Pastoral Perspectives

Give Thanks And Pray

One of the most difficult things to do is to be thankful when unfortunate events or bad things happen to us. Most likely, we will be worried, angry, upset and frustrated! Do you agree? Matthew Henry, a pastor in the 1600s, had the misfortune to be robbed by thieves one day. After the incident, he thought of four things which he could be thankful for.

He went on to write these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. And fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

What would you do if you were robbed? I would think most of us would be cursing our misfortune. How many of us would actually be thankful when we are robbed? How many of us would pray to God and tell him how you feel?

In his book, “A Praying Life – Connecting with God in a Distracting World”, Paul Miller shared that he has learned to depend on God for every area in his life. His dependence on God led him to pray and talk to God frequently about everything in his daily life. As he learned to depend and pray to God, he learned to also give thanks to God for whatever difficult circumstances he faced.

One of the things he shared was this, “Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is.”

He added later: “If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else – a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is important to us, we make room for it. Prayer is simply not important to many Christians because Jesus is already an add-on. That is why … suffering is so important to the process of learning how to pray. It is God’s gift to us to show us what life is really like.”

I was very encouraged by what he wrote and told God that I would want to spend more time in prayer and learning to give thanks in every area of my life. Shortly after this, God answered my prayer. 

Two of my friends and I had the opportunity to visit another friend in Vietnam. While we were there, we enjoyed ourselves – trying out the Vietnamese delicacies, shopping and visiting many interesting places.

However, what happened to me next was something I wished I could pho get (forget)!

On our last evening there, my Vietnamese friend invited us to a Christian conference. So right after a bowl of delicious Vietnamese pho, we made our way to the conference. When we reached the place, it was already crowded with people just waiting to get into the conference center.

After a short while, the doors to the center were opened and people started rushing in. My friends and I were pushed forward in the ensuing madness. When we finally got through the doors, I realised to my dismay that my handphone was missing. Somehow in the midst of all the pushing, a pickpocket took my phone out of my pocket.

I became really upset. I was worried about the information stored in my phone. I was angry at the thief. I was angry at myself for being so careless. Imagine being pickpocketed at a Christian Conference? I was so upset that I was about to condemn every Vietnamese person in the room!

Then I remembered what I have been reading – about praying, depending on God and giving thanks. I felt it was impossible to give thanks to God when I’ve just lost my handphone! It didn’t help that I was angry, worried and frustrated.

Back at our hotel, I looked at my helpless friends and said, “Let’s pray”. So in that few minutes, we huddled together and I prayed and simply poured out everything I felt to God – my frustrations, my fears about the loss of information in my phone and how angry I was. I told God that I was in a helpless situation and that all I can do is to depend on him. Finally, I also prayed for the pickpocket that God would show him grace and that he might come to know God’s saving grace one day. As I prayed, I began to feel God’s peace in my heart. Instead of being upset and angry, He was slowly changing my heart and I began to experience his peace.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul encouraged his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to talk to God: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Here Paul tells us to pray about everything. To pray about everything means to talk to God as you would to a friend or your loved one. It means coming to the Lord and sharing with him all that’s in our hearts – our joys, our anger, our sorrows … our everything.

Communing with God and giving thanks in all our circumstances, in the words of Paul Miller, “restores the natural order of our dependence on God”. As we lift our prayers to the Lord, we are acknowledging our weaknesses and our dependence in our Lord and Creator.

May the following be our prayer – that we make prayer precious enough to make time for it. 

“O God of the open ear,

Teach me to live by prayer as well as by providence,

For myself, soul, body, children, family, church;

Give me a heart frameable to thy will;

So might I live in prayer, and honour thee,

Being kept from evil, known and unknown.

Help me to see the sin that accompanies all I do,

And the good I can distill from everything.

Let me know that the work of prayer is to bring my will to Thine,

And that without this it is folly to pray;

When I try to bring Thy will to mine it is to command Christ,

To be above him, and wiser than He: this is my sin and pride.

I can only succeed when I pray according to thy precept and promise,

And to be done with as it pleases thee, according to Thy sovereign will.

When Thou commandest me to pray for pardon, peace, brokenness,

It is because Thou wilt give me the thing promised, for Thy glory,

As well as for my good.

Help me not only to desire small things

But with holy boldness to desire great things for Thy people, for myself,

That they and I might live to show thy glory.

Teach me that it is wisdom for me to pray for all I have,

Out of love, willingly, not of necessity;

That I may come to thee at any time,

To lay open my needs acceptably to thee;

That my great sin lies in my not keeping the savour of thy ways;

That the remembrance of this truth is one way to the sense of thy presence;

That there is no wrath like the wrath being governed by my own lusts for my own ends.”

“Living by Prayer” from the book, The Valley of Vision – Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Rev Stanley Soh

January 15, 2023