Prayer with Thanksgiving
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 22, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
Gratitude is in short supply today. It seems that thanksgiving is in inverse proportion to mercy and favors received. We do not like it when people do not thank us for favors done for them. How much more is God angry with unthankful people who exist because of his grace!
Ingratitude chokes off future favors. In some cultures, thanksgiving is a foreign idea. For some, it is considered a shame to thank someone. Such unthankfulness is also seen more frequently in Western cultures today.
Second Chronicles 24 tells us that King Joash murdered his cousin Zechariah, a priest and prophet who was sent to the king to speak the word of God. Zechariah's father, Jehoiada, and mother, Jehosheba, saved Joash's life when he was an infant. In due time, Jehoiada made Joash king in Judah. Yet when Zechariah came to speak the word of grace and salvation to Joash, he stoned him to death. Jesus Christ himself went about doing good, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and teaching the way of salvation. For this, the people crucified him.
We live in an unthankful world. In Romans 1:21 Paul writes that unbelievers are unthankful. But David exhorts himself, saying, "Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from [destruction] and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles" (Ps. 103:2-5). The Lord provides for all our spiritual and physical needs; therefore, David says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul." Let us also praise the Lord, for he is good and his love endures forever.
Philippians 4:6-7 speaks about praying with thanksgiving. We want to examine three things: first, a prohibition against fretting; second, the prescription of prayer with thanksgiving; and third, God's promise of heavenly peace.
The Prohibition: Do Not Worry
Paul begins this passage with a negative command, a prohibition: "Mêden merimnate." The Greek text is saying, "You are worrying now. Stop worrying. Stop it now!" This is not a suggestion; it is a divine command to all worrying Christians.
We worry for various reasons: sickness, financial losses, death of loved ones, divorce, unbelieving children, unfaithfulness of trusted friends. We worry about the future, or marriage, or family. We worry about education and examinations. When people insult us, persecute us, and falsely say all kids of evil against us, we worry. We worry about loneliness and the prospect of our imminent death. As Christians, we can worry, fret, and become very anxious. We lie down but cannot sleep. We are like a compass when it is hit. The needle shakes and moves to and fro. But soon it stops and points correctly to north. So also Christians when shaken by troubles, can get very anxious. But then they look to God, and he steadies us.
"Stop worrying!" says our God. This is a divine command. As children of God, we must obey our heavenly Father's commands. When he says to repent, we repent. When he says to rejoice, we rejoice. When he says to forgive, we forgive. When he tells us to work six days a week, we work six days a week. When he says to love our wives, we love our wives. When he says to obey our parents, we obey our parents.
When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, he obeyed. Our heavenly Father commands us negatively and positively. We his children are to obey him instantly, exactly, and gladly. So from this passage our heavenly Father is commanding us to stop worrying. Stop it now! It is God who is speaking to us in the holy Scriptures.
Worrying is a self-centered and counterproductive occupation. It is a sign of our lack of trust in our living Lord and his wise providence. Paul was acquainted with the teaching of Jesus as found in Matthew 6:25-34. There the word "worry" (merimnaô) appears six times. Jesus commands us to stop worrying three times (vv. 25, 31, 34). Notice, he is not advocating laziness or lack of planning. The Bible exhorts a lazy Christian not to eat. A lazy man is disobedient, wicked, and arrogant. Such a person is disobeying God's law that tells us to work hard six days a week. We must plan, we must study hard, and we must labor six days a week. But God prohibits us from constant worrying.
Do not let worry control your heart, thought, imaginations, and reasoning, thinking of all the possibilities of what may happen. Stop such godless reasoning! Worry is "unconscious blasphemy," says Prof. Ralph Martin.1 Stop worrying, therefore, about anything, whether big or small. There is no divine authorization for us to worry about even one thing.
Worrying people are not true Christians. They are the third-soil, fruitless Christians of which Jesus spoke: "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Mark 4:18-19). Worrying people believe that life consists in abundance of stuff. Elsewhere Jesus warned, "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of this life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap" (Luke 21:34). It will be like what happened in the great flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Friends, use logic to fight against sinful worries. Utilize arguments such as the ones Jesus gave in Matthew 6:
God is our heavenly Father.
We are his dear children.
The Father provides for his children. We are told, "If you do not provide for your family, you are worse than an infidel." It is the father's job to provide for his family. If this is the case, how much more will our heavenly Father provide for his children?
He knows that we need food and clothing to sustain our God-given being.
He cares for lesser things of his creation-birds and flowers.
