(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Morganton, NC, Wed. p.m., 4-22-15)
I don’t know if you’ve seen any of “A.D” The Series on Sunday nights, but like most shows, it has its better moments as well as its weaknesses. One scene I particularly didn’t like was after the resurrection of Jesus, when the disciples were awaiting the Holy Spirit. It showed them chanting the Lord’s Prayer over and over more intensely until the Spirit came upon them. I just shook my head: there is no way that is what they did. As we saw last week, Jesus taught His disciples NOT to pray meaningless repetition. He did not give us the prayer to pray verbatim. Rather it is a model of the way we are to pray. The Model Prayer is composed of 6 requests, which represent 6 categories of things that our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with Him about when we pray.
Last week we did a quick overview of this Model Prayer, and we briefly touched on what those 6 categories are. Beginning tonight, for the next 6 weeks we are going to examine these categories one at a time, with the goal of helping us to pray both longer and better by using these categories that Jesus gave us. The very first category shows us that we are to begin our prayers with praise.
I. The Command to Begin With Praise
“Hallowed be Your name”
We see the importance of beginning our prayers with praise exemplified for us in the first request: “Hallowed be Your name.” As we touched on briefly last week, the word “hallowed” means “make holy.” So this request is to make the name of God holy. How do we do that? By praising Him. It is teaching us that are to begin our prayer with praise to God.
We ought not be surprised at this, because we find this command spelled out more explicitly in Psalm 100:4, where in this Psalm of praise it says: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.” It is teaching us to come before God with praise. So we should begin our prayers with praise.
II. Examples of Beginning With Praise
If this was important, you’d expect to find several examples of prayers in the Bible where people began their prayer with praise — and that is exactly what we DO find, all through scripture:
— When Moses and the people of Israel came out of Egypt in the Exodus, they sang this song in Exodus 15, which begins: “I will sing to YHWH for He is highly exalted, the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. YHWH is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him …”. (:1-2)
— II Chronicles 6, Solomon’s long prayer at the dedication of the Temple, opens in :14, “O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart, who has kept with Your servant David, my father, that which You have promised him …”
— Nehemiah 1:5 “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments …”
— Daniel, upon being given the revelation regarding the king’s dream, prays to God, and he too opens his prayer with praise: “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is HE who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings …” (Daniel 2:20)
— In Acts 4 after being threatened and released by the chief priests, the disciples prayed together: “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant, said …. (quoting Psalm 2)
(And that doesn’t even include how SO many of the Psalms open with praise:
— Psalm 8:1 “O YWHW our Lord, how majestic is Your name
— Psalm 9:1 “I will give thanks to YHWH with all my heart; I will tell all Your wonders. I will be glad and exult in You”
— Psalm 18:1 “I love You, O YHWH my strength. YHWH is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.” And on and on, all through the Psalms )
So we do have example after example in the Bible, especially when longer prayers are prayed, that they open their prayer with praise and thanksgiving to God — just like Jesus modeled for us in the Model Prayer.
(In fact, it is interesting to see that as you study some of the longer prayers of the Bible, MANY of them follow a pattern similar to, and include many of the same elements of, the Model Prayer which Jesus gave us — which makes sense. It is a “Model Prayer”, and many of the best prayers in the Bible resemble it in many ways.)
III. Reasons to begin our prayers with praise. (WHY?)
Jesus doesn’t tell us why here, but I don’t think it is difficult to come up with at least a couple of scriptural reasons why:
–First of all, God just deserves it!
Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
GOD IS WORTHY of being praised. He is worthy of being praised before we offer any requests — or even if we didn’t offer any requests at all, He is just worthy of praise!
(In fact, if all we did was praise, that would be a great prayer. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask”! Praise is the first and most important thing we can do in prayer, if for no other reason, merely because God deserves it!
— But secondly, there is another good reason for beginning our prayers with praise: It changes the outlook of our prayers when we begin with praise.
We pray a different kind of prayer, when we praise God to begin it, because it changes our outlook. It reminds us of who God is, and what He can do, so it impacts everything else we say in the rest of our prayer.
