When you think of prayer, what comes to mind? When you pray, what is it that you want from God? What requests dominate your life of prayer?
True prayer happens at the intersection of surrender and celebration. Prayer is profoundly more than handing a wish list to God and letting him know that you’re thankful that he exists and has the power to deliver. This kind of prayer puts you at the center and, in a real way, reduces God down to the divine waiter. It’s not him that you want. It’s not his wisdom that you see yourself as needing. It’s not his grace that your heart craves. Wish-list prayer essentially says, “I know what’s best for my life and I’d appreciate it, God, if you would use your might to make it happen.”
You pray like this when you forget that God, as Creator and Savior, knows infinitely more than you do about what you really need. But even more than that, this kind of prayer makes life all about your wants, your needs, and your feelings. This is not really prayer after all. In true prayer, you surrender your claim on your life to the greater and wiser plans and purposes of God. You submit your will to his will. It’s not God signing your list, it’s you surrendering your life to him.
Then prayer is celebration. In prayer, you bask in the wonder of what it means that you actually do have a heavenly Father. You find joy in the reality that he has chosen to give you his kingdom. You are blown away by the fact that he unleashes his almighty power to meet your needs. You celebrate forgiving, rescuing, transforming, enabling, and delivering grace. You find joy in your inclusion in his work of redemption. You find hope in the glorious future that is to come. You are amazed by the fact that because Immanuel has invaded your life by his grace, you are never, ever alone. You find peace in the fact that grace means you are never left to the small resources of your own wisdom, righteousness, and strength. You meditate on God’s glory and goodness, then celebrate. You rejoice in the fact that you no longer have to look for life in the people, situations, and locations around you, but you’ve been given life—life that is eternal.
Does true prayer include making requests of God? Sure it does. God encourages us to cast our cares on him, because he really does care for us. But the requests of true prayer are always in the context of surrender and celebration. It is surrender and celebration that keep those requests from being selfish demands or bitter complaints. This kind of prayer is a tool of God’s grace in your life. As you put God in his proper place and celebrate your place as his child, prayer becomes a tool God uses to free you from your bondage to you. Now, that’s grace!