Prayer is the most impactful factor of each relationship in our lives. A deeper relationship with God leads to deeper relationships with the people in the world around us. Jesus’ command to love our neighbors and our enemies gives complete confidence that as we draw closer to God he will encourage us to draw closer to our spouse, children, family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and the vulnerable.
That said, prayer only makes an impact on relationships around us when it makes an impact on our relationship with God. This four-part series focuses on praying with the purpose of drawing closer to him. Long ago I was taught a simple formula of Praise, Reconciliation, prayer for Another, and prayer for Yourself, and, in addition to cleverly spelling PRAY, it really does give a solid framework to deepen your relationship with God.
It all starts with praise. After all, God is God.
We sat on the floor of a darkened classroom with seven candles burning on a little table. Each candle had one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit written on it and everyone in the room had a small, unlit candle of their own. It was the end of year celebration for my daughter’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class and each of us was invited to light our candle from whichever flame represented the gift we most wanted to be given more of.
Our pre-school aged daughter chose “fear of the Lord”. So did my wife. So did I.
It wasn’t that I had too much wisdom, knowledge, piety, fortitude, counsel, and understanding. It wasn’t that I thought God was an angry old man who wanted me to be afraid of him. It was that I realized I hadn’t really considered how incredible, powerful, and, well, godlike, God was and that was something I was missing.
We’re encouraged to focus on God’s love and mercy for us, which is great! However, it’s easy to lose sight of just who God is. Is he our friend? Absolutely! Is he our peer? Our equal? Or, if you hear the tone of some of our prayers demanding this or that favor, our servant?
Not even close.
Starting prayer with a few moments or minutes calling to mind who God is transforms the time that follows for several reasons.
First, calling to mind that you’re talking to the creator of the universe (seriously, think about that) and he’s listening changes the tone of the conversation. Even when we feel the most angry, hurt, and victimized God is still God and it’s good to remember that. He wants us to honestly share our feelings and not hide behind false formality, but the reality is we are humble and hopeful before him, not demanding and entitled.
Second, thinking of God’s greatness can change how we see our situation. We will always have someone to pray for who is sick, suffering, or sad; that’s basically guaranteed. Is our expectation that God will heal, comfort, and entertain? Do we consider prayer a success if God fixes our problems? Do we feel abandoned or ignored otherwise? Remembering God’s universe-wide perspective should change ours. It’s much easier to sincerely pray “thy will be done” when we realize how much more reliable God’s will is than our own.
Finally, praising God is simply the right thing to do. He deserves our thanks and our love. There are other reasons, but, frankly, that it’s “the right thing to do” should be the main one!
There’re many ways to praise God in prayer. The simplest and most effective way (in my experience) is to lead with it. If I’ve set aside ten minutes to pray, then I’ll spend a minute or two praising God before moving on. That said, there are times where your entire prayer can be praise. What parent doesn’t love it when a kid gets their attention just to say thank you?
You can be as formal or informal as you’d like. Scripture has many great options to pray with. Here are a few you could read through and have available as you need them:
- Psalm 95: This psalm is written to kick off prayer. It’s so ideal for praise that it’s the standard opening psalm used by every bishop, priest, deacon, and lay person each day in the liturgy of the hours.
- Daniel 57-90: This longish prayer of praise methodically works its way through all of God’s incredible achievements in the order they were created.
- Psalm 117: It’s always wise to have something short but good memorized and ready when you need it. This psalm may be shorter than this description!
- Luke 1:46-55: The Canticle of Mary may be the most beautiful bit of Scripture in the Bible. By following God’s will, Mary risked everything. She was pregnant out of wedlock, poor, and vulnerable. Did she complain about how hard God’s plan was to follow? Read Luke 1:46-55 for the model each of us should follow!
These are great options and so are calling to mind the blessings you normally take for granted and thanking God for them or simply reflecting on God’s greatness. No matter how you do it, spending a little time praising God will help set the stage for the next step in prayer, reconciliation. Understanding who God is, how much he deserves so much more from us than we give, and realizing he loves us anyway is designed to help us trust him with admitting our failings and striving to do better.
Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!