Are There Right and Wrong Ways to Pray Thankful Prayers?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

I’m not sure how to be thankful. I can’t understand all of the terrible things happening around the world…all of the disasters, suffering, war, and disease. I just don’t feel thankful. I get angry over my problems, too. I feel fearful and confused. How am I supposed to pray to God with a thankful heart?


Dear Mary,

I’m sorry you are struggling. There are right and wrong ways to pray, especially when you don’t feel particularly thankful or full of faith. Here are my thoughts:

1. Don’t Give Thanks to Manipulate God

In 1 Samuel, Samuel the prophet instructed King Saul to wait until he arrived to offer the sacrifice. But the anxious king feared the approaching enemy and grew impatient. His army started to scatter. So he disobeyed the Lord. He wanted to thank God to ensure victory over his enemies. Samuel was livid:

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” (1 Samuel 13:11-12)

King Saul’s disobedience eventually cost him his kingship.

Thankful prayers are not selfish prayers. They are not offered with an ulterior motive. Check your heart! Thank God for who He is, not what you want.

2. Don’t Give Thanks With a Prideful Heart

The Pharisee in Luke 18 offered a very prideful prayer of Thanksgiving in the Bible:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. (Luke 18:10-14)

We must come before God in humble contrition. Jesus taught us that God does not recognize or respond to self-righteous thanksgiving prayers. He honors honest, contrite prayers.

3. Don’t Pray With a Heart of Unbelief

In Romans 1, Paul teaches that He has clearly revealed Himself through nature (sometimes called “general revelation”). He is angered by those who take His goodness for granted:

…since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19-21)

Perhaps this is the worst thanksgiving prayer of all! If we refuse to see the goodness and glory all around us, we have grieved God’s heart. Such ingratitude is dangerous and leads us into sin and idolatry.

God showers us with blessings every day. Let us respond to Him in obedience, humility and faith.

What are the best thankful prayers?

1. Do Give Thanks in Your Pain

Psalm 69 was written by King David during the rebellion of Absalom, one of the darkest periods of his life (according to most theologians). David composed the song to the tune of “Lilies.” Can you imagine? Singing a song in the midst of his pain and disappointment?

“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)

Surprisingly, this is one of the best prayers of thanksgiving. Psalm 69 is referred to seven times in the New Testament as a picture of Jesus’ suffering and faith.

A great thank-you prayer is a prayer of faith. No matter what you are going through, you can trust a faithful God. That’s why Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul and Silas sang “Count Your Blessings” after being brutally flogged and imprisoned.

When you are hurting, it’s time for a great thankful prayer as an expression of devotion and trust.

2. Do Give Thanks as Preparation for Coming into God’s Presence

Psalm 100 (some attribute to David, some to Moses) is a classic picture of all expressions of praise and worship to God:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)

The psalm calls us to shout, sing, worship, praise, and thank God.

Don’t assume that a token blessing before a meal is the real expression of a thankful heart.

Make your thankful prayers filled with singing.

Cheer for him instead of a football game.

Meditate on Him quietly.

Invite friends, loved ones and all of those around you to engage in thanking God together.

John Gill, an English Baptist pastor, wrote these inspiring words about Psalm 100:

“Let them shout unto him as their King; as the angels did at his birth, the disciples when he made his public entrance into Jerusalem, the apostles at his ascension to heaven, the saints when the marriage of him, the Lamb, will be come, and both men and angels when he shall descend from heaven to judge the world; and such a joyful noise or shout should be made unto him as to a triumphant conqueror, who has got the victory over sin, Satan, death, and the grave, and every enemy of his and his people.”

We will be thanking and praising God forever. Why not start now?

3. Do Give Thanks for God’s Amazing Power

Jesus’ thanksgiving prayer was the most powerful one in the Bible.

His blessing was so significant, it was mentioned in all four Gospels. The feeding of the five thousand was one of Jesus’ greatest miracles and it started with a thanksgiving prayer.

“Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:16-21)

Jesus took a little boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish and fed a crowd that would fill a football stadium. I often picture Jesus simply creating bread and fish out of nothing.

Can you imagine that thanking a mighty God who would release His power and presence in a new way in your life?

When our baby daughter was born, we knew she was going to die. I felt God told me to thank Him for her life. All I could do was thank Him by faith for a blessing I could not see. But her story has been the catalyst for my ministry around the world.

You never know what God will do when you give thanks by faith!


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