My fourteen-year-old daughter floated into the kitchen like a fairy carrying glad tidings. I knew better.
“You know you really are the best mom ever.” She flashed me her most convincing smile. I smiled back, but my smirk carried more of a question mark.
“What do you want?” I asked her, leveling her with my best “mom look.” I was determined to skip the meaningless flattery and get right to her true motive.
“Really? That’s so mean! I was being nice,” she argued, pretending to be indignant. Clearly she planned to keep up the charade a bit longer.
All right, I thought. I’ll play along. And then I proceeded to say nothing. Not a word. It only took her about thirty seconds to spill the beans.
“So . . .”
Here it comes.
“Katie wants to know if we could hang out tonight, do a sleepover, watch movies, the normal. Would that be okay?”
There was nothing wrong with her request. She wanted to hang out with friends, something most teenage girls do. But I felt irritated that she couched her petition with insincere praise. That bothered me more than if she’d just asked for the sleepover without the theatrics.
Am I only as loved as my next fulfilled request? Am I not a good mom because of my daily commitment to love, teach, protect, and provide for them? Do I need to prove myself yet again to deserve a little authentic gratitude or praise?
This entire interaction, though common and insignificant, caused me to pause. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been studying the practice of prayer. You’d think after a lifetime of following Jesus, reading God’s word, and actively serving the Church, I would’ve mastered the discipline of it. But I find the more I learn about prayer, the more I’m faced with how little I understand it or utilize it.
It seems my most earnest prayers spill forth when I’m facing a painful problem. Then, driven by overwhelming need and emotion, prayers spill forth without too much effort. But my words are focused almost entirely on my petitions. Sure, I’ll open with a quick mention of God’s goodness, but then I go right to my driving motivation: the problem I want Him to fix, the health challenge I want Him to solve, the provision I need Him to deliver.
But when was the last time I spent long minutes thanking God for what He’s already done? When was the last time I lingered over His nature, celebrating who He is and His presence and goodness, without demanding proof in another performance?
Is my love for God only as deep as His next fulfilled request?
This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV)
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus gave them what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, which begins with these two lines of praise. Although not lengthy, these two sentences acknowledge God’s intrinsic value and worth as well as His ultimate authority. It sets the tone of everything that follows, giving voice to the truth that being able to call God our Father and us His children is already gift enough.
I want to grow in my relationship with God, such that I consistently celebrate what He’s already done. Although I will continue to bring my requests and needs before Him, as He’s invited us to do, I want to be more intentional about recognizing and savoring the wealth of what He’s already done. Because more than another divine performance, I need His nearness.
How about you? If you want to deepen your prayers with times of praise and gratitude, here are a few strategies that have been meaningful for me.
- Find a quiet place without distractions. I like to sit on my back deck early in the morning before my family wakes.
- Open your Bible to a favorite Psalm of praise. I like Psalms 18, 29, 30, 84, 91, and 95-100.
- Read it slowly and out loud, personalizing the Psalmist’s words into your own praise for God.
- Highlight phrases that stand out to you, perhaps marking the date in the margin.
- Using a journal, create an ongoing list of God’s unique qualities that mean the most to you. Add to this list each day you pray another Psalm.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 100:4 (NIV)