From R. A. Torrey, Dwight Moody’s hand-picked first president of Moody Bible Institute, and, sadly, one of the most-overlooked of the fin de siecle Christian writers and teachers:
There are two words often overlooked in the lesson about prayer which Paul gives us in Phil. 4:6-7:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
The two important terms often overlooked are with and thanksgiving.
In approaching God to ask for new blessings, we should never forget to return thanks for blessings already granted. If any one of us would stop and think how many of the prayers which we have offered to God have been answered, and how seldom we have gone back to God to return thanks for the answers thus given, I am sure we would be overwhelmed with confusion. We should be just as definite in returning thanks as we are in prayer. We come to God with most specific petitions, but when we return thanks to Him, our thanksgiving is indefinite and general.
Doubtless one reason why so many of our prayers lack power is because we have neglected to return thanks for blessings already received. If any one were to constantly come to us asking help from us, and should never say “Thank you for the help thus given, we would soon tire of helping one so ungrateful. Indeed, regard for the one we were helping would hold us back from encouraging such rank ingratitude. Doubtless our heavenly Father out of a wise regard for our highest welfare oftentimes refuses to answer petitions that we send up to Him in order that we may be brought to a sense of our ingratitude and taught to be thankful.
God is deeply grieved by the thanklessness and ingratitude of which so many of us are guilty. When Jesus healed the ten lepers and only one came back to give Him thanks, in wonderment and pain He exclaimed, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? (Luke 17:17).
How often must He look down upon us in sadness at our forgetfulness of His repeated blessings, and His frequent answer to our prayers.
Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate upon and I thank God for blessings already received. As one meditates upon the answers to prayers already granted, faith waxes bolder and bolder, and we come to feel in the very depths of our souls that there is nothing too hard for the Lord. As we reflect upon the wondrous goodness of God toward us on the one hand, and upon the other hand upon the little thought and strength and time that we ever put into thanksgiving, we may well humble ourselves before God and confess our sin.
The mighty men of prayer in the Bible, and the mighty men of prayer throughout the ages of the church’s history, have been men who were much given to thanksgiving and praise. David was a mighty man of prayer, and how his psalms abound with thanksgiving and praise. The apostles were mighty men of prayer; of them we read that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Paul was a mighty man of prayer, and how often in his epistles he bursts out in definite thanksgiving to God for definite blessings and definite answers to prayers. Jesus is our model in prayer as in everything else. We find in the study of His life that His manner of returning thanks at the simplest meal was so noticeable that two of His disciples recognized Him by this after His resurrection.
Thankfulness is one of the inevitable results of being filled with the Holy Spirit and one who does not learn in everything to give thanks cannot continue to pray in the Spirit. If we would learn to pray with power we would do well to let these two words sink deep into our hearts—with thanksgiving.