So, we began a new series of teachings on prayer several weeks back which I have entitled— “The Power and Protocol of Prayer.” And what we are searching for in these teachings is how to see more of that power and potential that we all believe lies in prayer manifested in our lives.
You see, we all believe that there is indeed power in prayer, but not everyone experiences that power. And the point we have been making is that one of the reasons for this is because the Lord has a protocol for our prayers—that is, an official procedure or system of rules for how prayer works.
In my opinion, far too many Christians just pray the way they know how—asking, begging, and pleading, all the while hoping that God will wake up on the right side of the bed and decide to grant them their request. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way. The truth is that the Lord has given us some prayer principles in His Word that teach us how to pray and how to get results when we pray.
So, this prayer protocol is a big part of what we are learning in this series …
We started out this series by answering the question— What is prayer? Then, in part two, we essentially explained what prayer is not through a message entitled “When we pray.” These first two messages gave us a lot of the nuts and bolts of prayer that will help our prayer lives be as efficient and effective as possible. If you missed either of these messages, I would encourage you to go back and listen to them.
Then, in part three, we looked at Jesus’ model prayer—known by most as the Lord’s Prayer—which answers the disciple’s question, how do we pray? And we learned some important things from this prayer that showed us how to organize and compartmentalize our prayers.
But last week, we talked specifically about praying the will of God. I made the point that this is probably the most important thing I have ever learned about prayer because I see it as something that can either guarantee good results or cause our prayers to be disqualified.
You see, a lot of people have no clue what God’s will is when they pray. They are basically praying what they desire, but give no consideration to what God desires when they pray. Many times, this is because they do not believe they can even know God’s will. But we learned last week, God absolutely wills for us to know His will.
And we learned what the will of God is—it is His Word. In other words, we can find in the Bible everything we need to know about what God desires, what pleases Him, and what His wishes are.
I remember one time when I was working at a Christian bookstore early in my Christian walk and a lady came in that asked, “Do you have any books on the will of God?” And immediately I responded, “Yeah, we have a whole wall of them over there!” as I pointed at the Bible section. I was not trying to be a smart aleck, it just kind of came out without me even thinking. But I believe what I said was the truth! You see, so many Christians would rather read a book on the will of God than The Book of the will of God! They would rather have someone else tell them what God’s will is than spending time in the Word of God which is the will of God.
I made the point though that this doesn’t mean that every Scripture is God’s perfect will. If that were the case, then we might read one verse that says, “And Judas went and hung himself” and then combine it together with another verse that says, “Go and do likewise,” and conclude that it is God’s will that we go hang ourselves. No, obviously not everything we read in the Bible shows us God’s perfect will, but when we rightly divide the truth, we can see what God’s perfect will is for all people for all time. Therefore, God’s Word is the road map to understanding the will of God!
So, we learned then how to take the truths from God’s Word and pray according to His will. We do this when our prayers are laced with “It is written, It is written, It is written.” The point was that we need to let the Word of God reveal to us how we pray to God’s will and then pray those Scriptures. And I gave a couple of different examples of how we can do this.
But the last thing we learned is that when we pray according to His will, we can have such confidence that we know, that we know, that we know, that we have at that moment the petitions. In other words, when we pray according to the will of God, we know we can receive His will when we pray. Amen!
THE THANKSGIVING TURKEY SANDWICH
Now when it comes to praying the will of God and with this week being Thanksgiving, I think it is appropriate for us to talk about one thing that the Holy Spirit made sure to let us know what is the will of God for each and every one of our prayer lives. I’ll give you one guess what it is … You got it! It’s the giving of thanks! Let’s look at a verse that makes it clear that this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.
We spoke we couple of weeks ago about the sandwich technique for our prayer lives found in the model prayer given to us by the Lord Jesus, and how that was beginning our prayer time with praise and ending it with praise. Well, the Holy Spirit gives us a similar exhortation in First Thessalonians 5:16-18 that I want us to look at first today. Today, let’s look at the Thanksgiving turkey sandwich 😉
You see, if the bread we make the sandwich on is either stale or bland, it can kind of ruin the whole sandwich, right? I mean, you can have the best quality meat, cheese, and other fixings, but if your bread is not good and fresh, you probably will not say it was the best sandwich you’ve ever eaten.
Well, I believe there is a spirit / attitude that our prayers can be sandwiched in that makes our constant & continual prayers to be offered up to God more appealing to Him, and it is found in these verses …
In these verses, the apostle Paul said to the church of Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Now in the middle verse here, we see the meat—and that is that we are to pray without ceasing. That doesn’t mean that we are to lock ourselves away in our prayer closet 24/7. We have responsibilities living in this world. We have to go to work, take care of the kids, and do many other natural things in these flesh & blood bodies. What Paul was describing here is essentially the way most of us are in our electronic devices without ceasing. I mean, we have our phones, tablets, etc. on us, and if we don’t, we feel naked. We are constantly scrolling, posting, tweeting, taking videos and pictures, etc. I think that’s a fair comparison to what the apostle Paul meant here by telling us to pray without ceasing. Just don’t leave your prayer phone at home. Don’t turn off your prayer tablet. Read your texts as the Spirit sends them to you. Just don’t hang the phone up or turn it off. That’s all.
