Category Archives: prayer

Do we pause to give thanks before meals?

Prayer before every meal was something my parents modeled as my brothers and I were growing up. Sometimes it was a silent prayer, with all of us bowing our heads until we heard a noticeable exhale from Daddy which signaled that the prayer time was over. But often Daddy prayed aloud, speaking his gratitude for God’s generosity with many biblical allusions. I also have vivid memories of Grandpa Reuben praying long, heartfelt prayers before meals when our extended family gathered. Soon after I got my first watch I timed his prayer; it was two minutes. That may not sound long, but it was to a growing boy sitting at a table that was groaning under a holiday repast!

I continue the practice of saying grace before meals. girl praying - Alfredo Rodriguez heritagegallerywest.comI see much value in using food in front of me as a reminder to pause and acknowledge God’s generosity in all of life. As the Apostle Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Rather than taking for granted what is granted, a prayer of thanks before a meal helps me fill my mind with some of the many ways God has shown grace and blessing. At the very least it gets me thinking of the many good things in our world. And that they didn’t begin with me—that someone else deserves some credit.

There is a problem, though, when one prays at every meal. It can turn into mere ritual and lose its meaning.

Here are some ways to vary table grace to help it stay fresh and meaningful:

  • Learn a short memorized prayer that all can say in unison.
  • Alternate between memorized and spontaneous prayers of thanks.
  • Even “spontaneous” prayers are to some extent memorized—we tend to repeat phrases from previous prayers; so try to add at least a fresh phrase or two each time.
  • Some households join hands as they say the grace.
  • Learn a meal blessing song. (I posted a clip of a prayer song as our family celebrated a birthday last month.)
  • Go around the table giving everyone a chance to say something for which they are thankful; have that be the prayer.
  • Sometimes make the prayer simple. I remember my friend Juan’s typical prayer in our Bible institute cafeteria: before he sat down, he’d gesture toward heaven and then toward his tray, saying “Thank you, Lord, for this food!”

We can think of many creative ways to do table grace, I’m sure. But whether we use a new form or an old, any prayer from a thankful heart will be full of meaning.

A prayer for every flawed person

A couple months ago I mentioned a hobby of mine: putting pieces I find or write up on the web. Below is one item in my TrueHumor collection—meaning it struck me as something insightful as well as fun. It’s a piece of uncertain origin and pokes fun at the spectrum of human foibles that can surface as we pray. It’s a “Lord help me” prayer for every personality type!

Lord, help me to relax about insignificant details
beginning tomorrow at 7:41:23 AM EST.

Lord, help me to consider people’s feelings,
even if most of them ARE hypersensitive.

Lord, help me to take responsibility for my own actions,
even though they’re usually NOT my fault.

Lord, help me to be more laid back,
and help me to do it EXACTLY right.

Lord, give me patience,
and I mean right NOW!

Lord, help me not be so perfectionistic.
(Did I spell that correctly?)

Lord, help me to finish everything I sta

Lord, help me to keep my mind on
one — Look, a bird — thing at a time.

Lord, keep me open to others’ ideas,
WRONG though they may be.

Lord, help me slow down

Reading the Psalms, I get the idea that God welcomes such prayers with all of their flaws. God even puts them in the Bible! Our prayers can express whatever is in our hearts—as long as we also listen and let the Spirit give us mid-course corrections.

‘And God Said No’ (poem)

Here’s a poem, “And God Said No,” written in 1980 by a woman raised in an alcoholic home, whose sister was murdered and middle daughter diagnosed with a severe disorder requiring 24-hour care, … and the list of suffering and trauma could go on.

I asked God to take away my pride, 
and God said, "No." 
He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, 
and God said, "No." 
He said her spirit is whole and her body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience, 
and God said, "No." 
He said patience is a by-product of tribulation. It isn't granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness, 
and God said, "No." 
He said He gives blessings. Happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain, 
and God said, "No." 
He said suffering draws us apart from worldly cares and brings us closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow, 
and God said, "No." 
He said I must grow on my own. But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked God if He loved me, 
and God said, "Yes." 
He gave His only Son who died for me, and I will be in Heaven someday because I believe.

I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me.
And God said, "Ah, finally, you have the idea."

© 1980, Claudia Minden Weisz. Used by permission of the author.

Shirts for Timmy!

When God asks us to do something that seems impossible, what do we do? Do we step out in faith, giving a chance for God to help something amazing to happen?

Chuck Swindoll tells a fun story about such faith.

