Think of the last time you prayed.
How did you begin your prayer? After acknowledging the Lord, did you say “Please…” or did you say “Thank you…”?
I have been struck recently by how my prayers nearly always begin with “Please”. That is, I move directly to my requests. Now, my requests are not bad – I’m not praying for a Lamborghini or destruction upon someone who offended me. I am usually praying for good things, like people coming to faith or enduring through difficult times. However, what is the implication of always beginning my prayers with requests or, often, only making requests in prayer?
I think it’s that we miss seeing what God is already doing in our lives.
Shifting our focus
What’s more, we miss the encouragement of noticing what he is doing. Instead, we are driven by the burden of what we long to see God do. We are focused on the dissatisfaction of what is true now, longing and praying that the Lord will act and make things better (someone coming to faith, healing from a sickness or coming through a season of trial).
Now, of course, it’s not wrong to bring our requests as we experience burdens for others or ourselves, but don’t miss the encouragement of what God is already doing! For example, maybe there is a small change in the circumstances you are praying for. Thank God for that. Something is happening! Maybe it’s a movement in a different direction and you realise it’s not what you were asking for but this is God’s doing instead. Thank him that he knows best.
“...there are so many other things going on in your life that are signs of God’s grace to you.”
Maybe nothing you have asked for is happening yet but you see growth in the person you are praying for. Thank him. Finally, maybe nothing is happening yet in the situation at all but there are so many other things going on in your life that are signs of God’s grace to you. Pause and reflect on them and then thank him for his work in your life and circumstances in so many ways.
Paul’s prayers could be our prayers
I was leading a Bible study recently at one of our assistant minister training days, looking at 2 Thessalonians 1. I was struck again by how the apostle Paul almost always begins his letters with a thanksgiving to God. So, we read:
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
Paul is looking for God’s hand at work and when he sees it, he thanks God. In fact, I think he is always looking for God’s hand at work in the churches he writes to. Notice he is not thanking the Thessalonians but rather God – their perseverance and faith is because God is at work! This is an encouragement to Paul but also to those Thessalonian Christians receiving this letter: “Yes, God is at work among us, even in the midst of persecution and trials!”
We notice that now the requests to God come, for later in this chapter he writes:
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
Paul’s burden for the future is in the context of the encouragement of what God is already doing and for that he thanks God.
I was saying to our assistant ministers the other day that all ministry is hard. There are things we long to see happen but if that is all we see (and pray for) it’s a very heavy burden. Instead, we need to balance that with the reality that God’s hand is already at work. Let’s look for that and experience the encouragement that awareness brings – and thank him!
So, when you pray later today or in the morning, why not begin with, “Thank you Lord for…”.