How do we pray with thanksgiving?

The Bible tells us to pray. It also tells us to be thankful when we pray.

Col. 4:2 ¶ Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;

Phil. 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Genesis provides an excellent example of praying with an attitude of thanksgiving. After living with Laban for 20 years, Jacob was on his way home. When Jacob learned that Esau was coming toward him with 400 men, he became frightened and turned to God in prayer. Notice that Jacob used the word “unworthy” in his prayer. How did that indicate gratitude?

Gen. 32:3 ¶ Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

Gen. 32:4 He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now;

Gen. 32:5 I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”

Gen. 32:6 ¶ The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Gen. 32:7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies;

Gen. 32:8 for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”

Gen. 32:9 ¶ Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’

Gen. 32:10 I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies.

Gen. 32:11 “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children.

Gen. 32:12 “For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”

Jacob expressed his gratitude and thanksgiving to God by recognizing that he was unworthy of everything God had done for him. Jacob had started out with just a staff, but twenty years later he was two companies. What do the following verses tell us about the size of his two companies? Keep in mind that a typical family farm has less than 150 animals total. How many animals did Jacob give away as a gift?

Gen. 32:13 ¶ So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau:

Gen. 32:14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,

Gen. 32:15 thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.

Gen. 32:16 He delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.”

Gen. 32:17 He commanded the one in front, saying, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?’

Gen. 32:18 then you shall say, ‘These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us.’”

Gen. 32:19 Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, “After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him;

Gen. 32:20 and you shall say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.’” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”

Gen. 32:21 So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.

Jacob gave away 580 animals. Jacob had started out with just a staff, but twenty years later, he was wealthy enough to give away 580 animals as a gift. Jacob had a lot to be thankful for, and when he asked God for protection from Esau, he acknowledged that he was unworthy of the wealth that God had given him.

What about us? When we pray, are we thankful for everything God has already done for us? Do we understand and acknowledge that we are unworthy of whatever it is we are asking God to do for us? Just as Jacob started his prayer by acknowledging his unworthiness, so too when we pray, we should express our gratitude to God by acknowledging that ultimately we are unworthy of God’s favor and help.


Further Reading

 Does prayer work?

Why does prayer work?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”