Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Ephesians 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Let’s play a game of word association. When I say a word, think about the first word that pops into your head. Here we go. Pray…So what word did you think of first? Was it the word ask or one of its synonyms? We tend to think that praying is primarily asking God for something. But if that were true, then why does Paul distinguish between praying and petitions or requests in today’s Scripture passages? What are we missing in our understanding of prayer?
One of the greatest joys of being a parent is to spend time communicating with my children. But I remember too well the teenage years when the only communication initiated by the child was asking for something. Dad, can I have the car? Dad, can I have ten dollars? Dad, can I stay out past eleven tonight? Dad, can I go out with my friends to the game? If I wanted more information about their life, I had to ask them for it, and their responses would be short and to the point, forcing the asking of more questions. It was hard to not have a deeper and more intimate relationship with my kids during those years.
Reflecting on that helps me to understand how God must feel about our relationship when it seems all we do is ask for things. What God longs for is intimacy that comes from sharing every aspect of life with us. Paul says in Ephesians 6:18 that we are to pray with all kinds of prayers, indicating that there are many styles of communication with God. There are many styles of communication with God, and we are missing the blessing of intimate fellowship with the Father if our only prayers are those of petition.
Over the next few days I want to look at the various types of prayers we should be praying. I’m sure this list will not be complete, because I cannot claim to know how to be totally intimate with God or even people. But this should give us a good start on building deeper intimacy with God.
One type of prayer is Praise. One of the biggest detriments to learning to praise God is the phrase Praise the Lord! I used to think that when something good happened to me I should say Praise the Lord! When someone else would tell me something God had done for them I would say, Praise the Lord! When I would write a thank you note to someone or would hear of an answered prayer, I would write, PTL!
But saying that phrase is not praising God. For example, I believe a vital part of raising children is to praise them. If every time one of my children or grandchildren did something commendable all I said was “I praise you,” it would mean very little to them. What I must do is tell them why I am praising them, and that means recognizing and acknowledging their character. But this has become hard for us. We are much better at recognizing behavior than character. We acknowledge performance, but don’t seem to do a very good job of acknowledging character. Recognizing deeds is not praise – it is thanksgiving, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow. Praise is the recognition and acknowledgment of the nature and character of God, and we must learn to do it.
I first discovered this was a problem a few years ago when I asked people in church one Sunday following a time of musical worship to spend a moment praising God out loud for who He was. There was silence. First of all, it was unheard of to ask a conservative Baptist congregation to make any noise in church let alone any non-uniform noise. But I also discovered there was a huge problem of not knowing what to say. If I would have asked everyone to thank God for something He had done, there may have been a few who would have spoken. Or if I would have asked them to say, Praise the Lord in unison, they would have done it. But for each person to individually praise God out loud in their own way, that was beyond their capabilities. How sad, I thought to myself, and then I realized that I had trouble doing it also.
Why is it so hard to truly praise God when there are over 300 references to praising God in the Bible? If our relationship with God is not based on our recognition of His nature and character, then what kind of a relationship do we really have? Certainly not an intimate one. I have been so blessed in my relationship with God since I started personally acknowledging His character to Him. It is vital to our relationship with God to start each prayer with a statement of praise for who He is. He is holy. He is loving. He is compassionate. He is merciful. He is just. He is sovereign. He is…and the list goes on. Every request we make of God is based on our understanding of some aspect of God’s nature and character, so we should verbalize the basis for our request. Just as in your relationships with people, intimacy with God is accomplished only through recognition, acceptance, and acknowledgment of His nature and character.
Start practicing praise. Tell God what you know to be true about Him, and that you appreciate knowing it. Tell Him you’re glad He’s holy, loving, merciful, just, forgiving, in control, etc. Let Him know that you know Him. That’s what praise is, and that’s what brings intimacy.