As a young girl, I was instructed in how to approach God. I heard it repeated that we needed to come to God with a pure heart. Before we prayed, we needed God to cleanse us of our sins. It was as if we needed to wipe our feet before entering His house! In practice, this meant that I grew very aware of possible hindrances to prayer. I knew that it was imperative to deal with them so they would not interfere with prayer. I still find this principle accurate and helpful in approaching God. As the Bible says,
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18).
This being said, we are not often taught on the after-side of prayer. When we have prayed about something, what do we do? Is there anything we need to do differently after praying?
I personally believe that prayerful interaction with God is meant to often follow a specific sequence:
1.We pour out our hearts to God
2.He speaks to us through His Word (or another way)
3.He invites us to praise Him
I find that we rarely have difficulties praying (especially when things get a little out of hand). This is the part of prayer that comes quite naturally even to atheists in trouble! Quite often we may also take a moment to find His word to us concerning the topic. This is when we find His answer, His plan or His encouragement to us. I remember recently praying for the schooling of a child we know. The Lord gave me the encouraging image of a tall sunflower.
I took it as His promise for the child. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that this child had just manufactured a tall cardboard sunflower at school! God confirmed His promise of blessing. Naturally, this is the rewarding and refreshing part of our prayer times. Our hope rises again.
Yet, I would like to suggest that our prayer times are missing a vital piece if we finish here. Our prayer is to bring us to praise God for His goodness to us. Unfortunately, I suspect this is the part that we easily forget. Perhaps it is that we are so focused on ourselves that when we receive what we were asking for, we do not think further. Just like a child who has just received a gift (or the promise of one), we need to be reminded to say “thank you”!
In Luke 17:11-19 we find the story of ten lepers. They all came to Jesus to be healed. And, as we all know, they received their healing. This far the story is great – but the end is less so. Even though Jesus had changed the entire course of the lepers’ lives and given them a new start, nine out of ten never came back to thank Him! Jesus seems saddened and surprised when only one comes back to Him. What are our hearts like? Do we come back to God with thanksgiving?
On many occasions we do not receive a practical answer to prayer as soon as we have prayed. Nonetheless, after we have prayed and God has spoken, we need not go back to the same feelings that led us to pray in the first place. Instead, we are invited to lift our heads and praise the Lord already.
In reading the Psalms, we find numerous occasions where the psalm is a torrent of distressed words, and yet the finishing lines are an encouragement to praise the Lord. The words seem so ill-fitting that I doubt they were placed in the poem for artistic purposes. In fact, I suspect that they are a declaration of attitude: “I have just prayed – so now I will praise”. The psalmists seemed to realise that praise is not a feeling but an attitude – and that God’s worth is not dependent on our circumstances. God is worthy of our praise in any situation because He is love and His love is faithful.
May we learn to entrust our lives to God in prayer and release our thanks to Him in praise.
Picture taken from Wikipedia