"Devote yourselves to prayer," Paul writes, and "stay alert in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2, CSB).
It's possible that someone reading Paul’s word here could misunderstand prayer as a source of worry or anxiety. Paul's words might unintentionally add to this impression if not for the crucial last two words—“with thanksgiving”
Let me elaborate.
Imagine I'm urging you urgently about some spiritual activity, telling you to be persistent an d dedicated all while remaining attentive and watchful. This might lead you to unnecessary worry, with actions like hand-wringing and nail-biting, fueled by uncertainty about the outcome.
Let's clarify: prayer is a serious matter. James says the words we know well: "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Neglecting prayer likely means missing out on what God has promised to provide only through prayer.
Yet, this reality must be delicately balanced with the biblical truth that God is sovereign, ensuring nothing escapes his attention (Ephesians 1:11). Paul emphasizes, I believe, that when we pray—something we should do consistently and attentively—we should infuse our prayers "with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2b).
Why this call “with thanksgiving”? More importantly, how can one genuinely pray with gratitude?
Here are seven reasons to pray with thanksgiving:
1. As you approach prayer, express thanks for the profound reality that God is not a distant or indifferent God! Rather, he is an ever-present, fully alive, and alert (Colossians 4:2b). Your words are not lost in a void or “bouncing off the ceiling.” No, they resonate in the ears of a God who actively engages with his creation.
2. In your prayers, develop a deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for the fact that God not only exists but is also an attentive listener (Isaiah 30:18-19). Embrace the truth given in these verses, acknowledging that your prayers don’t fall on deaf ears. Recognize that God eagerly awaits to be gracious to us, answering our prayers with mercy. This awareness should elevate our prayers with a sense of confidence and assurance.
3. Let your prayers be clothed with gratitude for the omnipotent (all-powerful) nature of God. Revel in the assurance that the One you pray to is not limited by human constraints (Ephesians 3:20). This verse reminds us that God can surpass our expectations, doing immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Therefore, approach your prayers with confidence in God's limitless power and wisdom.
4. Acknowledge the privilege of participating in God's will and plan for your life and this world through prayer. Instead of viewing prayer as a mere formality or a “thing to do,” recognize that it is a vital means by which God accomplishes his purposes (Colossians 4:2b). Your prayers are not unneeded. In God’s providence and economy, they are intricately woven into the divine picture of God's unfolding, sovereign plan.
5. Express thankfulness for the life-changing power of prayer. Total and humble prayer not only shapes the outcome of your requests but also molds you. Through prayer, your understanding of God is elevated, your dependency on him is intensified, and your desires are purified in alignment with his will (Colossians 4:2b).
6. Offer thanks to God your salvation, healing, and mercy that you have received in Christ Jesus. Gratitude for your own encounters with God's grace fuels a fervent and compassionate prayer for others (James 4:2). Your genuine appreciation for God's past work on your behalf and for his glory becomes the foundation for enthusiastic prayer on behalf of others.
7. Anticipate with thankfulness the future actions of God in response to your prayers. Your thanksgiving is not limited to past or present. Rather, it extends into the future, trusting that God will act according to his promises (Colossians 4:2b). This forward-looking gratitude is an expression of faith, acknowledging God's faithfulness in advance.
In short: being in the deep-end of thankfulness makes fear difficult. Thankfulness points our soul toward heaven and away from ourselves. It naturally requires focusing who God is and what God has done and will do. Thankful, grateful prayer is centered on God and God alone.
Do you remember the account in 2 Chronicles 20 where Jehoshaphat and Judah were under attack? After praying for God's help, the prophet Jahaziel gave an unusual advice: "Send out the choir to sing, 'Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever'" (2 Chron. 20:21).
The prophet told them to be thankful right at the start of the battle, before facing the enemy. Fill your heart with the reality of God's enduring love, he said. Praise him for who he is. Rest peacefully in what He will do. "Stand firm," he encouraged, "hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf" (2 Chron. 20:17).
May the grace of God in your life cause you to be filled with heart-felt THANKSGIVING to him who is the Giver of every good gift you have.