Prayer, like breathing, is not only natural but it is also necessary for our new life in Christ. I think that we can all agree that it’s a bad thing to stop breathing. Breathing is so important that it is an automatic function. We don’t have to remind ourselves to breathe. About the only time, we even think about it is when we’ve become short of breath through exertion.
Recently Betty and I were hiking up the side of Mt. Ranier in Washington with some family. The elevation was high and the going difficult. Not only was the trail steep but it was covered with a thick layer of packed snow. During that hike, John, an experienced mountain hiker, showed me how to change my breathing to adapt to the higher elevation. The same can be said of prayer, we may need to adjust our prayer to changing elevations.
Here’s my suggestion. Often our prayer life is driven by what is wrong, troubling, confusing, or hurting in our lives. Like pain that drives us to the medicine cabinet or the doctor, the struggles of life and the pain of our souls drives us to prayer. And there is nothing wrong with that. Jesus invites us to throw our cares and anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). However, if problems and pains are the only reason we pray then we will never walk the higher elevations with Jesus. Paul instructed the Thessalonian church to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, NASB95) Our prayers are to be continuous and wrapped in joy and thanksgiving. To walk the higher places we need to look up, rejoicing with thanksgiving instead of looking down at our problems and pains.
Rejoice! It’s not about feeling happy. To rejoice means to look beyond to something better. Jesus preached, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12, NASB95) I don’t think that any of us would enjoy being bullied, mocked, beaten or worse because of our faith but Jesus said to rejoice, look farther ahead. We are to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). Rejoice because of the harvest no matter your role in it (John 4:36). Rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12). Rejoice in truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Paul said it best, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NASB95) No matter the pains or the victories – Rejoice!
Ever consider the word “thanksgiving”? Giving thanks is not an act of obligation, it’s one of grace. Thanks should be given freely, not out of compulsion or habit. The giving of thanks is vitally important because it recognizes relationship and the freely granted service of another. It changes our view from something owed to something given. If we ask “please pass the salt” and the other person does pass the salt, it is not because they owed us something. The salt passer did so freely and not under compulsion or debt. It is for that reason that we say “thank you”. Keeping our prayers wrapped in thanksgiving recognizes God’s unwarranted grace towards us. Thanking Jesus in advance, even before we see the results of our prayer, keeps us from treating God like a bubble-gum machine. (As in, I dropped the quarter in, I prayed, so you owe me something).
As I panted for breath on the side of Mt. Ranier all I could focus on was the next step and the next breath. Changing my breathing as John suggested, allowed me to look up and see the beauty and majesty of God that surrounded us in that place. It did not change the difficulty of the trail but it did allow me to enjoy the journey instead of just suffering through it. By wrapping our prayers in joy and thanksgiving our focus changes. We begin to see God’s hands in places that we never expected. Our eyes are opened to the majesty and beauty of God’s creation. Instead of focusing on the faults of others or ourselves we begin to see our world through the eyes of hope. Offering thanks to God through Jesus allows us to lift our heads and focus on Him and not on the problems and pains of life.