We are more valuable to the Father than birds and flowers. We are created in his image and redeemed at the cost of his Son's death.
Believe in his promise that says, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you as well." That means we must focus our attention on God and his kingdom. Such a focus shall cure our worry.
Therefore, stop worrying, and do so now. God commands us.
The Prescription: Pray with Thanksgiving
The second point is God's positive command, a prescription to deal with worry. What is the prescription? Prayer with thanksgiving. So Paul writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything. . ." He dictates a strong contrast to worrying: "Stop worrying about anything but in everything." There is no limit. We must bring to God all matters, great or small, that give us fearful fretting and make us anxious. We must stop our negative worrying and start the positive step of living and solving these problems that trouble us.
Martha was worried about many things, and we are like Martha. But Jesus said only one thing is needful: to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. How do we deal with every problem? "But in everything with prayer." The Greek word is proseuchê, which speaks of the reverential attitude we should have when we come to God in prayer. We must realize that we are not the center of the universe. When we come to God, we are to forget about ourselves and our problems, for we are coming to a greater, ultimate reality, the eternal God. We are to forget about ourselves and concentrate on God the holy, mighty sovereign Lord, the compassionate and glorious one who is also our heavenly Father. In other words, we are to come saying, "Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." No murmuring or complaining is permitted. We must not question God's wise providence. Paralyzing anxiety cannot co-exist with prayer.
How do we come to God? Having repented of our sins, forgiven our brothers and been reconciled to them, we come to God now that we are living in peace with his people. The Bible says the prayer of a righteous man availeth much. We must come to God in true faith. When we come to God we must believe that he exists. He is the ultimate reality and a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. We must not come to him in a perfunctory or superficial manner. We must be aware that we are coming to the great king of the universe.
We must come to him without cherishing secret sins. The psalmist declares, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer" (Ps. 66:18-19). When God commands us to forgive and be reconciled to our brothers but we refuse, he will not hear our prayer. We disobeyed his command. Our prayers will not reach God's presence until we get right with God and each other. Isaiah says, "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Is. 59:1-2). So God hears prayer, but he will not hear the prayer of a sinner who refuses to repent.
We also must pray according to God's will revealed in the Bible. We must not rush into his presence, demanding that he pay attention to our desires. Children may do that with their parents, but we cannot do it with our heavenly Father. Proseuchê has to do with worship, adoration, and a reverential approach to the glorious majesty of our God. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. . . . Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22). I hope we will be God-focused. We have come into God's presence. Thank God, he welcomes us in the name of his Son. Therefore, let us come as humble creatures, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Let us come as children of the heavenly Father and as holy brothers of Jesus Christ, the holy One.
Paul says we should come with prayer and supplication (Phil. 4:6). Supplication has to do with our lowly status, our humility. We should come as the Syro-Phoenician woman came to Jesus. She acknowledged that she was a dog, yet she knew she had a right to crumbs from the table of her master. We should come as blind Bartimaeus, crying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me," that is, "King Jesus, save me." We must come as the leper did, saying, "I know you are able to heal leprosy. You are the Messiah. But I do not know whether you are willing to heal me." Jesus told him, "I am willing." We must come as the publican came, saying: "Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner." We must come contrite and lowly in spirit (Isa. 57:15).
Paul also says we should come with thanksgiving, eucharistia. The background of the Greek word means to give thanks for grace received, which makes us rejoice. Eucharistia became the name for the Lord's Supper in the second century AD. We thank God for Christ's atoning sacrifice, which is the basis of our salvation.
So we come to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. God will not hear the prayer of an ungrateful person. Gratitude is a necessary ingredient in effectual prayer. We come to God, thanking him for past mercies. We come to God even thanking him for the present trials, which are for our good. The acronym for prayer is ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Although ingratitude chokes off future favors, giving thanks stimulates us to trust in God for future mercies. We must thank God for our existence, for being is better than non-being. We must thank God for our parents and grandparents. God made us fearfully and wonderfully in the wombs of our mothers. Thank God for our physical families, and for our Christian families, which are more enduring than any physical family. We musty thank God for the church, as well as for food, clothing, shelter, medicine, jobs, health, and, above all, for eternal life in Jesus Christ. We must thank God for the Bible, our spiritual guidebook. We must thank God for this country, for peace, and for pastors who declare the word of God without fear.