However, to my point, we can pray without ceasing like a champ, but if we don’t have the best bread to sandwich those continual prayers in, it might not be as palatable to the Lord. I see verses 16 & 18 as the sandwich technique for an unceasing prayer life.
Notice Paul starts off by saying, “Rejoice when you feel like it, when you’ve got something to rejoice about, or as long as things around you make you happy.” No, that’s not what Paul said. He said, “Rejoice always.” That would include the times where you’ve gotten terrible news, the times your body is telling you you’re depressed, the times everything in the world around you is painted in doom & gloom. Even in these times, we are told to rejoice always!
Now I was not satisfied with the Greek definition of this word, so I looked it up in the dictionary and I found that the word “always” means “at all times, at any rate, and at any event; forever.” Now that certainly does not exclude any situation we are in. And the good news about this command is that it proves that we all are capable of doing just that! Hallelujah!
But what this teaches me is that this is the attitude & spirit by which our unceasing prayers are to be offered up in—always in the spirit of rejoicing. Amen! We can do this no matter what is going on in the world around us. The prophet Habakkuk said it this way— “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). Praise God!
But that’s just one half of the sandwich. Notice the other half in verse 18 where Paul goes on to say, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
So, now we learn that not only are we to always rejoice in our unceasing prayer life, but in everything, we are to give thanks to the Lord as well. And Paul goes on to reveal to us that this three-part instruction in verses 16-18 is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In other words, we see here that the will of God in Christ Jesus for us is this kind of prayer life—one that is always enveloped in unceasing joy and thanksgiving.
Now the phrase “give thanks” is significant because to give something indicates that we don’t just have it in our heart, but that we are deliberately offering something. For example, say I have it on my heart to give one of you some money, but I don’t actually follow through with it. Did I give it just because it was in my heart? No, of course not. So, when it comes to giving thanks to God, it is important that we are actually giving it to Him. Sure, I can be thankful in my heart, but to give thanks is to express that thankfulness somehow.
While we are on this, let me also say that to be unthankful is not just to actively murmur, gripe and complain. To be unthankful is to simply not be thankful as the word indicates. Likewise, to be thankful means to actually be thankful. In other words, to be thankful is not just a state of mind to where we are grateful in our hearts. What good does that do to the one you are thankful for? No, what blesses me is that if someone is thankful for the things I do or simply for who I am, they actually express their gratitude to me. For example, if I give something to someone and they never show any gratitude for it, that doesn’t exactly make me want to go out and get them something else. So, if we don’t thank God for ALL of the things He’s given us, how would that inspire Him to do more for us?
And let me add this little piece of practicality about being thankful: when you are sharing your gratitude with someone like God or another human being, be specific. Don’t just simply give a general thank you, but specifically tell them what you are thankful for. Say, for instance, you give a Christmas gift to someone this year. While it’s certainly better than nothing to simply hear a thank you when you give it to them, what would bless us all the more was that when they thanked us, they told us specifically what they appreciated about it. Here are some examples of what I mean— “it blessed me that you had actually listened to what I like, made a note of that, and then were gracious enough to go get it for me” or “I love the color you chose.” Basically, it is the things we would say when we truly are grateful.
I believe the Lord loves hearing specifically what we are thankful for as well just like we do.
Notice now that Paul says in this verse that the giving of thanks is to be done “in everything.” That means that in the midst of every situation and every circumstance, we are giving God thanks. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we are thanking God for any and all circumstances in our life. This simply means that we are thanking God while going through them.
The reason this is important to understand is because not all situations and circumstances of life are of God. The devil can directly be inspiring certain things that we are going through, so we wouldn’t thank God for something the devil is doing. But we can thank Him for things while we are going through it like, for instance, how He will deliver us out of it and for all the other things He’s done for us that aren’t even associated with our situation.
Now I do understand that there is another verse in Ephesians 5:20 that says that we are “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But what needs to be understood about this verse is that Paul was not saying that we are directly thanking God for any and everything that comes in our lives; only the things that God the Father has given and done for us. That is why this giving of thanks is directed “to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You see, I don’t thank Betty Jean for putting the Scriptures up on the screen on Sunday morning; I thank Debbie for that. Why? Because Debbie is the one doing it this morning. Nor did I thank Minton for making sure the church was clean for us this morning; that is what I thank Betty Jean for. Why? Because she is the one who did it. Likewise, I don’t thank God for things He didn’t do. But, on the other hand, I can thank Him for things that He does give and do in the midst of the other things that are not a part of His will for my life. Amen?
