Prayer of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is one of the most common forms of prayer I hear in the church today. We thank God often. We thank Him because we feel that He has done something for us. Thanksgiving is both a relational word and a transactional word. We can say “thank you” to a cashier at the store who has rung up our groceries for us, to a carpenter who has built something for us, or to the person who cuts our hair when they are done. In these contexts, thanksgiving is not so much about continuing a lasting relationship as it is appreciation for what the person did for me. In these contexts, if we’re not careful, thanksgiving becomes either a cultural duty (i.e., we are expected to say it and everyone else does, so we do too) or a matter of selfishness (i.e., I got what I wanted, I said thanks, and now I can get on with my day).
This form of thanksgiving can easily, unknowingly, seep into our prayers. A look at how the psalmists prayed in thanksgiving can help us correct this view and replace it.
There are 13 psalms of thanksgiving. Less than 10 percent of them. They are Psalms 18, 30, 65, 66, 67, 75, 105, 106, 108, 116, 135, 136, 138. The main elements of these kind of psalms are:
- Introduction. The psalmist gives testimony of how God has helped.
- Distress. The psalmist describes the situation God acted in.
- Appeal. The psalmist recalls the appeal that he made to God.
- Deliverance. The psalmist describes how God rescued him.
- Testimony. A word of praise for God’s mercy is given.
Psalm 138 is one example.
Introduction (vv. 1-2)
1I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
Distress, unspecified in this psalm, and Appeal (v. 3)
3When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
Testimony (vv. 4-5, 8)
4May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
when they hear what you have decreed.
5May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.
Deliverance (vv. 6-7)
6Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly,
but he takes notice of the proud from afar.
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
8The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.
The psalms of thanksgiving have their setting in a person’s deliverance from trouble. They are very much like the psalms of lament. Thanksgiving does not come only in the good times. It comes after reflection on how God has acted at all times. For the psalmist, God answered when he called. He saves him with his right hand and will vindicate him. Notice how the psalmist does not use the word “thanks” at all, but instead his language is of praise—his own personal praise and the praise of the kings of the earth.
Jesus provides us with an example of a prayer of thanksgiving. Matthew 11:25-26 says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your glorious will.” Jesus prays this after John the Baptist’s disciples ask Him if Jesus is the Messiah and after calling out towns who did not repent after witnessing his miracles. The person who understood Jesus best misunderstood Him. And the towns he did a majority of his ministry in—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, filled with people who knew Jesus best, did not know Him. So he prayed in thanksgiving that God had hidden His true identity from them and instead revealed it to little children.
The prayer of thanksgiving is not really a form of prayer but speaks to the content of the prayer. Like children, we must learn adoration. It does not come naturally. And how do we learn to adore and thank God? One way is to stop long enough to enjoy the simple things of life. The next time an ant makes its way into your kitchen, before you get rid of it, get down low and watch it work. The next time you see a flower growing, dip down to smell it, to see the intricate parts, and to thank God for the flower. The next time you see your spouse, ponder all the ways God made him/her unique.
Spend an entire day living in gratitude. Give thanks to God for as much as you possibly can. When there is something you are frustrated about, give thanks for three more things. And eventually, as you practice gratitude and adoration, you begin to magnify God. Richard Foster says that we can never say too much about God’s goodness or love. It will always be greater than our imaginations. But we can magnify His name and exalt Him to His rightful place in our prayers.