Praising, Asking, Thanking
Before we think intently and purposefully about the great act of prayer, it helps to ask ourselves a very simple question: why? Why do we pray? Why are we doing this? What do we hope to achieve?
You can have many personal reasons for praying, but prayer basically boils down to three things: praise, petition, and thanksgiving. More often than not, when we hit the ground on our knees to have a word with God, it’s for one of those three reasons.
Praise is something you find often in the great prayer compendium of David, otherwise known as the Book of Psalms. The ancients were forever singing of God’s glorious achievements and extolling his virtues.
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will declare all your wondrous deeds.
I will delight and rejoice in you;
I will sing hymns to your name, Most High. (Psalm 9:2-3)
In our prayers of praise, we let God know that, whether we like it or not, he’s in charge (a hard pill for some of us to swallow). We place ourselves before him with trust and hope. We remind ourselves that he is the Creator and we are the created. We marvel at what he has done and wonder at what he may have in store.
In a prayer of petition, we come before the Lord to—in effect—ask him for a favor. Well, maybe more than a favor. Maybe, say, a really big, life-changing, world-altering act of generosity and grace. Maybe, even, a miracle.
Our petitions can range from the seemingly trivial to the soul-crushingly urgent, from “Please, Lord, give me good weather on my wedding day” to “Dear God, please let the lab results come back negative.” Sometimes, out of desperation and the desire for a miracle, we might try bartering with the Almighty: “Help me pass this test, and I swear I’ll never smoke pot again . . .” We may also pray for those we love: “Please heal my mother’s sickness . . . take away my daughter’s loneliness . . . fix my neighbor’s broken marriage . . .”
But frankly, the most beautiful way to offer a prayer of petition is simply to pray, not for what we want, but for what God wants. It is to place ourselves trustingly in his hands and say, “Thy will be done.” We should pray that we can accept whatever that will might be. We see the most powerful and self-sacrificing form of that prayer in Mary’s response to Gabriel at the Annunciation: “May it be done to me according to you word” (Luke 1:38). How many of us have been able to say that to God? If you want to talk about a work in progress, consider how much work most of us have to do to even come close to that kind of surrender, fidelity, trustfulness, and love. To be able to do that is to approach the serenity of the saints.
Finally, there is the prayer of thanksgiving. Many of us, growing up, were always made to write thank-you notes during the holidays. Before the wrapping paper was in the trash and the needles had begun to fall off the tree, those notes had to be written and sent in the mail. All of which should make us wonder: could we do any less for God?
So often we come to God with a pleading attitude of “gimme, gimme, gimme.” We ask, we implore, we plead, we bargain, we promise. But how often do we bring that same sense of urgency to whispering a humble “thank you” to God? How often do we thank him for his patience in listening to us? How often do we thank him for what he has already given us, not merely the things we continually want?
Hearts Full of Hope
The beautiful reality is this: God never tires of giving us what we need, though it may not be what we want. Every prayer is answered, though it may not be answered the way we would prefer.
But with hearts full of hope, we cannot fail to extend to God our gratitude and our thanksgiving for his attention, his goodness, his tender compassion, his love.
THE BUSY PERSON’S GUIDE TO PRAYER
One result is that prayer gently, subtly, and tenderly brings about change—if not in our world, then in us and in how we perceive that world. The act of praying can work wonders on our attitude, our state of mind, and our state of heart. It truly can help bring about peace.
Dr. Andrew Newburg, of Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson Hospital, has studied the positive impact of prayer on the human body. He told NBC News that prayer has a distinct and mysterious ability to change us: “You become connected to God. You become connected to the world. Your self sort of goes away.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts. (2741)
This is another way of saying that prayer doesn’t necessarily give us what we want, but it supplies what we need: God’s Spirit and his abundant grace.
It helps to remember that the changes brought about by prayer may not happen overnight: We are all works in progress, praying that God brings us to completion.
Indeed, the act of prayer is the hammer and nail of the work we undertake—tools for erecting a life that is not only whole but holy.
—excerpted from The Busy Person’s Guide to Prayer, by Deacon Greg Kandra, The Word Among Us Press, 2019. Available at wau.org/books