Day 13 – Thanksgiving and Praise
Effective Prayer Podcast, by Colin Dye
Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” In other words, God is saying right from the very beginning that prayer alone is not enough. When you pray, you must learn to mix your praying with many, many things. I’ve written a book, Prayer That Gets Answers, that goes through all the Bible indicators of what we have to mix with our praying in order for the prayers to be effective—prayer with faith, prayer with praise, prayer with fasting, prayer with giving, prayer with thanksgiving—and here we are focusing on thanksgiving as a very important aspect of effective praying.
God says, “By everything or in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” And so we shouldn’t just come to God reciting a long list of shopping items when we come into His presence—just ask, ask, ask. If we thank Him in advance for the answers, thank Him for when the answers come, thank Him for who He is, whether we feel the answers are there or not, because God never changes. He is worthy to be thanked.
And then in Ephesians 5:19-20 we have another very powerful reference to thanksgiving. It says, in the context of being filled with the Spirit, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So as we give thanks to God, we are giving thanks to Him not just in all things, but for all things. That takes a lot of faith, which shows us that God really appreciates our thanksgiving. When you learn to thank God in the way that He deserves to be thanked, in whatever situation, whatever circumstance you will find yourself in, you will be able to thank Him. And even more than that, when you see that all things are working together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), when you see that working in your life and accept that principle by faith, you will be able to thank God for everything, literally. It sounds difficult, but when we see the power of thanksgiving, you will know that it was worth it.
Now there is a main verb in the Old Testament Hebrew for giving thanks. It is the verb “to thank,” yadah. It means, literally, “to stretch out your hand” and it carries the idea, the two ideas, of close contact and action. Action. So giving thanks means that you are in close contact with the one you are giving thanks to. It is directly to that person, and also there is an element of action involved. Thanksgiving is an active thing; it’s not just a passive thing.
Now an example of this today, very often if you want to say “thank you” to somebody, you do it with an action, don’t you? You might buy them a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates, or just give them a little token—something which is a token of your appreciation. You are being active in it.
Now we find in the Old Testament that God called upon His people to give thanks in so many different ways and in so many different situations. Second Samuel 22:50, “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name.”
In fact, in the worship of the people of God in the Old Testament, there were those who were especially appointed to commemorate and to give thanks. Have a look at this verse, 1 Chronicles 16:4, “And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate [which means to remember], to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.”
So thanksgiving was an important part of Old Testament worship. People were designated by God to give thanks, and it was a continual process, and so that encourages us to know how we should be giving thanks at all time. We should always make provision, permanent provision, for giving thanks.
Now another Hebrew word is towdah, which also means “give thanks.” Now towdah is the most common Hebrew word for thanksgiving in the Old Testament. Like yadah, it implies speech and activity; it implies speech. Towdah, giving thanks; it’s vocal. It’s not enough to just say, “Well, I’m thankful in my heart.” You try that in your human relationships. If you never express thanks, people aren’t going to think you’re thankful. But the moment you express thanks it does something for you. It releases you. It completes the experience. It shows your gratitude, it opens your heart, and it also blesses the person that has blessed you.
Now towdah, the use of towdah in the Old Testament implies exactly what yadah implies, but it adds another element. It adds a formal element. And this suggests that we can yadah God anywhere, but towdah is formalized; it’s offering to God thanksgiving in the context of worship, and we can even stretch this—and now I’m talking about the Old Testament context, which is in some instances more formal than New Testament worship—but there is a sense in which we should assemble in a formal way and give thanks to God and to give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we do that, we acknowledge that it is our duty. It is not just something that we do because we feel like it; it is our duty and it blesses God when we do it.
Now in the New Testament we come to the word eucharisteo, and that is the verb for thanksgiving, to give thanks, and the noun form of that is eucharistia, and these are the common words for “to thank” or “I thank,” and also “thanksgiving.” It’s made up of two words: eu, which means “good,” and charizomai, which means “give freely.” Good and giving freely.
