By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.Luke 13:13
I once heard a tale about angels working in heaven. There was one huge room with hundreds of thousands, if not more, who were busy going around doing this and that. This was someone’s tour of heaven when they arrived. The guide angel, whoever that was, told him, “This is where the angels handle the requests and supplications that come up from below.” He was very impressed. They then went into a room that was much smaller and held only ten angels, who were sitting quietly. When he asked the guide about this room, he was told, “This is the room where the angels handle the thanksgivings received to God.” It needs much less help, and even the angels who are there do not have much to do. It may be a bit of a stretch to compare, but I remember it because of the impression it made on me when I first read it. We always make so many requests of God, but we do not often thank Him when things go well.
Some of you may have used a gratitude box. When you find something that you have to be grateful to God for, you write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the box. On a day where you might be feeling particularly down, you can open the box and read about all the things that you have to thank God for. It can change the day around. A gratitude journal works much the same way. Further, actually writing the praise down can help you to feel that gratitude more. The more that you feel it, the more you believe it. The more you believe it, the greater awe you feel in God’s presence. The greater awe that you feel, the more likely you are to turn to God when things do not go your way.
The first type of prayer that we discussed is adoration. It is important to praise God however we can because it helps us to gain confidence in God. Adoration is a prerequisite for confident prayer. The second type of prayer is confession. We approach God in humility and ask God for forgiveness. Third, we approach God with thanksgiving.
If you are wondering about where to start when you are looking to speak to God in thanksgiving, you can think about the kinds of things that you might say over a Thanksgiving meal. You can also turn to stories in the Bible which give precedence for offering thanksgiving in all kinds of situations. First, we notice thanksgiving when something big happens. After the Red Sea parted and Pharaoh’s army was defeated, Moses sang, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:1-2). When something big happens, like a wedding or a family member accepting Jesus, perhaps you might feel called to give thanksgiving to God.
Second, we notice thanksgiving given in the face of the unknown. When Mary faces the unknown following the appearance of the angel Gabriel, she is not worried about being shunned by her family or Joseph. Instead, she sings a song of thanksgiving: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-7). It is in the unknown, perhaps, that we must hold God most closely. If you are facing the unknown, perhaps a new job, a new role, or even what is on the other side of this life, hold God closely through this concern and find things that you can thank God for along the way.
Third, we notice thanksgiving in lament. When God complains of all that has happened to him, he still finds reason to thank the Lord: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken way; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). Further, in Psalm 69, we read, “But as for me, afflicted and in pain – may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:29-30).
Fourth, we can give thanksgiving to God even when we do not feel like it. Sometimes, we may find that we are having a dry spell and we do not feel as closely connected to God as we sometimes do. When this happens, it is not a reason to turn away from God. It is all the more reason to turn toward God. In Psalm 13, we read of a form of despair – “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” – to a form of gratitude – “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” If you do not feel close to the Lord, for whatever reason, try praying thanksgiving, and see if it recenters you. When you cannot think of anything, turn to your prayer box or your gratitude box for ideas. But even when you do not feel like it – perhaps especially when – practice thanksgiving.
We should be giving thanksgiving to God at all times, but four specific times that we should particularly pay attention to it is when something big happens, when you are in the face of the unknown, when you are lamenting, or complaining, and when you do not feel like praying.
This week, your challenge is to pray a prayer of thanksgiving. Even if you do not feel like it, try it. Attempt to do it anyway. Thank God for waking you up this morning. Thank God for those who care about you. Thank God for those you care about. Thank God for the rain that nourishes the earth even though it cancels summer activities outdoors when they are meant to be held. Find things to thank God for. And while you are at it, thank God for what other people have done. Thank God for what they have done for you as well as for what they have done for others, and what they have done for God. Whatever you may have to thank God for, try to make a regular habit of saying these things out loud in prayer. Even if it is the same thing from week to week, even if you are sure that God knows what you are thankful for already, tell God anyway. Tell God again just as you would tell your spouse that you love them even if they already know it.
The Psalmist in Psalm 71 takes refuge in God. Even in the midst of the uncertainty of the unknown, he can find strength in God. He sung, “Rescue me, O God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; my praise is continually of you” (Psalm 71:4-6). When elaborating on what faith means, the author of Hebrews noted that faith is not something that can be touched, but is something so much more valuable. After describing in more detail, affirming that faith is one of those things that will not be shaken no matter what happens, he concludes, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28). And even when Jesus performed a healing on the Sabbath, thanksgiving abounded when the healed woman and many witnesses began praising God (Luke 13:13, 17). The scriptures affirm the need to engage in thanksgiving. Hebrews even goes as far to say that it is by thanksgiving that we give God the awe that He deserves.
Thanksgiving may not be the first of the five types of prayers that we have reviewed, but it is a crucial one. The first four types, all part of the ACTS prayer of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, are ways that we communicate with God in our prayer. One prayer may contain all four elements, or it may contain one. But make sure that you do not leave out the prayer of thanksgiving. Remember to thank God for when things have gone right. Praying our prayer of thanksgiving helps us to be confident that God is still good, that God is still active, and that good can still prevail and overpower the bad in our lives. Praying our prayer of thanksgiving gives God credit where credit is due. Being thankful not only improves our own attitude; it improves the attitude of those around us and also deepens our attitude toward God. An act of thanksgiving can make someone’s day; your own, a neighbor’s, perhaps even God’s. Thanksgiving eases sorrow and despair. May all glory and honor be to God. Thanks be to God! Amen.
71:1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
71:2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
71:3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
71:4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
71:5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
71:6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
12:18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest,
12:19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.
12:20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”
12:21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)
12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
12:23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
12:24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
12:25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!
12:26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.”
12:27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;
12:29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.
13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
13:13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
13:14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”
13:15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?
13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
13:17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.