John D. Barry
When I approach God, I often try to persuade Him that I am worthy of something or that He should act on my behalf. But there is no reason God should act on our behalf—none is worthy of His intercession.
When we pray, we often need a change in focus. Ultimately, it’s not about our rightness or goodness; it’s about His. It’s about what He can do, who He is, and why we know He can do something about the situation we’re in. We should still be honest and open with God, telling Him how we really feel (even though He already knows), but instead of focusing on our own righteousness, we should focus on God and what He’s already done for us.
When I shift my attention to God and His goodness, many of my previous concerns fade. Before I even begin to pray, gratitude reminds me of God’s care and provision for me, allowing me to move from what I think matters to what matters to God.
Throughout the Bible, we see models of thankful prayers that emphasize God’s character. In the book of Nehemiah, the priestly group descended from Pethahiah (1 Chr 24:16) proclaims: “Stand up, bless Yahweh your God from everlasting until everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name that is being exalted above all blessing and praise! ‘You alone are Yahweh. You alone have made the heavens, the heavens of the heavens, and all of their army, the earth and all that is in it, the waters and all that is in them. You give life to all of them, and the army of the heavens worship you’ ” (Neh 9:5–6).
The people go on to recite God’s history of caring for them, focusing on His goodness and reminding themselves of His faithfulness when they (as a whole) had failed Him (Neh 9:7–37; compare Psa 111). They end their sermon with an agreement to honor God. They move from thankfulness, to God’s story, to agreeing to be part of His work.
By focusing on God, their attention shifts from ordinary concerns (Neh 7–8) to how they will respond to God. It’s this shift in focus that ultimately leads to righteousness. We also see this progression in Psa 112: the path of the righteous is marked by blessing God and acknowledging His work (Psa 112:1–2). After all, recognizing God is the solution to most of our problems.
How can you incorporate thankfulness into your prayer life? How can you do a better job of progressing from concerns to being part of God’s work?
This article was originally published in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.