I pulled up to the stoplight behind an old green Tempo covered with bumper stickers. One of them caught my eye and really made me laugh out loud: "Answer my prayers, steal my car!"

For several years, I drove an old car with lots of mileage that made my back hurt and snagged my pants with a bad spring in the driver's seat. I understood the sentiment of the bumper sticker. I couldn't help but laugh at seeing it so boldly proclaimed. Like a lot of things, however, the bumper sticker got me to thinking — not about old, run-down cars, but about prayer and God's answers to our prayers.

So often our prayers become a wish list of things we think might make our life better, easier, or more comfortable. We approach prayer like it is our magic genie list of things we want God to do for us. We lose sight of the relationship with our Abba Father that is such a blessing in prayer. We lose sight that prayer is in itself a great gift of grace because the Spirit intercedes for us when we pray. Maybe worst of all, we lose sight of the power of prayer to help us rejoice in the blessings we've already received from God.

While all three of those thoughts are worthy of discussion, I'd love for us to think about that third one for a second. But let's do more than just look at it; let's shine the truth of God's Word on it. Remember what Paul told the Philippians?

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

Notice what he also said to the Colossians:

Continue praying. And when you pray, always thank God. (Colossians 4:2 ERV)

This is not only a command, it is also a great blessing!
As Christians, we are to always pray with thanksgiving. This charge to be thankful when we pray is one of the greatest gifts that prayer offers us. So often, we get caught up in our problems, pains, and disappointments. These challenging and hurtful issues in our lives can become the "black hole" that absorbs all the light and joy out of our lives. Despite having many things for which we can give thanks, we lose sight of them and find only the negative. We focus on what is lacking, on what we need fixed, or on people we need changed.

"Well Phil, you just don't know how tough my life is right now! That's why I end up focusing on these things."

You're probably right. I don't understand your situation. Despite some very challenging periods in my own life, I know that I do not know your hurts, your problems, and your challenges. They are as unique and distinct as you are! However, I want to remind you that God has challenged you to offer a time of thanksgiving when you pray. Yes, you should go to him honestly and openly about your problems ... but always with thanksgiving. This is not only a command, it is also a great blessing!

God challenges us to give thanks: not because he needs it, but because we need its benefits! We have blessings poured into our lives every day. In addition to these daily blessings, we have also received a host of eternal spiritual blessings — salvation, forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, the community of faith, the Bible, the promise of heaven, a value system, a reason for living, a promise that death cannot steal away and on and on we could go. In addition, we can be thankful in the type of God we have. Despite what our outward circumstances may suggest, we have a long history of God's merciful, forgiving, tender, patient, and sacrificially loving acts revealed to us. Even in our worst nightmares, we can ultimately give thanks in having God call us his children and look forward to our future with him.

When prayer spends some of its time in thanksgiving, the person praying is reminded of the nature of God and his powerful work in people's lives. It's like a breath of fresh air in a stale and suffocating set of problems. It's the promise of a better day in our future. It's a reminder that we're not alone or abandoned no matter how much we feel that way.

So when we pray, let's remember to always give thanks — it can be the always and every time blessing when we pray!