Let me give you an example—Say, my left knee started hurting really bad to where it was apparent that there was a problem with it. I don’t thank God for the knee problem because He was not the one who gave it to me. But what I can and should do is thank God for other things like that it is His will to heal my knee. Yes, I can give Him thanks that He, through the stripes of Jesus, has both provided the means for me to be healed for whatever the issue is. But I can also thank Him that I have another knee that is not hurting and is working just fine. Yeah, I can rejoice in that! I can also thank Him for everything else that is healed and whole in my body and choose to magnify all that is functioning properly instead of magnifying the one thing that’s not.
So, do you see how we can truly give thanks always for all things and in everything? It is simple—give God thanks for every good and perfect gift that He has given, gives, and will give no matter what we are going through. So, every situation and circumstance of life is to be weathered “with thanksgiving.”
Now when it comes to us praying without ceasing but doing so with a spirit of thanksgiving, let’s look at another truth given to us by the apostle Paul: In Colossians 4:2, he says, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.”
The words “continue earnestly in prayer” describe being devoted and constant towards prayer, continuing and persevering in it. The phrase “being vigilant in it” literally describes “staying alert & watchful” in our prayer lives. To me, this echoes the example we see in the Old Testament of being the watchman on the wall. You see, the watchman’s responsibility was to see the enemy coming and to warn the rest of the city. Figuratively speaking, it describes us as being those vigilant prayer warriors who stay alert and “see” what God is saying and “see” what the enemy is doing.
Now I thank God for everyone who has this kind of devotion to prayer. But let me give a good warning to anyone who gives themselves over to “continuing earnestly in prayer & being vigilant in it” … Make sure you apply the last two words of this verse to your prayer mandate— “with thanksgiving.”
What this teaches us is that all of our continued, earnest prayer and vigilant, watchfulness in prayer is to be enveloped in thankfulness. In other words, an attitude of gratitude is to be the spirit in which all watching & prayer is to be done. The reason this is important to understand is because oftentimes prayer can be too conscious of the negatives—meaning, since those prayers are based on seeking change in things, the person praying can tend to only see what needs to change. This can lead to griping, whining, complaining and simply being focused on the wrong things. So, prayer needs to be done in the spirit of thanksgiving so that we stay focused on what God has already done and what He will do. Then, our prayer life is a joyful experience and not something that causes our countenance to fall.
Church, thanksgiving is arguably the most important ingredient to prayers that avail much. We see this echoed by Paul in Philippians 4:6 when he said that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we let our requests be made known unto God.” If the giving of thanks is left out, we do not have the complete recipe for having the peace that surpasses all understanding come through our prayer life (See Philippians 4:7).
For example, we all know that in order for us to make bread that rises, we must add yeast in with the flour. Likewise, in order for our prayers to rise, we need to add the ingredient of thanksgiving in with the prayers. Amen!
THANKSGIVING COMES BEFORE
However, even though we’ve seen thanksgiving mentioned last in verses like Philippians 4:6 & First Thessalonians 5:16-18, that does not mean that it is to be done last. We have several verses that teach us that it is actually to be done first. Let’s look at a few verses that teach us this …
In the Psalms, we have this principle clearly laid out: In Psalm 95:2, we are told— “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving. Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” So, we see here that we come before His presence with this giving of thanks. That means that this is how we initially approach Him—with thanksgiving. Psalm 100:4 says it this way— “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” Here, the Psalmist is obviously painting the picture of entering the Tabernacle / Temple, but what is being done is describing how one truly enters the Holiest of holies, where God’s presence is. And the first step through the gate is “with thanksgiving.”
You see, church we come before God’s presence with thanksgiving. It is both the appropriate and acceptable way to approach God. In other words, it is the spirit by which we draw near to God. So, when we look at wonderful promises like James 4:8 that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to you, we understand the first steps to drawing near to Him—and it is “with thanksgiving.” Therefore, when you and I draw near to God with thanksgiving, He will draw near to us—meaning, His presence will be manifested in our lives and we will experience more of His joy, peace, and power. Amen!
Now one point worth noting is how much the apostle Paul gave thanks for the churches he oversaw. When you study his epistles, you see him time and time again talking about how he always gave thanks for them, remembering them in his prayers. (See Romans 1:8, First Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3, Colossians 1:3, First Thessalonians 1:2, 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 2:13, Philemon 1:4)
I want you to notice here that this is the majority of the churches he wrote to. But I want you to notice something else here: of the ones in this list, the majority of these references are found in the first chapter of each epistle. Why is this important to realize? It is because what Paul made a point to do first in his letters was thank God for them. Thus proving that biblical principle that we’ve seen already that we are to enter His gates and come before Him with thanksgiving.
Church, thanksgiving is not just something we should do at the end of the year; it is what we must do in the beginning of the year and all throughout it. It is how we come before Him and draw near to Him. It is the gateway into the holy of holies where the manifested glory and presence of God is housed.
So, let’s incorporate this spirit of thanksgiving into our prayer lives—for it is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us all. Amen.
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