This post is the first in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Stephen Chan, writer of Faith Comes From Hearing, reflects on the following quote by German theologian Meister Eckhart.
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
There is a lot that can be said about prayer. The Bible encourages us to “never stop praying” (1 Thess. 5:17). Yet if we know the heart of God and trust that his plan for us is good (Jer. 29:11), it can be tempting to ask why we need to pray at all. Jesus himself said, “…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8).
Perhaps all we need to say to God is “thank you”—for what he has done and in anticipation of what he will do. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Is it really enough?
Saying “thank you” is not an act to be taken lightly; too often we toss these words around when we don’t mean them.
- Thanksgiving should be sincere. If gratitude has to be compelled, it ceases to be sincere and takes on an opposite meaning. God never insisted we thank him—in the same way he never forces us to love him. He loves us and blesses us with or without our reciprocation, although our love and praise is what he enjoys and desires. Jesus asked of the lepers, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Clearly, we can receive blessings without showing appreciation.
- Thanksgiving should glorify God, not us. Sometimes our expressions of thanks are thinly veiled “self-praises” that brag about our accomplishments—“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Jesus recognizes this for what it is—self-glorification—and he warns against it. We offer thanks to God from a position of humility because we know that we can do nothing without him (John 15:5).
- Thanksgiving should focus on God, not his blessings. If we were to offer thanks only for the good things in life, we are really withholding thanks from God until we receive something that pleases us. That would be disrespectful and impudent! But if we are going to be joyful in trouble as James suggests (1:2), we need to remember the first point above: thanksgiving should be sincere! Do we possess the attitude of Job, or David, who in the midst of persecution by Saul, wrote, “My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!” (Ps. 57:7).
Although the Father knows our needs before we ask him, he is pleased with our petitions. When we bring our prayers before him…
- It shows we trust him. When Saul died and the way was clear for David to be king, David didn’t rush back to his hometown to claim the throne. Instead, he sought God’s advice: “‘Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?’ ‘Yes,’ the Lord replied” (2 Sam. 2:1). When we pray and seek God, we show that we trust his advice, his plan, and his timing.
- It shows we depend on him. When the Philistines tried to capture David, David asked the Lord, “‘Should I go out to fight the Philistines?’…The Lord replied to David, ‘Yes, go ahead. I will certainly hand them over to you’” (1 Chr. 14:10). Wisely, David didn’t want to fight the Philistines if God wasn’t on his side. He knew that victory only came from God. By asking God if he would hand the Philistines over to him, David showed that he depended on God.
- It allows God to reciprocate in love. When my son was born, my wife and I both worked jobs. We desperately needed someone who could watch the baby when we returned to work. We checked newspaper ads, asked friends, and searched across town for someone who could help. When we acted on our own, we found closed doors; but when we prayed, God opened the door of the Muslim family who lived across the hall from our apartment. They happily agreed to care for our son, which started a 15-year friendship between our families that continues today.
Prayer with Thanksgiving
Each verse in Psalm 136 contains a reason to thank God. Yet if you read between the lines, you will see the real reason why we can thank God repeated again and again—“his faithful love endures forever.”
Although we have good reasons to thank God and be “thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), it would be a strange relationship if all we said to God was “thank you.” Prayer deepens our relationship with the Father. It shows our dependency on him, our trust in him, and keeps us in a position of humility before him.
So let’s continue to humbly but confidently go to the Father with our prayers because “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
Read more by Stephen on his blog Faith Comes From Hearing.