Prayer and thanksgiving go together like a turkey and Thanksgiving
by Gini Crawford, MSW
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I am sitting down to prepare a devotional for the Thanksgiving season. I have to admit my attitude isn’t very godly. I have even cleaned the bathroom to procrastinate. However, my attitude of whining today, is exactly what the Holy Spirit has been telling me not to have through what I am going to write about. Leave it to God to teach us teachers first and to use our lives as “what not to do”.
About 2 weeks ago I typed into our Bible program the word “thanksgiving” and many verses came up. One verse in particular has been in my thoughts for those weeks. It is Colossians 4:2:
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving… NASB®
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful… NIV®
I have been prayerfully thinking, what does God want me (and you) to understand and do concerning thanksgiving and prayer from this verse? The rest of this article I will answer this question.
Let’s first talk about the phrase, “Devote yourselves to prayer”. Since we all need to devote ourselves to prayer, we need to understand what the word devote means from the standpoint of the Greek language. Zodhiates (in his Complete Word Study New Testament) says, devote means to continue with someone (Acts 8:13) or cling faithfully to someone (Acts 10:7). It is used metaphorically of being committed and faithful in the Christian life especially in prayer. (Acts 1:14, 2:42, 6:4 also Romans 12:12) Did you notice the word devote has a strong relational aspect to it?
Wuest (in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament of Colosians) says, devote means to give constant attention to something, to give unremitting care to a thing, to persevere, and to be in constant readiness for. Christians were to continually devote themselves to what God wanted and to what others needed. They were also to give constant attention to and readiness for prayer, as well as to persevere in prayer.
From the meaning of devote, I would say, being devoted to prayer means having a consistent and committed lifestyle of talking and listening to God that comes from being devoted to God Himself and His Word. Now, I don’t mean we need to walk around chanting something that sounds spiritual to God, or going through our day muttering a few words here and there to God so we can feel like we are doing our relational duty to Him. God wants our prayer life to be authentic and honest. He wants us to talk to Him as we would talk to someone we love and trust and who truly loves us. As someone we can’t wait to communicate with.
What you need to do is ask yourselves, do you really devote yourself to prayer? When you are devoted to prayer, your prayer life will be one that is as natural and constant as your breathing is. Yet, I have to admit, at times I find myself doing the opposite. I find myself, going about my day with only a few words here and there to God. Can you relate? However, when I truly think about what this means, I am horrified. Can you imagine if you had a child, a spouse, or a friend stand there waiting to talk to you and you just went about your business for a few minutes, much less for a few hours? How rude and unloving!
When you are not devoted to prayer, you are giving God the cold shoulder. You are being unloving even rude to Him, since He is always with you! Being unloving to God is awful enough. However, the reality of the situation is, when you are not communicating with God you are leaving out His understanding and wisdom, and even His power. This means your life is led by yourself and not by the Holy Spirit. This is certainly a recipe for an unfruitful life as a Christian!
How can you devote yourself to prayer? I have found if I want to be devoted to prayer, I need to start my day with the thought and reality that God is with me. Then my prayer life that day seems to follow my mind-set and I just naturally talk with Him through out the day.
What helps me to start my day with God is to have breakfast with Him. I know it sounds funny but what I do is, I read His Words and talk to Him as we enjoy my morning meal together. During this time I let Him speak to me and journal His insights. I don’t just chatter away at Him, but I give Him the quietness to speak to my heart and renew my mind. This time is my personal time with my God, so I don’t write devotions or studies during this time. Yet, I have found many times that God gives me ideas on what to write about during this period.
Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning. Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray. In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch. Psalm 5:1-3 NASB®
God’s Word goes on to tell us in Colossians 4:2, as we devote ourselves to prayer we need to pray, being “watchful or alert” and “thankful or with thanksgiving” . We certainly need to know what these words mean, because we need to have them in our prayer life. So what does the word watchful mean in the Greek? Wuest says, it means to give strict attention to and to be active in. So when you are watchful in your prayer life, you are continuously aware for the need of prayer. When you are not watchful, you can find yourself doing your own thing, thus leaving prayer out. This scenario can lead me to start whining, you know having a poor me attitude. This takes us to the last but not least aspect of prayer from Colossians 4:2, being thankful.
The word thankful is one of those words that takes on a beautiful meaning in the Greek language. Zodhiates says it has the meaning of being thankful and grateful to God. It also means to receive something as an expression of grace by someone and accept it as if one doesn’t deserve it. This word embodies the greatest reason we should be thankful. Ephesians 2:1-9 explains this reason which is because of God's greatest gift, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. NASB®
We are told in Colossians 4:2 that prayer and thanksgiving go together. What are some concrete things we can do to have an attitude of thanksgiving with our prayers? First of all, we need to get to know God like we would anyone else we love. We also need to take the time and effort to get to know His Word. This is because getting to know God and His Word enables us to recognize who He is and what He has done for us so we can have heart felt thankfulness as we pray. Second, we need to be alert to the many blessings God gives us everyday. In James 1:17, He is called the giver of every good and perfect gift! Remembering this can fill our minds with the blessings He has given to us, not with what we don’t have. Doing these two points should encourage thankfulness when you are praying!
There are two other verses in the Bible that unite thanksgiving with prayer. The one most people think of is, Philippians 4:6-7.
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, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NASB®
This passage tell us, we need to pray with thanksgiving, instead of not praying leading to worry. Praying with thankfulness builds trust in God because our thoughts are on what He has done and does for us, and not on what we think we should have. This state of thankfulness gives us His peace in our minds and hearts, because our focus is on God, and not on self and worries.
The other verse is in Nehemiah 11:17
" …Mattaniah… who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer…" NASB®
This verse is talking about the Old Testament priest who would lead the choir as they were singing praises at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices.I thought this was interesting, because when you put this verse together with two others that speak about thanksgiving - all three passages seem to teach that thankfulness is a result of being close with God. The other two are: Ephesians 5:15-20 (the Spirit filling us leads to giving thanks) and Colossians 3:16-17 (God’s Word indwelling us leads to thankfulness).
Take note, God isn’t telling us to make up niceties to be thankful and forget about dealing with reality. Remember, being devoted in prayer means to have a prayer life that is honest and real with God, not one that is flavored with untruths (positive or negative). What He is wanting in us is a state of thankfulness that prays and sees our lives from His perspective of working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). He also wants us to realize He is the One who has loved us and allows only what we need in our lives, to make us beautifully His for now and eternity.
Let’s end by summing up, Colossians 4:2. When we are devoted to prayer, we are devoted to God and His Word. This devotion to Him makes our prayer life as natural as breathing, and gives us the desire and motivation to pray consistently with sincere heart felt thanksgiving in any and every circumstance.
When things are going as we like, we can easily be thankful. Can't we? However, when things aren't going so well, it is hard to be thankful.
When things aren't going so well - - we can still have an attitude of thanksgiving towards God. What you need to do is, remind yourself that God loves you. (The Bible study "God Loves You and Me" always reminds me of how much I am loved by God. I find myself reviewing my own study at times.) This is because when you know of and believe in God's immense love for you, then when the "you know whats" hit the fan in your life (and they always do), you will be able to trust that He will accomplish good for you through the trials. You will also be able to have an attitude of thanksgiving through the trials of life. This is because when Someone truly loves you, you know He has your best in mind.
What my daughter-in law does (and I would encourage you to do it too) is: she makes a list of all the good things God has given her and puts that list where she can see it often. This is so when she struggles with whether God loves her, she can visibly see and remember all the things God has blessed her with. This helps her to have an attitude of thanksgiving and trust.
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