Give Thanks–Paul’s Prayers of Thanksgiving



Early in my Christian life I obtained Arthur W. Pink’s Gleanings from Paul: The Prayers of the Apostle (Moody 1967). That study of Paul’s prayers in Scripture kindled a spiritual fire in my heart and life. Paul’s example in prayer, especially in the thanks with which he begins most of his epistles, set a pattern for believers throughout the next two millennia and beyond. Paul’s admonition, “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) certainly challenges each one of us. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day 2016, let’s immerse ourselves in opportunities for thanksgiving that the apostle exemplifies through his epistles.

No Thanks. Are you facing a Thanksgiving at a time when it is difficult to give thanks? Even the apostle Paul faced such circumstances and was unable to find a reason for thanksgiving. Such occasions for the embattled apostle came rarely. Only two of his epistles omit any thanksgiving–Galatians and Titus. The absence of thanks stands in stark contrast to his typical pattern in his other eleven epistles. In Galatians Paul’s lack of thanksgiving corresponds to defection from the faith inside the church. In Titus his lack of thanksgiving comes from outside the church because of the enemies of Christ who deceived some within the church on the island of Crete.

Rather than giving thanks, Paul grieved over the Galatians: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (1:6). After recounting how God called him to preach the gospel of Christ, Paul turns again to the Galatians: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” (3:1). Yes, shock and grief for unfaithful loved ones can interrupt our giving thanks. As we gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, we may encounter fresh evidence of apostasy or flagrant disobedience to the Word of God. In the midst of giving thanks we sometimes need to take the time to intercede for those who are falling, or have fallen, away from Christ.

Just as joltingly, opposition that disrupts the church can produce an absence of thanksgiving. Paul expressed it this way to Titus: “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (1:10-11). Titus served newly planted churches on Crete and sought to establish sound leadership in accord with Paul’s instructions (1:5). Such leadership provides stability for churches that face a determined opposition. Paul’s epistle gives Titus many exhortations and warnings, but not a word of thanksgiving. The spiritual battle was too pressing and the situation too urgent–requiring a focus on the needs of the hour.

Let’s not forget at Thanksgiving to pray for those who have deserted the faith and for those who have been deceived and drawn away. How great will be subsequent Thanksgivings when we can thank God for the recovery of some from such circumstances. Pray also for embattled churches and for church planters seeking to strengthen and prepare new churches for spiritual warfare. Thank God for those whom He has led into such difficult service for Christ–just as Paul does in his epistle to the Philippians (see below).

Corporate Thanksgiving. In three of his epistles Paul writes, “We give thanks to God” (Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). The plurality of thanks givers includes at least Paul and Timothy (Colossians 1:1) or Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). In all three instances the reasons for thanksgiving include the believers’ work of faith and labor of love. In addition, the believers’ steadfast hope in Christ provides the opportunity for thanksgiving in Colossians 1:5 and 1 Thessalonians 1:2. Paul shares in his thanksgiving with those who labor in gospel ministry together with him. How precious the time of thanks can be when we share it together as co-laborers for Christ, as fellow church members, or as family gathered for Thanksgiving.

This triplet of faith, love, and hope can present a pattern for our giving thanks. Make some simple place cards with a “1,” “2,” or “3” on them. Place these cards at the plates around your table and explain that you are asking each person to give thanks for someone else’s faith (those with a “1”), love (“2”), or hope (“3”) respectively. The person who provides the opportunity for thanksgiving need not be at the table–he or she could be a fellow church member, missionary, friend, or absent family member. The thanks should be praise to God more than praise of the individual whose faith, love, or hope you remember. Our prayer ought to be,

“Oh, God, if it be Your will, make me as filled with faith (or, as active in love; or, as exemplary in my heavenly hope) as this one through whom You have given such an encouraging example.”

Individual Thanksgiving. In Paul’s remaining eight epistles his thanksgiving is personal. He lived what he taught and preached. No matter what else he writes, he normally places his expression of thanks right after his epistle’s greeting. Thanksgiving had a priority for the apostle. Does it have a priority for us? Do we begin our emails, our letters, our phone conversations, our personal interactions, and our sermons with thanks? Paul provides an example for us to follow. Note the topics or reasons for his thanks to God and adopt some or all of them for your own thanksgiving today:

  • Thanks for all whose faith is being proclaimed throughout the world (Romans 1:8). Can you think of someone whose faith has encouraged others even outside their own city, state, or country?
  • Thanks for all who have received the grace of God in Christ and have been blessed with spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:4).
  • Thanks for God leading believers in triumph through Christ and making them a sweet aroma through their knowledge of Him (2 Corinthians 2:14).
  • Thanks for each believer’s faith in Christ and love for all other believers (Ephesians 1:15-16).
  • Thanks for every memory of another believer’s participation (or, fellowship, koinonia) in the gospel (Philippians 1:3-5). Such participation includes the defense and confirmation of the gospel (vv. 7, 16), as well as the progress of the gospel (v. 12).
  • Thanks for Christ placing Paul into Christ’s service (1 Timothy 1:12). Are there ministers of the gospel for whom you can give thanks to God for leading them to serve you? They could be your Sunday school teacher, an elder in the church, your pastor, or even a faithful father or mother or other family member. What about yourself? Are you thankful for God leading you into Christ’s service?
  • Thanks for another believer’s sincere faith (2 Timothy 1:3). Whose faith is always an example for you?
  • Thanks for another believer’s love and faith (Philemon 4). Whose love and faith has had the most impact upon your life?

Give thanks, brothers and sisters. Give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.