I get together with a group of men that starts each meeting with updates about our lives and a few prayer requests. I’ve started using the ACTS prayer tool (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication) as a framework for what I’d like to share.
At some point, I realized that my thanksgiving tends to be about what I think is going well in my life…“I’m thankful I got that job I applied for,” followed by supplication, which is often about what isn’t going quite so well…“Please help my relationship with my co-worker improve.”
But I’ve been challenged lately by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Romans 5:3 calls us even more specifically to “rejoice in our sufferings,” and James 1:2 exhorts, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials.”
This relationship between thanksgiving, joy, and suffering is profound. Do I really give thanks for suffering? Or do I thank God only for the things that are “going well” and then pray for an end to the things that aren’t? I don’t think these instructions on prayer mean I can’t ask God for hardship to end, but I do think I’m called to be thankful—even when suffering continues.
Incredibly, we’re promised fruit from suffering: endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4), as well as “steadfastness” and the remarkable result of “lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).
Thanksgiving, then, is not a separate step that I check off the list before I start asking God for things in a subsequent step called supplication; rather, they’re integrated and overlapping aspects of one prayer.
Philippians is a book with some pretty radical statements about suffering (see 1:29, 2:10). I think 4:6 sums it up best: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (ESV, emphasis added). Can we trust what God says about trials by giving him thanks even in the midst of them?