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I struggle with prayer sometimes. I find mostly that my prayers are centered on my needs and the needs of others for the coming day. Do you have the same struggle? The Bible does clearly state, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6). However, it’s the “thanksgiving” part that I mostly struggle with and forget about.
Adversity, if we allow it to, has a way of taking our focus off of ourselves and putting it back on God, and it’s taken almost three years of unemployment to get to the bottom of this struggle with where my focus needs to be. And, I found myself struggling in the area of prayer because my needs have been my main focus–on this trial of mine. It’s not that I wasn’t thankful or grateful for the way God has provided for me during this worst trial of my life, but my focus always came back to the problem, and not to God.
Ironically, my favorite verses in the Bible are Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” The problem for me lies in the fact that I can’t seem to stop my own mind (e.g. my own understanding) from trying to figure it all out and, instead, just leave it with God. And I’ve prayed about this particular struggle numerous times. Still, my mind wants to try on its own to figure it all out. I need to get “my own understanding” out of the way in order to truly rely on God.
I tend to wake up very early, even before any alarm goes off (if it’s even set), and during the past year or so I’ve found myself praying in bed the moment I’m awake before I even climb out of bed. In the past few months I have also started listening to and singing along with praise songs early in the morning (not everyday, but fairly regularly) after my prayer time. Still, I was struggling with the focus of my prayers, but as I began to learn the real value of praise to God from listening to and singing along with praise songs, I started yearning to find words to include in my prayer time–words that expressed my growing praise to God in the midst of this very long trial. And they have been coming more frequently during my prayer time in the past two or three months.
This morning at the end of my prayer time in bed on my nightstand was my Bible, so I picked it up and opened to Psalm 145-150. These particular Psalms at the end of the book of Psalms are full of praise to God, so I added two of them, Psalm 145 and 146, to the end of my prayer time. David had an extraordinary way with words especially when it came to praising God, and his words became mine for this morning.
While I have often used the Bible, and especially the Psalms during my prayer time (and I suspect you have, too), it has usually been those heartfelt cries of need that David wrote throughout the Psalms that I mostly used, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I knew I also needed to spend time focusing on God and who He is apart from my needs, and praise Him for who He is–the sovereign God of the entire universe who has everything under His control.
It’s amazing how praising God takes the focus off of ourselves and our trials. Indeed, I have found that during my times of singing praise songs or praying with a focus on God and who He is that I am able to “turn off” my own understanding and learn to rely upon Him. And, while I have always been amazed at the peace God has provided for me during this time of unemployment, I have now found the secret of really “resting” in Him–by praising Him. Not that I don’t still struggle at times, but the more I praise Him, whether it’s in song or in prayer, the more my life improves as well as my attitude towards others and the rest of the world. It has taken the blinders off and made me less angry, less critical, and, hopefully, more loving towards others (even my enemies).
Hebrews 13:15 states, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Praise really is a sacrifice, but the amazing thing about praise is that it changes our lives–it changes us, and it places the focus back on Jesus. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2).
And isn’t it just like God to change us in ways we couldn’t even imagine when we take the focus off of ourselves and offer a “sacrifice of praise” to Him on a continuing basis.
1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All you have made will praise you, O LORD;
your saints will extol you.
11 They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The LORD is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.
14 The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.
1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6 the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
the LORD, who remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.
YouTube Video: “Hail To The King” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (recorded on her “Faithful God” CD, 2007):
Photo credit here