It can be challenging to give thanks in the midst of trials, but prayers of thanksgiving are essential to Christianity and can benefit our peace of mind.
A vital part of almost every prayer is gratitude and praise.
The apostle Paul pointed out the importance and the benefits of including thanksgiving in our prayers:
“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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, emphasis added throughout).
When we ask with thanksgiving, we also remind ourselves of God’s previous blessings, which can help us focus on His ability to help us through our current trials.
And when He gives us that peace of mind, we can thank Him for that wonderful blessing as well.
Prayers of thanksgiving in the Bible
Many of the Psalms are filled with thanksgiving. Consider these passages:
- “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).
- “A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Psalm 100:1-5).
- “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).
- “Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150:1-6).
These psalms (and many others!) demonstrate the right response to God’s blessings, both physical and spiritual.
Beyond the Psalms, Daniel also prayed prayers of thanksgiving (Daniel 2:23; 6:10). Jesus regularly gave thanks (Matthew 11:25; 15:36; 26:27). And Paul included gratitude in his prayers without ceasing (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; 5:20; Colossians 1:3; etc.).
Thanking God for the gift of life
It all begins with the gift of life itself.
Paul told the Athenian philosophers about our Creator God: “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25).
Some of the greatest gifts God gives us are our loved ones.All the joys and relationships and possibilities of life have been given to us through the gift of life.
But, as wonderful as physical life can be, it is not enough. Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
So, God’s plan makes the mind-boggling leap from the gift of temporary physical life to the gift of unending life as a child of God forever!
Paying for our sins required the highest possible price—the greatest gift: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Jesus wants to give us not only life, but life “more abundantly” (10:10)!
Study more about this in our article “The Gift of Eternal Life.”
Thanksgiving prayer for family and friends
Some of the greatest gifts God gives us are our loved ones.
Many men count their wives as their greatest treasure and a gift from God (Proverbs 18:22). Faithful friends and family members are also blessings to thank God for (17:17).
Paul prayed and thanked God for his spiritual brethren as well. For example, he told the Thessalonians, “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
But we don’t stop with just family and friends and brethren. Paul told us: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
People can be a challenge, but ultimately our relationships help make our lives full and meaningful. As Helen Keller, one of the most admired women of the 20th century, wrote about how her friends helped her in dealing with the challenges of her blindness and deafness:
“My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation” (The Story of My Life, p. 81).
Thanking God for His blessings
The apostle Paul exhorted us to focus on the positive, and he explained that he had learned to be thankful for little, not just for much.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things . . .
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:8, 11-12).
If you start by assuming you should have all the things that others who are better off have, it’s hard to even see those physical blessings and to be thankful.
It can help to get a different perspective—and how much more different can you get than what “Weird Al” Yankovic shared in his “First World Problems” song?
“Can’t remember which car I drove to the mall
“My Sonicare won’t recharge, now I gotta brush my teeth like a Neanderthal
“The thread count on these cotton sheets has got me itching
“My house is so big, I can’t get WiFi in the kitchen.”
When you expect clean hot water to come out of the tap, lights to come on, food to be in the refrigerator, and the Internet to be instantaneous, you probably don’t think too much about being grateful for things that much of the world does not take for granted.
International travel can help give you that perspective. Travis Hees, an American young adult who has traveled to sub-Saharan Africa twice for Foundation Outreach International projects, wrote:
“Here in the United States, we have it good. Really good. But we are the exception. A quick Google search brings up the fact that ‘extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. About 40% of the region’s people live on less than $1.90 a day’ (WorldVision.org). Of course, we’ve all heard such statistics.
“We know it’s bad out there—we’ve seen the pictures, we’ve heard the stories, we’ve been told the stats.
“But do we actually know how bad the world is if we’ve never seen it? Are we able to understand how bad corruption is if we’ve never been stopped by armed police in rural Africa for a nonexistent traffic infringement? Can we comprehend what it feels like to be imprisoned in poverty through no fault of our own, if we’ve never gotten to know someone personally in that situation?”
Of course, many are not able to travel to see firsthand, but we can all learn more about conditions in other countries in order to better pray for their needs and to recognize our own blessings.
Recognizing blessings goes much deeper. As blind and deaf Helen Keller wrote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart” (ibid., p. 116).
And as 19th-century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher said, “The unthankful heart . . . discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!”
Thanks for everything
There are so many more things to be thankful for, from the Bible and the plan of salvation it reveals, to the beauty of creation and the awesome characteristics of the Creator.
Study more about this aspect of prayer in our article “Praise God” and the related articles.
Sidebar: American Thanksgiving Proclamations
Americans trace their annual Thanksgiving Day back to a celebration by the thankful Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1621.
The current holiday owes much to the proclamations of two of America’s greatest presidents who recognized the need for thankfulness and for repentance.
Here’s an excerpt from George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789:
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be— That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”
Then, 74 years later, in the midst of a terrible Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued this proclamation:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God . . .
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
Reflecting on these powerful Thanksgiving proclamations can help Americans focus on the essential meaning of the national holiday. Instead of highlighting turkey and football, we should never forget to thank the Creator God for His blessings.