For most of my early life as a Christian, I did not really consider thanksgiving to be the stuff of prayer. Thanksgiving was more of a prelude to petition, which was where I thought the real action lay. When I prayed, I would quickly thank God for the day or for my food—good things to do, to be sure—but I would quickly rush on to ask God for what I needed, without considering other ways I could thank God for his gracious work in my life and in the lives of others around me. What I’ve come to see more and more is that robust thanksgiving is at the heart of prayer alongside petition, confession and praise.
Of the many modes of prayer, thanksgiving runs through the prayers of Paul like a golden thread. Just a sampling: “First, I thank my God for all of you…” (Rom. 1:8); “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Cor. 1:4); “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…” (Eph. 1:16).
Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving teach us that thanksgiving is a way of acknowledging God’s gracious action in our lives and the lives of those we love. Thanksgiving not only honors God, but it trains us to see God’s hand at work in everything.
There are many ways to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving in prayer. Praying the psalms of thanksgiving along with our Forty Days with the Psalms booklet is a great place to begin. Another practice some have found helpful is to keep a gratitude journal to record blessings and ways you’ve seen God at work.
These are great ways to cultivate thanksgiving, but I also want to suggest something simple that you can do right now. If you are reading this on Sunday morning, ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to enter in to our corporate worship with openness, attentiveness and a spirit of thanksgiving.
In each of the passages from Paul’s letters I’ve quoted above, the word for “thank” is the Greek word eucharisteo, which is where we get the English word eucharist. In the Book of Common Prayer, “Holy Eucharist” includes the entirety of our usual Sunday worship—the reading and preaching of the Word, the response of prayer and praise, and the sharing of Holy Communion. What this means is that everything we do when we gather on Sunday is an acknowledgment of, and response to, the gracious work of God in creating us and saving us. What would it look like for you to participate in the worship of God’s people in such a way that the words of the prayers and the hymns and the liturgy become your own?