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Praying with a Thankful Spirit

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst Nazi prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea infested.

Thank the Lord for Everything

One morning, the sisters read through 1 Thessalonians. The passage encouraged Corrie and Betsy to “rejoice always,  pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18).” This command didn’t sit well with Corrie, but her sister pleaded with her to give thanks to God for the building that they were living in now. Although Corrie stubbornly declined to thank the Lord for fleas, Betsy continued with her request, and eventually, Corrie gave in. Throughout their confinement at Ravensbruck, the two women were amazed at how easily they could meet for prayer and Bible study, without any conflict or arguments from the guards. Much later, Corrie and Betsy discovered why: the guards refused to enter the barracks because of the fleas. 

This illustration points out an interesting dilemma. We Christians need to pray with a thankful spirit. This becomes even more challenging during times of oppression, persecution, or grief. I have heard both new and seasoned Christians ask this question: “Please tell me how I am supposed to ignore all the pain and suffering and have a thankful attitude—what exactly I am thanking You for, Lord?” Have you been there? Have you wanted to ask God this question? I want to explore the answer. We will see what answers God provides.   

For our story, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:15–18

Be Joyful 

One key to understanding this is to realize that thanksgiving is addressed to God. The significance of this distinction is that our thankfulness is connected to God. We are to be thankful to God regardless of circumstances despite whatever may happen. We are not thankful for what happens to us. Our dedication is to God. The psalmist models this. We see the psalmist pour his heart out to God in lament. He is not thanking God for his situation, but he lays his case before God. Once he gets the pain off his chest, he acknowledges his thankfulness for God’s faithfulness and strength. A sample of this is found in Psalm 142:1–5. Examine the format below: 

  1. Address and Introductory Cry

With my voice I cry out to the LORD;

     with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.

I pour out my complaint before Him;

     I tell my trouble before Him.

When my spirit faints within me,

     you know my way!

  1. The Lament (The Real Problem)

In the path where I walk

     they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see:

     there is none who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

     no one cares for my soul. 

  1. Confession of Trust

I cry to You, O LORD;

     I say, “You are my refuge,

         my portion in the land of the living.”

Rejoice Even in Persecution

The Christian, through faith, can rejoice in spite of meanness and persecution. The joy of the Christian is the end result of the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ welling up and overflowing in the soul of the believer. This salvation is theirs in Christ. Although our earthly joys fade, if only for brief moments due to our circumstances, we can remain thankful because the joy of salvation never fades. It is this joy of salvation that allows us to pray with a thankful spirit. It is not the situation or some Pollyanna view of a broken world that shapes our thankfulness. We need to be reminded to rejoice in spite of the many little adversities that Satan will attempt to use against us to lessen and even darken our joy. But the Christian stands at the cross of Christ in bold defiance and declares, “Satan, you will not take my joy. You will not ruin my happiness, because my life merges into eternal joy.”


When you are struggling to pray, turn to these prayers rooted in Scripture.

Use the Lutheran Prayer Companion

Written by

Keith Haney

Rev. B. Keith Haney is Assistant to the President for Missions, Human Care, and Stewardship of Iowa District West. He has been an ordained pastor for twenty-seven years and has served multi-ethnic urban congregations in Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. He is the author of numerous devotionals, including One Nation under God: Healing Racial Divides in America. He is married to Miriam (Bickel) Haney, and they have six children and one grandchild.

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