The Bible speaks much about thanksgiving. It tells us how every unbeliever is unthankful to God. Although he lives off God's common grace, he thanks himself every day. The Bible says our attitude should be always one of thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4). We must be thankful for God the Father who planned our salvation, for Jesus Christ, for the Holy Spirit, and for fellow believers. We are to give thanks to God for our daily food. We must be thankful for the bread and wine representing Jesus Christ, our atoning sacrifice. We must be thankful when we pray every time. And we are told to have overflowing of thankfulness, not just a little trickle (Col. 2:7). We are to be thankful always for all things, not only good but also troublesome. Thus we thank God before we submit new petitions for him to answer.
Professor Gordon D. Fee tells us: "Thanksgiving is an explicit acknowledgment of creatureliness and dependence, a recognition that everything comes as gift, the verbalization before God of his goodness and generosity. . . . [Thanksgiving] is the absolutely basic posture of the believer, and the proper context for 'petitioning' God."2 Gratitude acknowledges and begets generosity.
Paul instructs, "Make your requests known to God" (Phil. 4:6). We come to God with our list (ta aitêmata humôn). The psalmist says, "Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall" (Ps. 55:22-23). And Peter tells us, "Cast all your cares upon the Lord because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7, author's translation). Jesus said, "Come unto me, those who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28, author's translation). In other words, our Lord is saying, "I will take that burden off of your shoulders and in its place you will receive peace, rest, tranquility, and freedom."
Let us bring everything that causes us fearful anxiety to God. As a child comes to the father with his problems and the father solves those problems, so should we come to God's presence in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. We bring our list of problems. Just as we take a list to the store with us, so should we take a list to God in prayer.
As we come in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to make our requests known to him, God smiles at us and asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" Then we give him all the items in the list. In the Septuagint, Psalm 37:4 speaks of, "Ta aitêmata tês kardias humôn," "the items of your heart." So the psalmist is saying, "God gives you the desires of your heart."
We must bring specific requests, items. The friend who did not have any bread to give to his friend at night went to his other friend with a very clear, specific request. It was not a general prayer. He asked for three loaves of bread, and that is what he received.
We must be specific in our request to God. The more specific our request, the greater is our faith in God. We do not go to a grocery store and say, "I want some food." We are specific. The Syro-Phoenician woman asked for healing for her daughter. (PGM) The blind Bartimaeus told Jesus, "I want to see." The leper came and said, "I want cleansing." Daniel and his friends prayed all night with a specific request: "Reveal to us the dream you gave to the king, and also give us its interpretation," and by morning their specific prayer was answered. Paul prayed, "O Lord, remove this thorn in my flesh." The disciples said, "Lord, save us, for we are drowning." If we are not specific, we are not trusting. Then our prayer is merely a ceremonial, liturgical, religious exercise.
Paul says, "Let your requests be made known to God." What a privilege it is to come to God's presence. He welcomes us and asks, "How can I help you today." Then we tell him. Make known to him who is able. Be articulate in supplication. Yes, he knows our needs already, but he requires us to come and make them known to him, thus showing our faith in God.
We can go to him directly, not through some saints or through Mary as a co-redemptrix. We can go to him directly through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank God for this access we have to God the Father himself!
Instead of worrying, we must speak to God clearly and pour out our hearts to him. Prayer with thanksgiving is the antidote for all worrying. Sennacherib was going to swallow up Judah and Hezekiah. When Hezekiah received a threatening letter from the great Assyrian king, he went to the temple and spread the letter before the Lord. "God, you have a letter from Sennacherib. He is going to destroy us, your people. Please help us." The Lord sent one angel, who killed 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers overnight. Sennacherib retreated to Assyria without shooting even one arrow against Jerusalem.
"Make known your request to God." Daniel did it three times a day, morning, noon, and evening. We must make our requests known, but not by vain repetition. The prayers of other religions, including false Christianity, are vain repetition to dumb idols. Only prayer to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is true prayer. Do not mumble but be intelligent and articulate. Hannah was articulate, even though Eli did not understand her. God heard her prayer and gave this barren woman several children.
Therefore, stop fretting and start praying with thanksgiving.
The Promise: Divine Peace
What is the promise God gives if we follow his commands? Divine peace. Notice, God does not promise to answer all our requests in the affirmative. Paul prayed for the sick Trophimus that he may be healed. But God did not heal him, so Paul left him sick at Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). Timothy had stomach problems, but he was not healed, despite prayer. Instead, Paul told him to drink a little wine. Paul himself prayed three times to have God remove his thorn in the flesh, but God did not remove it.
God always hears our prayers and requests, and he grants what is ultimately good for us. He will grant our requests if they are in accordance with his will and if they result in our spiritual benefit. God's ultimate purpose in our eternal election is to make us holy and blameless, not rich and powerful. His purpose is to make us like his Son so that we may enjoy eternal life with him.
