Several years ago, I was engaged to be married to a beautiful young woman. Four months after our engagement, however, and four months before our wedding, she called the whole thing off. I became clinically depressed. (You’re depressed if you’re sad. You’re clinically depressed if a mental-health professional tells you you’re sad.)
I wallowed in this slough of despond for months. During that time, my parents, sister, and several friends drew close to me, listened to me wail out my unhappiness, entertained me to get my mind off my loss, and encouraged me to move on with my life. Paradoxically, I never felt more loved than when I was depressed about love lost.
One day, I took out a pad of paper, drew a line down the middle of the top sheet, and listed everything I was depressed about in the left column and everything I was happy about in the right column. The right column was much longer. I had lost my fiancée, but I had gained new depth in my relationships with family and friends, among many other blessings. I took one look at that very lopsided list and thanked God for the love he had shown me through those people. My clinical depression didn’t disappear instantly, but gratitude for blessings definitely broke its spell over me that day. Since then, gratitude has been a constant component of my prayer life.
First Thessalonians 1:2–5 is a single sentence in Greek, although the NIV breaks it up into three sentences. It has a main verb (“we thank”) and three subordinate participles (“mentioning,” “remembering,” and “knowing”). If we outlined the verses, they would look like this:
We always thank God for all of you (v. 2a):
- Continually mentioning you in our prayers (v 2b)
- Remembering before our God and Father your work produced by faith, etc.… (v. 3)
- Knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, etc.… (vv. 4–5)
Each of the three participles gives either a result of or a reason for Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s thanksgiving for the Thessalonians.
Take a look at verse 2: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.” These simple words teach us two important truths about our prayer lives: we should always be thankful for others, and we should continually pray for them.
Gratitude for God’s blessings should be the theme of all our prayers—for salvation and spiritual gifts, family, friends, opportunities to serve others, relative health and wealth, adequate food and shelter, and citizenship in a wonderful nation. You may not feel blessed at this very moment, but make a list, and you’ll discover how blessed you really are. So be thankful!
But alongside that gratitude, pray for others too. It is easy to thank God for what he gives us. But gratitude can become me-centered if it’s not attached to prayer for others. We can become so thankful for what we’ve got, in other words, that we forget the needs of others. Let’s ask God to meet those needs. Where we can, let’s try to meet those needs ourselves.
Always thankful, continually praying. That’s a good motto for 2012.