And it is also related to the Greek word charis, which is usually translated “grace.” So now New Testament thanks and thanksgiving involves those elements: good and gracious gifts which are freely given and thereby acknowledged by us to be exactly that. So we give God thanks for His goodness, for His good gifts which are freely given to us, and we thereby freely return thanks to Him. So in other words, whatever God does graciously in your life is not completed until you give God thanks. If He is giving something good to you, and if He is pouring His grace into your life, and if He is doing this freely, His gracious gifts, that giving and receiving is not completed until you give thanks.
So that is why sometimes when we receive something from God and we are ungrateful and we don’t come back to Him and give Him thanks, even the very thing that God would freely give to us, we can lose—not because God takes it away again, but because we have not opened our spirit widely enough to receive what God wants to give.
That is why thanksgiving is so crucial. I believe that sometimes people’s Christian experiences, or rather the enemy can come in and rob us of some of the things God would give us because of our ingratitude.
Now God’s grace always causes thanksgiving. In 2 Corinthians 4:15, 2 Corinthians 4:15, Paul says, “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” Can you see this underlines the point? When God gives His grace and that grace is truly received, a mark of that grace is that you are thankful and that you give thanks to Him. Show me a Christian who is thankful to God and I will show you a Christian who is truly blessed.
Now I don’t want you to be in bondage about this. God is so gracious, He pours out His gifts upon us and showers His gifts upon us continually; He’s such a gracious God, but you know that unless you receive those gifts with the same spirit of gracious thanksgiving and receiving those gifts, with thanksgiving, then you may well lose them. And so that’s a very important principle.
Now in fact the Greek word for grace, charis, is itself the Greek word for thanks in a number of passages. Let’s look at some. Romans 6:16 [correct verse is Romans 6:17], “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” That’s the word charis. It’s actually used; grace is used of thanksgiving itself, showing you that the gift is gracious and receiving the gift involves and gracious expression of thanks to God.
Another very well-known verse, 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” See, the victory comes freely. It comes as a result of God’s grace at work in our lives. It is not our own effort that brings God’s victory; it is God’s gracious supply of His Spirit and all the work that is done for us in Christ and through Christ. That is why when we give Him thanks for the victory it is good to acknowledge the source of that, which is His grace.
Now because of that, all this use of the word “grace” in giving thanks, eucharisteo, it would suggest surely, my friends, that those of us who claim to be graciously endowed with charismatic gifts, those of us who call ourselves charismatic Christians—and the truth is, every Christian is a charismatic Christian because the gift of salvation is itself a charism. It is a gift of God, a free gift of God. So therefore, all Christians should live lives of overflowing thanksgiving to God and especially those in the charismatic movement and those who claim to be charismatic Christians because they have received the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Now there are a few New Testament examples of prayer which are set in the context of thanksgiving and this is why so often when we see, when we come before God, it may be even to give thanks for our food, we are not just following a Christian tradition, but we are really expressing what it means to be a Christian.
So the grace before meals is one aspect of this. Also in the service of communion, which some branches of the church call “the Eucharist” or thanksgiving, these things are ready expressions and opportunities for us to give thanks to God. Before we have a meal, give thanks go Him. That’s not just a meaningless Christian tradition. Or when we take and bread together in our communion we are giving thanks to God.
We find this time and time again in the New Testament. Prayer of thanks for food, we find it in Matthew 15:36, when Jesus took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks. He broke them and gave them to His disciples and the disciples gave to the multitude. That miracle was sparked off by thanksgiving, and if we learn to live a life of thanksgiving, we’re going to see His miraculous hand more and more. In Matthew 26:27 Jesus gives thanks for the bread and the wine. He says in Matthew 26:27, “He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.’”
And so again in the New Testament we find thanksgiving given in so many other general contexts to God. Let’s just have a look at some of the verses. Luke 17:16, “And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.” Here we have God showing that the Samaritan was able to give thanks, suggesting that maybe sometimes God’s people—and the Samaritans were not seen to be very much God’s people—that God’s people, perhaps, don’t know how to give thanks.
