When you approach God, how do you think about Him? Do you find it easy to give thanks to him or does it feel like something you’re supposed to do?
When I was younger I saw God like a cosmic Santa who doled out gifts at his discretion. I wasn’t sure how Jesus and salvation fit into the equation, but I knew I wanted all the good stuff God promised.
As I grew older and saw God perform miracles, I grew in amazement at his power, his mercy, and his provision. But I still didn’t have categories for how to think about his wrath and judgment alongside his kindness and grace. I definitely couldn’t understand where talking donkeys fit into the world.
Our thoughts about God affect our thanks.
Larry Crabb asks the following questions about how we relate to God:
- Do you see God as a distant ruler who only gets involved with the major issues of your life?
- Does he seem more like a watchmaker who started your life and is only needed when something is broken?
- Are you more like a spoiled brat or a penniless beggar?
- Do you demand he come through for you or do you expect him to pass you by—just like everyone else in your life?
The way we think about God affects the way we thank him and the expectations we have of his involvement in our lives. Our thoughts on prayer even impact how often and how long we pray.
If God truly answers prayer wouldn’t we go to him all the time? If Jesus is constantly intercessing on our behalf, shouldn’t we cry out to him in our moments of distress and with our thanksgiving? If the Holy Spirit lives in us, wouldn’t it make sense that we “pray without ceasing”(Eph. 6:18)? After all, God is a relational God who invites us into a soul-slaking conversation.
The way we think affects the way we thank
In this Gratitude Challenge, we looked at how toxic and chaotic thinking can undermine our thankfulness. We’ve also looked at the role of possibility thinking and deep thinking as ways of escape. A more fundamental way to increase our gratefulness is to develop our theological thinking.
It doesn’t usually take seminary to give you a mind for God, but that’s what it took for me. I finally became curious about how God works.
That’s when I realized a way to escape shallow thankfulness is through deep biblical reflection. The danger is we become arrogant in our theology, but the blessing is that we see even more ways that God works in our lives and the world around us. There are many great books on theology, but I would start with a book like Knowing God by J.I. Packer or Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
What’s the reason for our lack of thanks?
We don’t give thanks more because we are more concerned with self-preservation. In short, we struggle with idolatry. I’m not talking about little statues we put on our mantels.
When I lived in Kenya, I was surprised when one of the church leaders brought out some family idols to pray to while praying for healing. In America, our idols look more like bank accounts, cars, or our social media accounts.
Idolatry means we place our trust in something or someone other than God. It might be a belief in ourselves (self-idolatry) or trust in the economy (Mammon) or government. Some of us look to our spouse or family to deliver us. Others place their trust in a mentor or expert (counselor, pastor, or leader.) Some of us worship our work, our hobbies, or our favorite cause.
Sometimes we don’t pray because we’re just too busy. Why are we so busy? We may be afraid to slow down and hear God’s voice.
What if God asked us to do something?
How to give thanks more regularly.
If you’re kept from prayer because you don’t know how to pray or what to say, I would encourage you to do what I do. Pray the scriptures. Start with the Psalms and Paul’s prayers in the epistles (for example, Eph. 1:15-23, 3:14-21). Praying God’s word gives you words to help express your thoughts.
It’s out of print, but my favorite book on learning to pray is Drawing Near by Kenneth Boa and Max Anders (used copies here). It’s 31 days of daily prayers based completely on scripture passages.
Singing your thanks
As you ponder your prayer life, allow these songs to lead you: Mercy Me sings There’s a Stirring. I also love Nicole C. Mullen’s rendition of On My Knees. Finally, I love this prayer by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, Speak, O Lord.
As you prepare to worship God this week, think through how you’re approaching God in prayer. It will reveal a lot about your practical theology.
Father, I thank you for your mercy and grace. I praise you for your indescribable creation and the perfect ways you work in my life. Give me eyes to see what you’re doing and ears to hear your voice. Show me ways that my shallow thinking prevents me from believing and trusting you. More than anything, I pray you would make me more grateful each and every day. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.