Have you ever heard a little child pray? Not one that has gone to church for a few years and heard a lot of adult prayers. A little child just learning to pray. Unlike most adults, who tend to pray “gimme” prayers, small children pray almost exclusively “thank you” prayers. They thank God for their family members (listing them each individually, including the pets), for their food (often item by item), for houses, toys, and other blessings, and sometimes for Jesus. That is the whole prayer. It is only as one gets older and hears adult prayers that a child starts adding in the requests, maybe the confessions, and only occasionally the praises. In that order, since that is the frequency of these things in most adult prayers.
It is not wrong to add these other things to our prayers. In fact, we are commanded to “let your requests be made known unto God.” (Php 4:6) In the Psalms, David modeled praise prayers to God. We should acknowledge our sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Nevertheless, sometimes we adults should pray more like children, rather than expecting them to pray like us.
Jesus was a thankful prayer. Every time the gospels mention his giving thanks, it is in relation to food, but if we don’t thank God for our food we are not likely to thank him for other things. One time it is even pointed out after the fact. “Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks.” (Jn 6:23) It seems that John considered the giving of thanks of equal or greater importance than the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Either that, or he is stating that the miracle would not have happened had Jesus not given thanks.
Paul was a thankful person. He made a point of telling the Ephesians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (twice) that he thanked God for them. Paul even thought that thanksgiving was so important that when another person gave thanks to God, those around him should understand and acknowledge that thanks. In his discussion of speaking in human languages not learned in the normal way, he said:
Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. (1 Cor 14:16-17)
Even in the matter of food, Paul considered giving thanks to be of supreme importance. He acknowledged that the gentiles could eat any food (not just kosher food) as long as they gave thanks for that food. (Rom 14:6; 1 Tim 4:4) If they did not give thanks, then, no food would be truly beneficial to them.
Even our confession of sin, perhaps, should be in the form of thanksgiving. We often ask God to forgive our sins, even though he has promised that they are already forgiven. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7) If the blood of Jesus continually cleanses our sin, as is implied in the original Greek, then perhaps we should more often thank God that he has already forgiven us, instead of reminding him of sins which he has already forgotten.
It has been proposed that if we ask God multiple times for something, we should thank him at least as many times when we receive it. Thanksgiving, in America, tends to be reserved for the fourth Thursday in November. God seems to expect it every time we speak to him. Making requests, and even praising God, are important aspects of prayer. We must not make thanks giving any less important.
“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Col 3:17)