In my sermon last weekend, I described the four levels of prayer:
Praying to God for things – that is the most elementary level,
Praying to God to get you out of things – that is the next level,
Praying to God for nothing but God – that is evidence of greater maturity and trust,
Praying to God to offer everything you are to Him – that is the ultimate level of spiritual growth.
So does that mean we ever reach the point that we cease asking God for things, or to extricate us from circumstances?
I don’t think so. Even as we grow in faith and trust, we still turn to God and share the deepest longings of our heart, and that may include asking for specific blessings for ourselves or those we love. It also means praying to God about the choices we make and the opportunities that arise at home, school, work. And it definitely means asking God to reveal His wisdom and grace in the living of our lives. But when we grow in faith we dare to conclude every prayer, “Thy will be done,” knowing that God holds in His heart only love and an eagerness to bless us.
Next time you pray, dare to think through how you have prayed. What level of prayer consumes most of your conversation with God? Do you ever intentionally ask, “OK God, what would you do in and through me?” If not, what might happen in your heart and life if you did?
“My thoughts and prayers are with you…”
Every time there is a tragedy someone somewhere says or writes, “My thoughts and prayers are with you…”
Such declarations typically trigger condemnation from commentators around the country who suggest that “thoughts” and “prayers” don’t seem to help, and that the promise to pray is an empty promise at best, an evasion of responsibility at worst.
How does that strike you?
It actually leaves me thinking, and rather introspective.
On the one hand it is so easy to use the promise of prayer as a quick exit from an uncomfortable conversation. If promised prayer becomes merely a polite, sympathetic way of drawing a conversation to a close, it is hypocritical – we are promising something we have no real intention of doing. If that is even suspected by the person we are speaking to, it must sting with indifference.
On the other hand, promising to hold another in our thoughts and prayers can be an incredible gift. So often I hear from folks who recount vividly the sense of peace and serenity they have experienced when they knew they were being prayed for. Rather than being offended by the offer, they were deeply touched by the promise.
An added blessing is that when you keep the promise to think and pray for another, it opens a door to God to whisper to our heart and guide are hands. It is amazing how people act after they have prayed for another person, as it seems to trigger greater compassion, service and sacrifice.
For me, there are two key components to thinking and praying for others:
First, I keep lists. They are on my phone, handwritten in notes, and on my computer. The lists are people I have promised to pray for, as it is the only way I can ever remember. Mastering the prayer list is crucial to being authentic in prayer. Whatever works, keep a list if you are going to promise to prayer for someone, as it underscores the sincerity of the promise.
Second, try using Psalm 20, vs 1-5 as a model for prayer. Consider how the Psalmist prayed:
20:1 May the Lord answer you when you are in trouble;
may the God of Jacob make you secure!
20:2 May he send you help from his temple;
from Zion may he give you support!
20:3 May he take notice of your offerings;
may he accept your burnt sacrifice! (Selah)
20:4 May he grant your heart’s desire;
may he bring all your plans to pass!
20:5 Then we will shout for joy over your victory;
we will rejoice in the name of our God!
May the Lord grant all your requests!
Reading through the Psalmist’s prayer, I’m struck by how wonderfully inclusive it is of all the concerns of life. So, I simply insert the name of the person I’m praying for and then use the Psalm as my template for prayer.
Try it; it may bring far great depth and truth to your promise to think and pray!
Endnote: Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Ps 20:1–5). Biblical Studies Press.