Romans 8:26-30 (NIV)What do I pray about? I’ve got to admit, if someone asked me that question, seeking my advice as to what they should pray about, I don’t know as if I’d have a great answer.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
In my confirmation class, we were taught the CATS mnemonic for prayer structure — Confession, Adoration, Thanksgiving, Supplication. (You may have learned it as ACTS, which I think makes more sense in the order of a prayer, but perhaps you did not grow up somewhere with the Wildcats as your high school mascot.) When I was the interim leader of a high school youth group, I gave them the same guidelines: praise God, for God alone is worthy; confess your sins that you may be humble before the Lord; thank God for all the blessings you have; and ask God to help with whatever is on your heart.
Breaking it down that way, it’s pretty simple — to a point. It is (or should be) easy to praise. If you don’t have the words, there’s roughly 74 billion Psalms, hymns, gospel tunes, bluegrass jams, praise band jingles, youth group sing-a-longs and modern Christian rock anthems that are nothing but praise for the almighty. Find one you like and recite the lyrics.
Moving on to confession, well, this is easy to the extent we all have sin and therefore should have something to confess. Whether you’ve identified what that sin is or are ready to admit to some sinful behavior you’ve been busy justifying is another story altogether. My only direct advice is that searching your soul and making honest confessions is pretty much the best way to start improving a situation. This isn’t revolutionary, and it’s not exclusive to Christianity, either. I’ve watched enough “very special episodes” of classic sitcoms to realize people who are in trouble need to admit they have a problem and need help if they have any hope of righting the ship.
Thanksgiving is kind of like praise in that it should be easy to thank God for the blessings in your life. In fact, when I started to consider how powerful God is and how insignificant humans are in comparison, my eyes opened to the reality of God as the source for all good things. A popular phrase repeated often online is as follows: “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” And while I tend to resist the kind of trite philosophy and theology that fits in a single 140-character tweet, I must admit this one is pretty convicting. I’ve been writing prayers each day for a few months now, and it’s hard not to start each one “Lord, thank you for my family.” Thanksgiving is my favorite part of prayer and the easiest type of prayer to keep in my mind throughout the day.
So that’s the first three. Then we get to supplication — asking God for help. I’ve sort of explored this idea in a few other posts, but I find it hard to know what kind of things to ask for. It’s much easier for me to pray on behalf of other people than for myself, though sometimes I don’t really know how to do that and I end up just repeating names of people whom I know are in need or have asked for prayers. Sometimes the name of a friend or relative comes to mind and I just kind of think about them, perhaps not using complete sentences in a formal prayer, but (I guess you could call it) meditating and hoping God knows what I mean.
That’s why I take real comfort in this passage from Romans. "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God." I find that incredibly comforting.
Another thing about this passage — the verse that starts “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who…” is, as my footnote points out, sometimes translated as “that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good — with those who…” and I have to say, the latter speaks to me more deeply than the former.
The first translation, to me, reads as “God does good things for people who love Him.” And while that is true, it doesn’t say much to people who love God and yet do not have many good things in their life. It says less for people who love God and yet have experienced very bad things. But to think God works with us to bring about what is good is a far more empowering notion. The idea that we, God’s people, can work with our Creator and Redeemer to bring about good in the world, God’s world, gives us a sense of both purpose and endowed power to make a difference. It does not promise God will make all things good regardless, but it does suggest God will partner with us to try to affect change.
Of course, when we’re dealing with very young children, most of this soars far over their heads. Prayers at our house, when we get around to them, are more of the “God is great, God is good” or “Thank you for the world so sweet” varieties. But that’s a start. One thing I must remind myself to do with the kids is, whenever they are scared, pray with them. If they won’t go along, I should pray for them and give them an example of how it works. If I can convey the “take it to the Lord in prayer” approach to life, I’ll have made a big difference in some very young lives.
A prayer for July 9:
Lord, you are amazing for beyond my understanding. I cannot begin to comprehend your majesty or power or plan. I am completely unworthy of your love, yet you continue to accept and forgive me for my many faults. I thank you for my family, our home, for employment and health and the ability to write and share my thoughts. I ask for you to continue to reveal your will to me, to help guide me along your path and to give me the patience, strength and wisdom to help my children learn to live lives worthy of you. Amen.