THANKSGIVING IN EVERYTHING
It appears that Paul saw prayer as the fitting human response to every conceivable situation that might arise in life; and the position of this phrase at the beginning of a long clause would make it applicable throughout the clause, with the meaning that “thanksgiving” should characterize every prayer, no matter what unusual or extreme life-situation might have triggered the prayer.
But how can anyone be thankful “in everything”?
In youth one may thank God for the brightness and prospect of life beckoning to the future.
In age one may thank God that life has extended so long.
In health one may thank God for the greatest of physical blessings.
In illness one may thank God for wise physicians, kind nurses and the tender concern of loved ones.
In wealth one may thank God for having been made the steward of such large accounts.
In poverty one may thank God for him, who though he was rich became poor that he might make many rich, and for his special promise, “Blessed are ye poor.”
In the event of great loss one may thank God for blessings he is yet permitted to retain.
In death itself the Christian can thank God for the hope of eternal life.
But, does not God already know everything?
In a sense, of course, he does; but the command of God, as uttered here through an apostle, explains the manner chosen by the Father, through which he will know “the requests” of his children.
Note too, that this apostolic order says nothing of making known one’s needs or desires. God already knows about them; but our “requests” … they do not even become requests until they are made known to God in the prayers of his people.
WHAT SHOULD BE REQUESTED OF GOD?
The forgiveness of sins. Christians are commanded to pray for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 8:22); but the unbaptized, even though they are believers, are not so commanded.
The believing Saul of Tarsus had been on his knees three days and nights; but God’s messenger neither invited him to continue his petition, nor did Saul receive any answer.
On the contrary, the inspired preacher commanded him to “arise and be baptized and wash away his (thy) sins” (Acts 22:16).
The forgiveness of the sins of others. Both our Lord (Luke 23:34) and the martyr Stephen (Acts 7:60) prayed for the forgiveness of the sins of others.
The wisdom of God. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given.” (James 1:5,6).
Relief from bitter experiences. Jesus himself prayed that “the cup” might pass from him (Matthew 26:39).
Our daily bread. This line from the Lord’s Prayer probably has the larger meaning of “food for today.” In any event, prayer for all of life’s basic necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter, is authorized by this model prayer.
Laborers in the vineyard. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his vineyard” (Matthew 9:38).
Laborers already working. Paul admonished the Ephesians to “Pray for ME, that utterance may be given unto me that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).
For mercy. “Come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
For the sick. “The prayer of faith shall save the sick” (James 5:14,15).
Deliverance from temptation. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
For them that despitefully use us. This includes prayer for enemies. See Matthew 5:44.
In everything. The text before us stresses the need of prayer in all of life’s conditions and circumstances. Any list, therefore, of things we should pray for must be partial and incomplete.
“Everything” certainly covers a lot of territory.
For rulers and authorities. Paul singled out as an object of prayer, in all probability, because it is easily overlooked, especially in a corrupt age like that of the New Testament era.
WAYS IN WHICH GOD ANSWERS PRAYER
How does God answer prayer?
First of all, God answers prayer literally, as when Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still, Elijah prayed for drought, or rain, and when Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the great fish.
New Testament confirmation of God’s literal answer of prayer is in the following:
The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working. Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again; and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit (James 5:16-18).
God answers prayer by a refusal to grant the petition.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul detailed the fact of his earnest prayers that God would take away his thorn in the flesh, a thing God declined to do.
God also answers prayer by sending something different from what was requested.
For example, in Gethsemane Jesus prayed for the “cup” to pass from him; instead of allowing this, God sent an angel to strengthen the Lord.
Similarly, people may pray for lighter loads, but God may send them greater strength.
God answers prayer gradually.
Hawthorne’s allegory of The Great Stone Face illustrates this principle. Little Ernest longed to see a man who exemplified the character visible in the Great Stone Face. Gradually, after long years,. Ernest himself became that character.
God answers prayer after delay.
It seems strange that God would delay to answer Christian prayers, but it may not be denied.
The angel sent to stay the hand of Abraham about to offer Isaac delayed until the latest possible moment.
The wine had run completely out at Cana before the Lord answered his mother’s implied request.
When Jacob wrestled with an angel, day was breaking before the issue was decided.
In the New Testament, Jairus came to the Lord; and during Jesus’ delay, his daughter died.
In the case of Jairus’ daughter, a resurrection was far better and far more wonderful than a healing would have been.
God also answers prayer through natural laws and processes.
When fields yield richly; when people enjoy good health; when nature pours out abundant blessings; all of these things are God’s answer to his children’s prayers for daily bread, nor should the Giver be overlooked merely because the normal processes of nature through which his blessings were conveyed are recognized and partially understood.
By way of summarizing the ways in which God answers prayer, some of the ways are:
- He may answer it literally.
- He may refuse to grant the petition.
- He may send something different from what was requested.
- He may answer it gradually.
- He may answer it after a long delay.
- He may answer through natural laws and processes.