John 11:41, “And they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.’” Here we have the Lord Jesus giving thanks to the Father and He knows even before this miracle has taken place that God has heard Him. So you see you can give thanks to God before you even see the answer because the assurance comes that God has heard you. So you give thanks to God even as you are praying because you know that God is going to help you and God is going to answer.
The Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:3 says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” How wonderful it is that we can give thanks for one another. Colossians 1:3, “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, always praying for you.” Isn’t that wonderful? As we pray for people, we can give thanks to God for them, and as we give thanks to God for them, we will appreciate them all the more and we will release God’s blessing both into their lives and our lives.
I like to think that when we give thanks to God we are releasing more grace into our lives. How many people here need more grace? Those of you watching on the videos or the television programs: How many need God’s grace? Tell you what, my friends, if you give God thanks, God’s grace is going to pour all the more into your life.
Now as I intimated earlier, thanksgiving and praise are two different kinds of activities. Thanksgiving and praise are not the same. They are often linked. For example, 1 Chronicles 23:30, “Stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at evening.” Here we have the Levites and the priests and all…indeed, all God’s people called upon to give thanks to God and to praise Him. And again, let’s have a look at Psalm 100:4, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” So it is clear that praise and thanksgiving are associated, but they are different activities.
Thanksgiving is primarily a prayer directed to God which thanks Him for what He has done and praise is essentially a commendation about God which is either directed to other people or is embraced by other people when we are directing it to God.
Now there is a subtle distinction there. I don’t want to make too much of it because there is a tremendous amount of overlap, but I have noticed in our prayer meetings and times of leading churches in different parts of the world that the people of God do not know how to distinguish between praise and thanksgiving. Praise is, after all, much easier because you can simply talk about somebody—it’s easier to talk about them than it is to address them personally, and when you are giving thanks to somebody you have to look them in the face, you have to look them in the eye, and you have to say, “Thank you,” and that opens you up in a way, in a relational way that nothing that you say about them is ever going to do.
Now I’m not saying praise is wrong. Of course not. We must praise God. But it is extolling the virtues of somebody, usually to somebody else, you say, “Oh, that was a marvelous tennis match. That was a marvelous football match. That was a marvelous solo that that person sang. Wasn’t that marvelous? Wonderful solo.” And many people will do that. They will praise somebody, “That was a marvelous sermon. That was a marvelous Bible study. That was a marvelous message.”
But how often do those people go to the people and say thank you to them? Now that takes more effort, and so that is why thanksgiving is neglected. It is neglected in the life of our churches time and time again. And we must take time every day to praise God and to thank God. It is, I believe, a prerequisite for answered prayer.
Now when we praise God, we are marvelously praising Him for His qualities, His virtues, but when we thank Him, we are personally addressing Him, usually for what He has done for us.
Now there is an order here in Psalm 100:4. Let’s look at it again, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” Now why I think that is significant is because it describes the people of God entering into the place of worship. They enter into His gates with thanksgiving. They come with thankful and grateful hearts, and they express thanksgiving.
How marvelous it would be if every believer who came together for a praise service or worship service or coming to church services, that they would enter with thanksgiving, actually describing the things that the Lord has done. But then, when they gather into the courts, they switch from thanksgiving to praise, because then we are sharing with one another the things that God has done for us, and we are thanking Him for who He is. It is, I think, a very significant order. We come first with thanksgiving, and then we share that experience with others in praise.
Now there are three main Old Testament words which are usually translated as “praise.” Halal—that’s connected with making a loud noise, a cry of joy, a cheer, or a shout. It’s a very widely used word in the Old Testament, and I’ve given you a number of selections, a small selection, rather, of this very wide choice. And here we have, let’s just take one. Let’s take Isaiah 62:9, “But those who have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the LORD; those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.”
Isaiah 64:11, “Our holy and beautiful temple, where our fathers praised You, is burned up with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste.” So here we have the people of God—certainly it is Isaiah’s intercession, crying out to God because the praises of God were hindered as a result of this temple which had been destroyed.
