard to come by.

However, I recently received a warm sense of encouragement from a familiar passage—Philippians 4. The theme that resounds through Paul’s letter is “joy.” During this time, the church has earned her enemies, and persecution is on the rise. False teachers are polluting the flock from within. To top it off, Paul is confined to the gloom of a prison cell, only able to write to his beloved believers in Philippi. And Paul tells them:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4).

Oh, the irony; but Paul goes on to explain his unexpected imperative:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).

Paul does not write these words as a distant third party. The basis for his claim is his own experience. He writes as one who has already tasted Christ’s sweet joy and peace through giving thanks to God in his present condition. This is more than mere irony. This is a mystery, wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ.

See, temporary “highs” can cheer me up for a moment, but a heart of gratitude instills a deep, lasting joy that weathers even the darkest of seasons. An honest, childlike cry to my heavenly Father can proclaim a resounding cry of thanksgiving at the same time.

So, I was given a challenge. What if I learned to live in wonder of each moment and apply this heart of gratitude to every situation? Yet, to do this would require a return to the basics, namely, the simplicity of the Gospel. The gospel proclaims that Jesus endured suffering to the point of death and was exalted by the Father in order that I may have a relationship with Him instead of His wrath! To give thanks would mean I must stop long enough to remember the gospel and notice what is around me worthy of thanksgiving. A heart of gratitude begins with resting in His grace. But I found this more difficult than I thought.

How I love to strive for my Father’s love instead of resting in Christ’s sufficient grace. I tend to separate my daily “quiet time,” church worship, and Bible study from school, daily chores, and my snowy walk to work.

Do I think that God is somehow more pleased with me when I study His Word extra-long?

Do I suddenly become less able to worship my Holy Father after I say my closing prayer and enter into the daily monotony?

Such thinking has led me to miss the character of God and complicates the understanding of the gospel—a perfect, permanent union with Himself that’s not dependent on my striving but resting in His grace. My desire to “please” God apart from Christ has created an anxious tirelessness within me, not a thankful spirit.

Here, I find myself at a crossroads. If I truly believe what Paul says, that presenting my requests, “with thanksgiving” will bring about God’s perfect, protective peace, then I must let go of my control and give in to this call to rest. Only then, will I recognize the countless gifts that He gives each day and be led to thank Him.

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

There Paul mentions the same thing again. Giving thanks in everything is actually God’s will for me in Christ. Even in sub-zero temperatures, I can give thanks with joy during my walk to work. In the stress of school, I can continually come to my faithful and sympathetic High Priest who is always with me. While washing the dishes, I can awe in wonder at the union of God and lowly humanity.

What if I learned to enter Christ’s rest and thank Him for the most seemingly silly thing? What if I could find joy in even the most tiresome of tasks? Then this would be the start of an entirely different prayer life.

 

danielle

Danielle is a former 2013 Transform intern. She is a senior at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL where she is studying Bible and Communications. Her desire is to teach God’s Word and disciple women through the spoken and written word.

 

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