A Christian couple sold their business at a loss to go into the ministry. Things got rather rough with four kids in the family. One night at family devotions, Timmy, the youngest boy, said, “Daddy, do you think Jesus would mind if I asked him for a shirt?” “Well, no, of course not. Let’s write that down on our prayer list.”

The mother wrote down “shirt for Timmy.” She added “size 7.”

Every day Timmy saw to it that they prayed for the shirt.

After several weeks, one Saturday the mother received a phone call from the owner of a clothing store in downtown Dallas. “I’ve just finished my July clearance sale, and knowing that you have four boys, it occurred to me that you might use something we have left. Could you use some boy’s shirts?”

She said, “What size?” “Size 7.” Hesitantly she asked, “How many do you have?” “Twelve.”

That night, as expected, Timmy said, “Don’t forget, Mommy, let’s pray for the shirt.”

The mother said, “We don’t have to pray for the shirt, Timmy.” “How come?” “The Lord has answered our prayers.” “He has?”

As previously arranged, brother Tommy goes out and gets one shirt, brings it in, and puts it on the table. Little Timmy’s eyes are like saucers. Tommy goes out and gets another shirt and brings it in. Out–back, out–back, until he piles twelve shirts on the table, and Timmy thinks God is going into the shirt business.

Making sense of prayer requests

To communicate throughout South America, one needs Spanish. In East Africa, the primary language is Swahili. With God, it’s prayer.

The Bible says, “pray continually” (1 Thes. 5:17). “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18). Many of the spiritual truths and stories of Scripture cannot be fully understood unless one has a life like that of the biblical authors and actors: a life lived in the presence of God — aware of and interacting with and responding to God.

We understand why our conversation with God should involve listening: we have much we need to learn and take in. We understand why we should express thanks and praise.

What about the “request” part of prayer? Much prayer in the Bible consists of people petitioning God to do things; we, too, often bring our lists. Yet it doesn’t make sense: won’t God do what is good, whether or not we pray? Why would God limit himself by depending on us to pray before he will act? Yet we are told again and again to ask God for daily bread, for protection, and for the Kingdom to come on earth. James says we have not because we ask not. Ezekiel talks about the Almighty God being unable to save the people of Israel because there is no one to “stand in the gap” as an intercessor for them.

Why would God wait to act until someone prays?

The best explanation I have found is that God wants to help us develop and mature so we’re not passive, dependent small children, waiting for him to do everything. God wants to train us into ones who can initiate and take responsibility for things that advance the Kingdom in our lives. When a child is small, the parent does everything for them. But if the parent continues as the child grow older, the child never learns; so the parent backs off. “I’ll help the child when asked; but they need to initiate.”

So also God chooses to be limited, to depend on us to shape and impact our world. And to wait for us to pray when we face something we cannot do.

God-centered praying

The focus of the Christian life is to follow Christ as Lord. Jesus’ most common call in the Gospels is “Come after me” or “Follow me.” To be truly Christian means that Christ is at the center.

I have a question for you who want to follow Jesus as Lord: when you are seeking the Lord’s will, which of these is closest to how you typically pray: “Lord, what is Your will for my life?” Or “Lord, what is Your will?”

When this question was posed to me (in Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God), I was initially frustrated. There seemed no difference between the two! And indeed, because we generally use words with imprecision and ambiguity, persons repeating those two prayers might be intending the same thing. But there can be a significant difference; the second prayer tends to be spiritually healthier.

The first prayer, even though it is offered to God, can be self-centered. I can seek God’s will, not because I care about God’s kingdom and want to bring it closer, but so that my life can be better and more effective. When praying the first prayer, it’s easy for my focus to stay on my glory rather than on God’s.

The second prayer (“Lord, what are You doing?”) steers us toward being God-centered. We find out what God is doing and adjust our life accordingly. We watch to see where God is working and then we join in that work! We think God’s thoughts after him, do the things God does. This follows the pattern of Jesus’ life: “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19).

As Chris Wright puts it, “We want … a purpose tailored for our individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.”

God, help us remember

An “author unknown” prayer that I collected several years ago:

Heavenly Father, help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother, who worked nine hours that day and was rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can’t make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary-looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day, is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

Help us to remember that those in our country that do not speak ‘our’ language may be able to speak the language of love, if we would be patient and understand that they feel alone and out of place, and are looking for a new beginning from a place of poverty, persecution and hopelessness to a place of security, freedom and a promise for a future.

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts You give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts, not just to those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judgment and quick to forgiveness and patience and empathy and love.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.