Now of course we can praise God wherever we are, because we are the temple of the Lord. Now the expression “hallelujah,” which comes from halal, occurs so many times in the Bible, and hallelujah has got to be a loud shout, a declared shout, and I love it. Maybe Pentecostals over use it, “Amen. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Amen. Hallelujah. Hallelujah,” and maybe we overuse it, but I want to say to other branches of the Christian church, if we overuse it, you underuse it.
I remember being in a big praise rally. It was in an open air stadium and there were Christians coming from all over Europe, gathering together in this big praise stadium, and not once throughout the whole daytime was one “hallelujah” said down that microphone. Not one, because they leave the hallelujahs to the Pentecostals. What a tragedy. All God’s people are hallelujah people. Let’s give God a mighty hallelujah shout right now. [everyone: hallelujah] That’s it! Don’t get too Pentecostal on me.
Now another Hebrew word in the Old Testament for praise: yadah. It means, literally, “to throw.” Let me show you a translation of that in that respect: Lamentations 3:53. It means literally “to throw.” “They silenced my life in the pit and threw stones at me.” The word there is yadah; literal meaning is “to throw,” but it is translated as praise when…especially when bodily movements and gestures like clapping, dancing, raising hands are used to glorify God.
In other words, it is an active word. It is something you must do. You must throw your praises at God; you must project your praises at God, and you project your praise, sometimes by raising your voice. Now I raise my voice, it’s my…it’s my habit, it’s my personality. Whenever I am emotional, I raise my voice. If I’m upset, I raise my voice. If I’m happy, I raise my voice. When my emotions are stirred, I raise my voice.
But not just my voice; I raise other things as well. I’m a naturally expressive person physically. I suppose it’s my dance background, but we are all made that way. We don’t all have to be as expressive as others, but we are made that way. We are body, soul, and spirit people, and when we praise God, we should do it with our whole being, with our body, soul, and spirit, in so many ways that the Bible encourages us to do.
There’s clapping. Some people object to applauding the Lord, but it’s taken from a biblical principle, laud His name—l-a-u-d. We laud His name. We applaud His name.
Dancing. This is not some kind of fleshly thing. Dancing is a spiritual thing if it is directed towards the Lord.
Raising arms and doing so many things. This is one of the ways in which we can praise God.
Another word—zamar, it signifies singing and playing music. It’s used time and time again in the Psalms, describing the way in which God’s people were to praise Him. Now especially in the Psalms we see different instruments which are used—and I’m resisting the temptation to go through these for the sake of time; you should do that for yourself. And let me just take you to one reference where zamar is used outside of the psalms—Isaiah 12:5, “Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth.” There it is, praising Him with the song. Sing to the Lord. Sing to the Lord.
The implication also is for musical instruments. Now some people say there is no reference in the New Testament to musical instruments in praising God; therefore, we shouldn’t have them. That is a very silly way of arguing. If it’s not in the Bible, God says don’t do it. That’s ridiculous. You take that logic and you would end up in a very sorry state. You wouldn’t even go to the toilet, in that sense, because nowhere in the New Testament does God say to go to the toilet, does He? He doesn’t say it; He doesn’t tell you to do it.
So I am sorry to use something slightly blunt, but at the end of the day it’s a ridiculous way of arguing, and also you must understand that the New Testament builds on the foundation of the Old Testament, and so all of these Hebrew words are in our heart. We sing and make melody in our heart to the Lord. The zamar is there, and if the zamar is here, the zamar has got to come out. Oh yes, it has. If the towdah is here, the towdah has got to come out. If the halal is there, the hallelujah has got to come out. Yes, yes, if the yadah is there; if it’s there, it’s got to come out. And if the music is there, it’s got to come out.
Some will bring it out more musically than others. Some of us may not be quite as musically talented as others, but thank God He says “make a joyful noise,” and if it’s just a noise as far as other people are concerned, it’s a joyful noise as far as God is concerned.