The Content of our Prayers – Some Unscientific Reflections

Thanksgiving always brings us to a time of prayer and reflection.  It is a time of gratitude that gets expressed through our prayers.  This is good and an important activity.

As I engage in reflection, I have noted over the last year a pattern in our life as church that has probably long been present.  I want to lift up the pattern by highlighting our prayers as a Cabinet when we meet.

Together we as a Cabinet spend time in worship and prayer.  Our prayers are not casual and quick but rather deep and careful.  We go through a worship litany in which we are invited to lift up prayers of celebration and thanksgiving and respond with the words, “Loving God, we give you thanks.”  In the litany we are also invited to lift up prayers of concern, petition and supplication before the Lord responding with the words, “Merciful God, hear our prayers.”

What I have noticed in an unscientific way is that our prayers are overwhelmingly prayers of concern, supplication, and petition.  We pray for a veritable army of individuals both in the Conference and beyond by name.  We pray for situations, trials and struggles; for peace on earth, the end of racism, the safety of those serving overseas, etc., etc.  The list goes on and on.  I could add a great deal more, but the reader can follow the drift of this assertion.

All of these prayers are more than just good.  They are godly.  It is right and proper to pray for a friend battling cancer; a loved one out of work; a neighbor experiencing grief.  It is more than needed to pray for soldiers in Afghanistan, the end of racial violence in Ferguson and in Central Texas; feeding the hungry; homeless individuals, etc.  Again these are Christ-honoring, holy prayers.

What is often missing is that we spend little time in prayers of praise and thanksgiving.  This is just not a centerpiece of our prayer life.  To be sure, we do offer some prayers of praise and thanksgiving, but the ratio seems to run something like ten to one.

I’ve noticed that the Cabinet is no different from our churches.  The same kind of praying and the same rationale appears to roughly apply as I visit around the Conference.  Furthermore when I attend functions around the General Church, the same emphasis on concerns & petitions applies.  The same lack of praise and thanksgiving can fairly be noted.

A number of years back I read Augustine’s Confessions (for the third time).  In reading I noticed that he often began his devotions with the phrase – “Great are you O Lord, and greatly to be praised.”  The great saint determinedly opened in praise even when times were bad!  Especially the great saints of the church, praise and thanksgiving were at the core of their prayer life.  Don’t misunderstand me, they didn’t neglect concerns and petitions.  Rather, the balance was much more even and they led with praise!

I am convinced that there is a lesson here which applies to the content of my prayers and my devotional life.  I do not spend enough time in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.  It was the great saint and devotional leader Meister Eckhart who is reported to have said, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” Praise and thanksgiving are a foundational way we place ourselves properly, obediently, faithfully before the Lord God.

The simple acrostic for prayer guidance is helpful.  Pray ACTS.

Adoration (praise)
Confession
Thanksgiving
Supplication (prayers of petition and concern)

Supplication comes last.  Great are you O Lord, and greatly to be praised!  This Thanksgiving I give you thanks, praise, glory and honor.

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