Cultivating Thankfulness - Part 2
We can cultivate thankfulness in the way we express it in prayer. The Apostle Paul is a great example of a man of prayer and we can learn some lessons from him through studying the structure of his petitions.
Firstly, Paul is grateful for the church. He says in 1 Thess. 1:2, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers”. He is deeply concerned for the wellbeing and growth of Christians in the local church. He longs to see them (1 Thess. 3:6). He feels obligated to them (Ro. 1:14). He cares for them like a mother (1 Thess. 2:7) and he exhorts and encourages them like a father (1 Thess. 2:12). At the same time, Paul does not elevate himself above them. He calls them “brothers” (1 Thess. 2:9). He is one of them. Paul is a man of deep and humble love for the church and this is reflected in his prayers of thanksgiving for Christians in local congregations.
Question: Do I focus only on my family and myself or do I have deep gratitude for Calvary Grace Church?
Practical application: Pray through the church directory. Look at the faces or the people. Remember that Christ bled for them. Thank God for them.
Secondly, Paul’s gratitude was an attitude. He is “always” and “constantly mentioning” them and giving thanks to God for them. This doesn’t mean that he only prayed for other Christians, but it does mean that he did it regularly. He doesn’t pray one week for the church and forget them the next. This consistency shows an attitude, a regular disposition of gratitude for the church. It was his practice. He had a God-like attitude towards God’s people. They are the apple of his eye (Zech. 2:8). It is that attitude, which fuels consistent thanks.
He also lets the people know he thanks God for them. It is a wonderful encouragement when you do this for a person. It is not flattery. It goes something like this: “I thank God for you ______: for your service in the worship team”, or, “I thank God for your cheerful disposition. You always lift my spirits when we speak.” God gets the praise, which keeps everyone humble, and that particular person is encouraged. It is very assuring for a person when other Christians are seeing Gods work in them.
Question: Could it be said of me that I have an attitude of thanksgiving for other church members, which overflows in praise to God for them: do I let them know?
Practical application: Discipline yourself to giving thanks for others and contemplating how you can tell others how you thank God for them. This means we must move out of our comfort zones to get to know others and be involved in each others’ lives.
Thirdly, Paul is grateful for Christian character above material benefits.He continues in 1 Thess. 1:3, “…remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We can often be personally very thankful for material benefits such as health, a job, a good family and so on. We can also transfer that same focus when we thank God for other people in the church. However, look at specifically what Paul is thankful for: faith, love and hope in Christ. He is primarily concerned, not with Christian comforts, but with Christian character.
Notice also that he gives thanks for the “work of love”, the “labor of faith” and the “steadfastness of hope”. These are not just nebulous character qualities they are publicly evident and enduring efforts. Their faith has gained a reputation. Not only their words but also their deeds were noticed (1 Thess. 1:8-10). Their love for others has been seen and experienced in the welcome they gave to travelers (1 Thess. 1:9). Paul even mentions elsewhere how it is growing (2 Thess. 1:3). Finally, because their love and faith were evidently growing, their hope was enduring even through trials.
Question: Am I general or specific in my thanks for others?
Practical application: The weekly “Grace Spotting” post on Cobblestone can fuel our personal prayers of thanksgiving for others. Be on the look out for Paul’s “thanksgiving criteria”—public evidences of enduring faith, love and hope. And let that shape your prayers.
Fourthly, Paul’s gratitude is God centered gratitude. He gives thanks to God and in the presence of God. He says, “…remembering before our God and Father …” (1 Thess. 1:3). In 1 Thess. 3:9 he uses the same phrase: “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God”.
Paul feels a joy or thanks in the presence of God because of the same things that give God pleasure. The only way joyful thanksgiving can exist in God’s presence is when it is a response to the achievement of God’s purposes.
We can sometimes be tempted to be thankful for Christian growth in others because it is a vindication of what we have exhorted them to do. It reflects back on us being right. Parents can fall into this trap. They can desire the conversion of their children more as a vindication of faithful parenting and good teaching rather than because it pleases the Lord. This is self-congratulatory, not God focused.
Question: Do I thank God for growth in others because it pleases him or vindicates me?
Practical application: Examine your heart before you give thanks for others. Make sure your heartbeat is this: “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10).