Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
For the past ten weeks I’ve been writing about components of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, and when needed, complaint. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, we see all but one of these elements. This leads me to conclude that genuine prayer almost always includes several components, not just one. Here is a brief summary of each:
PRAISE – giving glory and honor to God for who he is, for his mighty deeds and for his attributes.
THANKSGIVING – recognizing that all the good things in your life and all that you possess, including talent, ingenuity and skill, come from our incredibly generous Lord.
CONFESSION – acknowledging our sins and claiming our inheritance as redeemed and forgiven daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, who loves us unconditionally.
PETITION – appeals to God regarding our own needs and wants – and requests we make to God on behalf of other people.
COMPLAINT – giving voice to our frustrations and woes in prayer to God, modeled on examples from Scripture.
I used to think of prayer simply as checking in with God whenever I needed his help. But God wants so much more out of his relationship with us. He desires intimacy, the kind that comes from spending time with him, sharing everything about our lives – the mundane as well as the profound. This is how an authentic, committed relationship is established – a relationship that is not superficial, one-sided or simply a matter of convenience. Prayer is the means for developing such intimacy with God.
The Psalms offer us a great example of how prayer can lead to greater intimacy with God. The Psalms are prayers, King David’s prayers, but now ours, too, because they are a part of the Bible. In them we see how David expresses to God his deepest thoughts – his concerns, his hopes, his sins, his praise and thanksgiving, and his complaints. We get the idea David always had a sense of God’s presence with him and sought him continually, not just in time of need.
In essence, prayer is a conversation with God, one that is ongoing, where we get to know him better and better and reveal ourselves more and more fully to him. The components I’ve been writing about these past weeks have helped to make my prayers much richer and enliven and sustain my relationship with the Lord.
It no longer occurs to me to petition God for my needs and concerns without first proclaiming his greatness and giving thanks for his blessings and answers to previous petitions. I also find it helpful to confess my sins and acknowledge my standing before God before I proceed to ask for his help. Doing so helps uncover any blindness I may have about my motives or about my worth before God. Now, by petitioning God after praise, thanksgiving and confession, I find it much easier to say, “Thy will be done” because I am ready to turn my concerns over to the Lord with confidence in his eagerness and ability to hear and act on my behalf.
I am struck now by how near God is to me at all times. He always has been, but because I’ve been seeking to stay in touch with him throughout the day through prayer, and not just when I need something, I am more often aware of his presence, even in the silence between conversations with him. But this kind of ease and trust takes time to build and it doesn’t occur without effort and commitment.
Here are some suggestions for how to develop greater intimacy with God through prayer:
- Begin with praise and thanksgiving as soon as you awake, but before you get out of bed.
- Continue to pray while you shower or brush your teeth. Ask the Lord to equip you with all you will need for the day. Ask for direction about details of the day ahead that trouble you and for his will to be done in all things. Tell him you trust him.
- Pray throughout the day about anything of concern whenever something comes up. Simply say, “Help me, Jesus.” Or, “Holy Spirit, produce in me whatever is needed for this situation I’m facing.” Or, just stop what you are doing for a moment and sense the Lord’s presence beside you.
- Around lunchtime offer praise and thanksgiving, again. Ask for direction about what lies ahead in the afternoon.
- Read a psalm or two in the mid-afternoon.
- Confess your sins and your standing before God on your way home or as you prepare dinner.
- Read a psalm at dinner and give thanks for God’s blessings.
- Pray with your family or spouse before bedtime.
As your prayer life deepens you will find yourself worrying less, trusting God more, with peace and joy abounding in your mind and heart.
Next week: Some thoughts on prayer from Christians who were known for their prayers.