Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief is a series of ten letters I wrote for my son addressing his doubts about Christian faith and answering his questions about what Christians believe and why. Each letter is preceded by an Introduction which introduces its particular topic.
Please share these weekly installments of Bringing Home the Faith with someone in your life, whether young or old, who wants uncomplicated and honest answers to their questions and concerns about Christian faith.
Last week in Letter No. 2: How to pray, I wrote about the Lord’s Prayer and how it is a great model for our prayers. This week I describe in greater detail two of the four categories we find in the Lord’s Prayer: praise and confession.
Every morning, when I first wake up, I begin praying to God. I’m not even out of bed at this point. I’m not even thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing or accomplishing or hoping for in the day ahead. My first thoughts are directed to God, because I’ve learned that the way to start any day is to begin with prayer – to make hanging out with Him the first and most important part of every day.
I used to think that the first thing I needed to do when I awoke in the morning was to plan my day. Then I discovered (after years and years of making this mistake) that all my planning and worrying only kept me away from God. I was thinking about my problems and not about Him. One day it struck me that this was “idolatry.” My problems got way more of my time and attention than God. In a sense, I was “worshiping” my problems.
This was a big mistake on my part, especially since God is much better than I at planning and solving problems. He’s so good at it because He already knows what my day is going to be like. And He has the power to give me what I need for what’s ahead. So there’s no need to worry. God’s got it covered. All you should do is keep focused on Him.
So, it finally made more sense to me to begin the day, from the moment I open my eyes, by giving Him all my attention. And I keep my focus on Him all day long, so that He can lead me through the day, inspire me to do or say the right thing, and advise me about making the right choices and decisions. When you think about it, why would you want to do these things on your own? Even on my best day I’m never going to see and do things as wisely and as perfectly as God. If you keep your attention on Him, he will constantly give you what you need at every moment. He is our Shepherd, after all. That’s what He tells us in Psalm 23. Trust me, life goes much better when God is leading and you’re following.
So, it all begins with waking up in the morning and turning straight to God. I always begin with praise, just like in the Lord’s Prayer. I praise God for being the Creator of the world and all that is in it, for His power and His might, and for things like parting the Red Sea, bringing down the walls of Jericho, raising Jesus from the dead, His faithfulness and His love, and His gift of new life for all who believe in His Son, Jesus.
I praise the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. I try to remember their mighty deeds in the Bible, or use names or terms the Bible uses for them, like Yahweh, Mighty Counselor, Alpha and Omega, Advocate, Good Shepherd, King of Kings, and Lion of the tribe of Judah. When you read the Bible regularly, you will come across names or terms for God. Try keeping a notebook with your Bible so you can write them down.
I suggest you always begin your prayers with praise because it is a way to remind yourself that, whatever your need or concern, you are, first and foremost, addressing the most powerful Being in the universe, our God, who loves us unconditionally, and for whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Not only does praise show respect due God, it also is a way of reminding us that we are taking our concerns to the right Person – all the way to the top. He is All-powerful, All-knowing, All-loving and All-forgiving and acts on our behalf. (Isaiah 64:4) These are things we should never forget. Therefore, praise reminds us of just Who God is, in our lives and in the world.
I think praise is best followed by confession. As I said earlier, to confess means to tell the truth. When we confess to God we are telling the truth about ourselves. This used to be very hard for me. I felt very ashamed about the truth: that I had let God down; that I was more interested in myself than in anyone else, especially God; that I wanted some things so badly that I thought about them all the time, forgetting about God; that I had said and done things I shouldn’t have said and done and left other things undone.
But the Bible told me no one is exempt from falling short and everyone is equally undeserving, because of their sins, before God. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes:
for we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (3:23).
But he also writes:
God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (5:8)
This news gave me courage. It told me the truth about myself: I am a sinner, just like everyone else. It also told me the truth about God: He loves me unconditionally despite my sins. Now I can be honest because I now know I have nothing to fear. I even ask the Holy Spirit to show me if there are sins I’ve left out.
Because I learned I can trust God, I don’t want there to be anything between us anymore, anything that would put up a wall between me and Him. So I’m eager to open up my life and my thoughts and deeds to God and tell the truth. It feels so good to be totally honest with Him – and to feel so understood and loved at the same time. David writes about this in the 139th psalm:
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” (Verses 1-3)
So, after praising God, I confess, knowing that He forgives me and is delighted in my truthfulness…
Next week: Letter #2: How to Pray concludes.
Discussion Questions for Sixth Installment: How to Pray
- What are your first thoughts when you wake up in the morning? At what point do you think about God?
- How does praising God effect our state of mind?
- What kinds of things do we praise God for?
- Why is it important to confess our sins?