This last April I attended the Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G). While I was there I picked up several free books and resources. One of which was Ligonier Ministries’ Table Talk. It has been several months since the conference, and I am just now getting around to reviewing all the material I brought back.
This morning I was reading through the April edition of Table Talk. As I did I came across an article on Prayer by Derek W. H. Thomas. What he has to say is challenging, as well as insightful and helpful in teaching us how to pray.
He starts by challenging our current idea of prayer,
We’ve all had those annoying conversations that have been entirely one-sided, showing little or no interest in us. It’s all about them – their interests, desires, needs, and complaints. Prayer can get like that: we pour out our woes, become totally self-absorbed, and show no interest in dialogue that involves “listening” to what God has to say. God is patient and, in His grace, He responds. But it shouldn’t be like that. When Jesus taught us to pray, He showed us that prayer beings (and continues) with God.
I believe he is right. For many, prayer is nothing more than us asking God to do something, and that something usually doesn’t involve building us spiritually either. It typically involves Him healing us of some physical ailment. Now, it is not wrong to pray for our own or others medical needs, but that should not dominate our requests.
Thomas continues by saying,
“At least half of our praying should be addressed to the praise and worship of God.”
Have you ever thought about prayer in that way? Have you ever thought half of your praying should be to praise and worship God? Taking it even further, do you praise and worship God in your prayers at all? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we would find that most of us don’t.
How do we remedy the problem?
Thomas helps by offering some things for us to think about before giving us 5 practical steps.
If we are going to praise and worship God in prayer, we need to know who God is and what He is like. How do we come to find that out? Studying His Word, of course.
When we do, we find that God is self-existent, self-sustaining, self-determining, everywhere present, and always in control. We also learn that He is our Father. What does that tell us? It tells us that we have unhindered access to Him personally. In addition, we learn God is holy, gracious, and merciful in His Word.
How do we connect our knowledge about who God is and what He is like to our prayer life? We praise Him.
Now that we know more about who God is and what He is like, when we pray, we should praise God for who He is. That is exactly what the Psalmist does, and that is what we should do as well.
Before we leave this section, let me make a distinction. Praising God and thanking God are two different things.
What is the difference?
- Prayers of thanks often focus on us – We thank God for what He has given us.
- Prayers of praise focus on God – We praise Him for who He is and what He is like.
When we pray, we should not pray lie the hypocrite, just seeking outward recognition. Rather, we must recognize prayer for what it is – our entering into the presence of God. This means our prayers should be reverent and not self-seeking.
If we truly want to praise God in our prayer life, we must refrain from praying, just to make ourselves look good, or to check it off of our daily list. We must realize that when we pray we enter into the very throne room of our Almighty Father in Heaven.
Thomas finishes his article by giving us a five step strategy that will help us keep our prayers God-centered.
(1) Remind Yourself that there is only one God in the universe, and that you are not Him.
(2) Adoration Comes First, before confession, thanksgiving, or supplication. Worship the Lord in your praying.
(3) Read a Psalm before you pray, and attempt to emulate what you find: a preoccupation with God in all His multifacted nature. Find psalms of joy or grief, praise or lament, and note how the psalmist spends time with God, making Him the center of his thoughts and desires.
(4). Learn to Love God’s Names so that saying and repeating them fills you with an inexpressible joy, a reminder of who He is and His covenant faithfulness to you in the gospel of His grace.
(5) Learn to “Wait” upon the Lord. Watch how the psalmist, “fainting” as he thinks of his own troubles, finds relief by deliberately focusing on great things God has done.
I challenge you to become more familiar with who God is and what He is like by making notes as you read through His Word. Ask yourself when you finish your daily devotional: What did I learn about God today? Then praise God for who He is the next time you pray to Him. By doing so, hopefully our prayers will remain God-centered and not man-centered.
Questions for Reflection
- After reading this article, how does your prayer life relate? Do you typically pray about physical needs? Or do you spend time praising God for who He is?
- Would you share how praising God in your prayers has changed your appreciation for who He is and what He has done for you?
Post adapted from Prayer by Derek W.H. Thomas, Table Talk, April 2012, 14-17.