Thanksgiving is much like praise, but it is more personal. Whereas in praise we give glory to God for all His works, for all time and toward all people, and for His attributes and ways, thanksgiving also seeks to honor God, but only for what He has done for us personally. It is our gratitude to God for how He has blessed us.
I think this part of prayer can come either before or after praise. When we begin our prayers and we immediately feel gratitude for something, we naturally start our prayers with thanksgiving. As we continue praying in the Spirit, our gratitude will normally overflow into praise. Likewise, if we come to prayer having already meditated on how great and good God is, we will naturally begin our prayers with praise. Then, moments later, it may be that God’s Spirit will work in us so that we begin to feel gratitude for something He has done for us personally; hence, prayers of praise will turn to prayers of thanksgiving.
As I have indicated above, our prayers of thanksgiving will come to us when the Holy Spirit leads us. But we should not just sit and wait for that to happen. We are commanded to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18), and we are also commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
If we heed these two commands, our prayers of thanksgiving will become our constant attitude and act as one who is filled with the Spirit. As I see it, our thankfulness (or our attitude of gratitude) is evidence that we are obedient and Spirit-filled. And this is pleasing and honoring to God (Rom. 1:21), for when we are thankful we show the world that we are a true believer and that we are grateful to God for the way He has loved us. Likewise, we are telling God that we love Him.
This gratitude that we acquire by the Spirit is not just to be an attitude (as to always have a grateful attitude for everything); it also should be a separate part of prayer. Therefore, God desires that we take time to verbalize in our prayers our gratitude for specific things that God has given us.
And we should also be thankful, and express to God our thanks, for the way He has helped and cared for others we love. We see this wonderfully exemplified in Paul’s letters. Listen to two examples of how Paul thanked God for those he loved.
1 Corinthians 1:4-8
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, 5 that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.
I mentioned above how thanksgiving-prayer is related to praise-prayer. Well, thanksgiving-prayer is also very much connected to, and aids the petition part of prayer. As I see it, when we thank God first, before we make any petitions, as was the case in Paul’s prayers (Phil. 1:3-6, 1 Cor. 1:4-8, Rom. 1;8-16, Eph. 1:15-18, Col. 1:3-5, and 1 Thess. 1:2-4), we in effect prepare our heart for petitional prayer. It is the way God has designed for us to achieve the right attitude for making requests.
Also, as we see in Paul’s teachings, as well as in his prayers, thankfulness always accompanies true prayer (of petition).
In Philippians 4:6 it says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (italics added for emphasis).
Also, in Colossians 4:2 it says, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (italics added for emphasis).
Again, when Daniel prayed in Daniel 6:10, it says, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (italics added for emphasis).
The concept of this teaching, I believe, is that we can not ask God for anything and please Him unless we are grateful. Therefore, when we make our requests we should also thank Him. We can thank Him for many things, primarily for caring for us and loving us, and for the things He has already given us. And we can thank Him for the privilege of asking and receiving. For each thing we ask Him for we can, and should, thank Him for something. When we ask Him to heal a certain part of our body, we should thank Him for the health we have so far enjoyed. When we ask Him to keep our children safe, we ought to remember all the times that He has kept them safe, etc.
This principle of prayer is so important. Don’t forget it. Without the thanksgiving part of prayer all your petitions will be unheard. Whenever you pray and ask God for anything, you must include thanksgiving!