In this passage God guarantees to give us the super-abounding peace of God, divine peace to guard our hearts and minds. He stops our worrying. God is the God of peace. Christ is the Prince of peace. The fruit of the Spirit is not worry but peace. So we read in Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you," meaning he relies on, leans on, and has no other plan than Christ. Jesus is our only Savior, Deliverer, and Healer.
Isaiah 32:17 says, "The fruit of righteousness will be peace." Do not trust when presidents or kings offer us peace. When they say, "Peace and safety," sudden destruction will come (1 Thess. 5:3). They can offer us only fleeting peace. But here Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid" (John 14:27). Paul writes, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" (Col. 3:15). God promises to still our shaking hearts. He keeps us in the center of the hurricane. He keeps us in the center of Christ. We are in Christ, in the Father, and in the Holy Spirit. The environment cannot shake us. The hymnist writes,
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul.
My sin-O, the bliss of this glorious thought!-
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
He gives us rivers of peace, a peace that is beyond our comprehension. Who can understand God's love and peace? Who can measure its depth and height, length and breadth? I say, forget about trying to understand it. God's love and peace come to us to steady our hearts and thoughts and cause them to be focused on God, who sent his Son to die for us on the cross. The peace of God redirects our thinking and feeling to the very heart of our heavenly Father.
So Paul writes, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). Elsewhere he declares, "For if when we were God's enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved in and through and with his undying life" (Rom. 5:10, author's paraphrase).
God's peace will guard our hearts and thoughts from worry. It acts as a sentry, a garrison, a sentinel, just as Roman soldiers guarded the city of Philippi from all her enemies. The Philippians had seen them doing it. The Romans in Philippi were far from Rome. So also we are far from our home. We are citizens of heaven living on the earth. But do not worry; the peace of God that passes all human understanding will ensure that our hearts are steady, believing and hoping in God.
God himself will guard our minds, emotions, wills, consciences, and imaginations. He will prevent evil and unbelieving thoughts from invading our hearts and making us worry, fret, and fear. We will be at peace within ourselves, and will be able to lie down and go to sleep.
In Acts 12 we read of Peter in a prison, chained to soldiers, about to be executed in the morning. But the peace of God was guarding his heart and mind, and he was sound asleep. That is peace that passes all human understanding. It will come to us when people arrest us and bring us before authorities simply because we are Christians. Jesus said, " When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say" (Luke 12:11-12).
God's peace will also come to us when we are about to die. It came to Stephen, Peter, Paul, and all the martyrs of God. It has come to a number of our own people in the past few years. Jesus reassures us, "Fear not; I am with you." Peace is the calm after Calvary's storm. Calvary's storm is over; therefore, we have peace now and forevermore. The disciples were in the boat when a great storm arose. They prayed, and Jesus brought about a great calm. He gives us great peace.
God is peace, and he is with us. He gives us grace that is sufficient for us to live and die, and peace that is sufficient to live and die. He guarantees peace to us, and Jesus never fails.
Heaven and earth may pass away,
but Jesus never fails.
This peace of God, this peace of Christ, this peace of the Holy Spirit, will rule our hearts and calm our souls. "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God," peace forevermore. So Paul writes, "Grace and peace be with you" (Phil. 1:2). Where there is grace, there is peace; where there is peace, there is grace. It all comes from the Father and the Son.
This peace is available only to those who are in Christ Jesus. Outside Christ, there is storm, worry, death, hell, misery, and hopelessness. But thank God, we are in Christ by faith in him! So we enjoy life, peace, and joy. The unbeliever can only worry because he is without God, without hope, and without peace.
Therefore, stop worrying. No matter the reason, stop it, if you are a child of God. It is God's command. And start praying. That is also God's command. Bring your petitions to God, make them known to him, and he will give you grace and peace. Forget about yourself and concentrate on him. "Anxiety and prayer (curare et orare) are more opposed to each other than fire and water."3 But where there is prayer, there is no anxiety, because true prayer casts out all worries. So let us live a life of divine peace.
Only a believer can pray because only a believer is in Christ, from whom flows all spiritual blessings. Therefore, if you are not a Christian, or if you are backslidden one, do not worry. Thank God you are now hearing the word of God. Call upon the name of the Lord. Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Be in Christ and enjoy the rivers of peace and grace and life and joy now and forevermore.
1 Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, Rev. Ed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 171.
2 Gordon D. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 409-410.
3 Martin, 171.
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
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