March 15, 2018 • Life for Leaders
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
Do you ever feel like your prayers are, well, boring? Have you ever found yourself in a prayer gathering with someone who prays confidently, wishing that you could pray that way? Would you like to pray with boldness? If your answer to any of these questions is affirmative, then you’ll be encouraged by the example of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-17.
English translations struggle to convey the continuity between the thanks of verse 16 and the request of verse 17 and beyond. Our translation, the NIV, falls in line with many other English translations by putting a period at the end of verse 16: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that…” But, the original Greek of this passage doesn’t make such a clean break. Rather, verse 17 continues the thought of verse 16 and is dependent on it grammatically. A more literal translation would be, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, [asking] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you…” Thus, the transition from thanking to asking is seamless.
Before we get into the substance of Paul’s supplication for the recipients of his letter, I want to consider the close connection between thanking and asking. Sometimes in Scripture, thanksgiving leads into praise (for example, Psalm 100:4). As we consider what God has done and thank him, we remember God’s gracious and glorious nature and cannot help but offer him praise. Yet, there are other places in the Bible where gratitude lays a solid foundation for petitions. We see this not only in Ephesians 1:15-17 but also in Philippians 4:6, which reads: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (emphasis added).
Why is thanksgiving such an essential element in prayers of asking? Of course, it’s always appropriate to thank God for his many gifts. But the act of giving thanks not only acknowledges God, but also increases our faith. When we remember all that God has done for us, when we bring to mind God’s gracious acts in history, then we are inspired to pray more boldly. We have faith to ask God for more of his favor because we remember how generous he has been in the past with his favor.
In my own prayer life, I usually begin my prayers of asking by thanking God. Remembering God’s goodness by expressing my gratitude encourages me to ask freely, with confidence in God’s grace and wisdom. Thanksgiving helps me to ask boldly, with a renewed awareness of God’s awesome power. Moreover, starting with gratitude reinforces my dependence on God’s grace. I come before him with my requests, not because of anything I have done or any privilege I have earned, but because God is good and giving.
Something to Think About:
As you pray, in what ways does gratitude inspire and shape your supplication?
Do you often transition from thanking to asking? Why or why not?
Something to Do:
Set aside some time to offer thanks to God. Then transition into supplication. Let your thanks inform and inspire your requests. If you’re in a small group, consider doing this with others. Then talk about what you experienced.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. Amen.
“Now Thank We All Our God” by Martin Rinkart, c. 1636. English translation by Catherine Winkworth, 1856. Public domain.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Resolving Conflict (Philippians 4:2–9)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.