Joy, Prayer, and Thanksgiving

Joy, prayer, and thanksgiving move us to the place where we see God and recognize our need to totally depend on him.

We live in a frustrating and anxious time. Who could have predicted a year ago that a previously unknown virus would turn our world upside down today? But here we are, ten months into a year devastated by the Coronavirus pandemic, more than a million people have died already around the world. So much pain, so much angst. If you are like me, you probably wake up each day feeling grateful for just being alive.

“Dear God, thank you for the gift of life.” James (not his real name) begins our time of prayer with his heartfelt gratitude to God for being alive at a time like this. James, who lives in the Northern part of Nigeria, joins our weekly Zoom prayer meeting. Today, however, James is particularly grateful that God has protected his family from the militia group which stormed through his village a few days ago. Armed with machetes and guns, the group had burned down homes, killed several people, and left the villagers in dread. Frightened by this close encounter with death, James decided to move his family to another village where they would find shelter and safety. It was on this trip that he stopped by a gas station to join our weekly prayer meeting. James felt he needed time to worship God and to thank him for shielding his family from an experience that threatened to engulf them.

James, in my view, understands the value of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonian Christians:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Joy, prayer, and thanksgiving move us to the place where we see God and recognize our need to totally depend on him. As we worship and pray, we realize that God’s perfect will for us has already been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Often, we find it easier to rejoice, pray, and give thanks when life unfolds the way we want it to, when our harvests are bountiful, and there is no sickness or death in sight. Indeed, God wants us to celebrate his blessings around us at such times.

The painful reality in our sinful world, however, is that life often turns sour unexpectedly. A wheel flies off the wagon and the harvest we have labored on for so long pours into the drain. A loved one succumbs to a debilitating sickness. Yet, God promises to fill us with his joy and peace which “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I like Rev. George Barlow’s commentary on Thessalonians 5: “Happiness is not found in anything external. It is a certain state of the soul when it is filled with the peace of God and lit up with the sunshine of heaven.”

As we celebrate this season of gratitude, may God’s Spirit move us from fear to joy. May the Giver of Life transport us into his holy sanctuary, where he empowers us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. May God fill us with his peace, in good times and bad times, for this is his will for us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Digging Deeper

Rev. Dr. Bernard Ayoola serves as the director of the African Resource Center of West Michigan. He is also the dean of online education at the LEMA (Leadership Education Mission for Africa) Institute.