A Thanksgiving Meditation: Prayer with Thanksgiving is a Shield Against Fear and Self-Absorption

Have you ever noticed that often when Paul instructs the churches to pray he admonishes them to pray with thanksgiving?

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving“. . .”do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. . .”Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Why does Paul place such an emphasis on praying with thanksgiving? For at least two reasons: Because prayer with thanksgiving is a shield against fear and self-absorption.

1. A Shield Against Fear

The one who never thanks God is easily given to fear and self-absorption. You see, thanking God for past and present blessings casts out fear and fuels confidence for future grace. This is why it is so important to pray thankfully. When you are daily reminding yourself of God’s grace to you in Christ and thanking Him for all of the temporal and eternal blessings that you have from his good and sovereign hand it encourages you to trust Him for the future. You can say, with confidence, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds it. . .He is a good God and he has proven it to me ultimately in Christ” (Romans 8:31-37).

Commenting on Psalm 136, Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

“Let us thank him that we have seen, proved, and tasted that he is good. He is good beyond all others; indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of all good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he serves the constant gratitude of his people.”

As Spurgeon notes, he is serving the “constant gratitude of his people”, including you! Have you noticed lately how he has served your gratitude daily and prayed thankfully? The sooner you start noticing his goodness to you in daily temporal blessings, and the all-sufficient eternal blessings that are yours in Christ by faith, the sooner you will stop worrying about the future.

Gratitude is a shield against fear! This is why Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)Notice the connection between the exhortation not to be anxious and to pray with thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving is a vital element in the kind of prayer that casts out anxiety and experiences the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

2. A Shield Against Self-Absorption

And not only is gratitude a shield against fear it’s also a shield against self-absorption. The one who does not thank God on a regular basis is also given to self-absorption. Why? Because the blessings that they have they take for granted as if they earned them apart from God. It’s a form of practical atheism and a practical denial of our sinfulness and God’s grace. It’s also a form of idolatry as it worships the gift rather than the Giver. And thus, a lack of thankfulness is a turning within, a form of self-absorption. This is why we need to pray thankfully, namely because it’s a shield against fear and self-absorption. When we pray thankfully we live in confidence and are rightly absorbed with God and praising Him for who He is and what He’s done for us in Christ. And this is what will bring us ultimate delight and satisfaction in this life and the next.

And for us who know the AMAZING GRACE of God in Christ, thanksgiving should be a natural, joyous, and constant disposition. Joel Beeke writes,

“We are so prone to count our one or two troubles and so quick to dwell upon that one unkind word more than upon another hundred kind words for which we should be so deeply thankful. True thankfulness brings us close to the heart of God, to His love and grace. True thankfulness realizes that anything short of hell is grace.”

Conclusion

And so, pray with thanksgiving, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” And God is worthy of our thanksgiving! So let us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”. . .“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift [Christ]!. . .AND. . .“from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Psalm 136:1; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Romans 11:36)

Christian, pray as one who is in a covenant of grace and not under a covenant of works!

Christian pray as one who is in a covenant of grace and not under a covenant of works. Joel and/or James Beeke gives this good reminder,

“Praying sincerely does not mean that we first attain a certain degree of sincerity and then pray. A sincere person knows and feels his imperfections; he deeply recognizes that his insincerity is not sincere enough. If we needed to become truly sincere in order for God to hear us, nobody would be able to pray. But someone asks, “Is not sincerity a quality that the Holy Spirit must work in my heart before I can truly pray?” We must answer “yes” and “no” to this question: Yes, the Holy Spirit must open our spiritual eyes to see sincerely that we are not sincere enough. But, no, we are never to think of our sincerity as a qualifying factor that earns us a right to God’s attention and answer. This would drag us back into a covenant of works, making us like pagans who think they must bring something in their hands to please their gods in order to be heard” (Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God, 53).

Note: This also applies to our approach to public worship on Sunday when we don’t feel sincere enough to go to church. It even applies to pastors when they don’t feel sincere enough to preach. Remember, in Christ you are not in a covenant of works but a covenant of grace! (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18)

Dealing With Unfulfilled Prayer

Here is a beautiful meditation on unfulfilled prayer from James and Joel Beeke in their book, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing With God. There are 31 chapters/meditations and each one is so short that it is a great daily devotional to read through in one month. This particular mediation on “Unfulfilled Prayer” is so good that I just have to quote the whole thing for your encouragement. It will also give you an idea for about how long each mediation is:

I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan. . .and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. . .Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. (Deuteronomy 3:25a, 26b, 27)

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Moses’ prayer was legitimate. After forty years of leading the children of Israel through all the trials, difficulties, and setbacks they encountered in the wilderness, he now longed to rejoice in God’s fulfillment; he desired to actually enter and see the land of Canaan. But the Lord denied his request because of his own act of anger and unbelief in smiting the rock twice. Though God forgave Moses, He said to him, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.”

Paul’s request was also legitimate. He experienced a constant thorn in the flesh, a handicap or impediment, and he asked God to remove it. Perhaps Paul thought he could serve the Lord more effectively if it was gone. But God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” In Paul’s case, we read of no sin connected to God’s lack of response.

These are biblical examples that legitimate prayers, proper requests, and fitting petitions can remain unfulfilled. It is possible that our prayers for wayward sons of daughters, for more effective gifts to serve, or for the healing of a loved one remain unfulfilled. Legitimate prayers may remain unfulfilled prayers. Such experiences can hand as a cloud over our spiritual lives. Everything begins to look darker and feel colder. We can become depressed, coming to wrong conclusions like, “All my prayers are fruitless,” or “I must not be a child of God because my prayer is not answered.” Both of these conclusions are mistaken. Remember that despite these examples of unfulfilled prayers, Moses and Paul were true children of God and many of their prayers were answered.

If our prayers do not obtain the benefits we desire, this does not necessarily mean that they are fruitless. Unfulfilled prayer can serve as a means to produce far deeper and more valuable benefits than those we originally requested. Unfulfilled prayer can teach us patience and contentment, surrendering and bowing before God. Moses did not rebelliously ascend Mount Nebo to look despairingly at the land and resentfully to die there. No, God was glorified more by Moses’ response to his unfulfilled prayer than if it had been answered in the way he desired. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to exercise the soul and produce greater reliance upon God. Paul confessed, “When I am weak (in self), then am I strong (in the Lord)” (2 Cor. 12:10b). Whatever his thorn was, it kept him humble and dependent upon the Lord. Do you see how God provided richer experiences to Paul by not granting his request? The Lord can use unfulfilled prayer to work deeper fulfillment, rest, and trust in God. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” A craftsman will be more glorified when he produces beautiful art with imperfect tools. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to teach us humility and dependency, to trust more in God and less in self. Unfulfilled prayer can loosen our attachment to man and temporal things.

Do you understand how unfulfilled prayer can produce rich, fulfilling purposes? And how fruitless prayer can serve a fruitful purpose? The difficulty lies with our vision. We often have our eyes on more shallow, temporary results and fruits. God’s vision is deeper; he aims for eternal results and fruits. Moses’ eye and prayer were focused upon earthly Canaan, which God denied; from Mt. Nebo, however, God took him into the heavenly Canaan. Paul desired that his temporary thorn be removed, but God gave him grace to bear it, and in the end Paul entered God’s rest where all thorns are removed.

When considering unfulfilled prayers, let us remember that God’s “no’s” are often deeper “yes’s.” We may view unfulfilled prayer as receiving a no answer from God, but He may be providing deeper answers. The Lord can fulfill much through unfulfilled prayer, to His glory and to our amazement.” (pp. 70-72).