For example, in Acts 4, the disciples had just been beaten up, and threatened to preach and teach no more in Jesus’ name. You might have expected them to have a very depressing, desperate prayer after that: “O God, we are all beat up, they are threatening us ..” etc. But instead Acts 4 says they began with praise: “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them …” etc. — and it made for a powerful prayer! The Bible says that place where they met was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Beginning with praise reminds you of who God is, and what He can do. It changes the kind of prayer you pray when you put everything in perspective by beginning your prayer with praise.
When I was at my first pastorate in Oklahoma City, I had a big problem that was facing me one day in my office. I cannot remember now what the problem was, but I very specifically remember what I did in response to it. I was so discouraged, I got down on my knees on a chair in the office, and I started to pray and tell God about my problem — but then I remembered that I needed to begin my prayer with praise and thanksgiving — so I did. And I ended up getting so fired up, praising God, that my whole attitude was changed. In the course of a few minutes, I went from “O God, I have a problem”, to saying confidently: “O problem, I have a GOD!”
It makes a HUGE difference when we begin our prayers with praise. It reminds us of who God is: that He is on the sovereign throne of the universe; that He is omnipotent; that He has a plan and purpose to advance His kingdom. When we begin our prayer by praising Him, it reminds us of these things, and we end up praying a different kind of prayer than we would have prayed, had we not praised God first.
So we should start our prayers with praise, first of all just because God DESERVES it; but also because it has a positive impact on the rest of the prayer we will pray.
Next is a key section:
IV. HOW to begin our prayers with praise
Many people would say, “I know that I should begin my prayer with praise to God, but I don’t know how to go about it.” I think that’s pretty common. There are some types of prayer which come more naturally to us than others: it is easy for us to ask requests — everyone knows how to do that! And if we will take the time to think about our sin, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, confession comes pretty easily too. But praise does not always come as easily.
Now some have a natural gift of being golden-tongued, and are able to just lavish verbose praise on God. Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” was like that. In some of his sermons, he praised God in this way:
“The mighty God, forever to be worshipped – the Dread Supreme, in solemn silence dwelling by Himself in vast immensity, making of the placid clouds his canopy, and the light from His own countenance forming the brightness of His glory.” (Volume I, sermon 1)
“The mighty Jehovah, who filleth all immensity, the Eternal, Everlasting, Great I AM, … though He is so high that the eye of angel hath not seen Him, though He is so lofty that the wing of cherub hath not reached Him; though He is so great that the utmost extent of the travels of immortal spirits have never discovered the limit of Himself …” (Volume II, sermon 1)
I only WISH I could praise God like that! But for me and others like me who are NOT blessed with that ability, let us look at 3 Scriptural ways that every one of us can praise God to open our prayers:
A. God’s word
So many Psalms, and so many other scriptures, offer praise to God. One of the best ways we can praise God is just to use these scriptures — read a Psalm of praise to Him; use some of the verses of praise from one of the scriptural prayers.
We have already mentioned how the Apostles began their prayer in Acts 4 with praise to God: “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and all that is in them …” This was a great way to begin their prayer with praise — but what we also need to understand is that they didn’t just make this up — it was actually a QUOTE from the 10 Commandments, Exodus 20:11! So the Apostles used God’s word to begin their prayer with praise.
We can — and should — do the same thing.
That’s why I like to begin my devotional time in the morning with a Psalm, or a verse from Psalms. That then begins my prayer time with praise. The old hymn says: “Come Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy praise.” The Psalms — or another scripture — can serve to “tune our heart” to praise God.
For example, the other day I began my quiet time by reading from Psalm 29, which says, “Give to the Lord the glory due His name … the voice of YHWH is powerful; the voice of YHWH is majestic …”. Well, what a good way to “tune my heart” to begin to praise God. So then I went out on my prayer walk and began to pray and think about how God is both powerful and majestic — and then I sang some songs that went with that, like “Our God is an awesome God” and “How Great Thou Art.”
So we can praise God using His word, which “tunes our hearts” to praise Him, and then just like I did in that example, we can praise Him in the second way, which is with singing:
One thing that a lot of people may not realize is that singing can be a prayer, IF you sing it “vertically” to God. If you are singing it to your neighbor, or to the choir, or to yourself, it isn’t a prayer — but IF you are singing a song to God, that is a prayer! People who say things like “We only spend 2 minutes in prayer in the service” may be wrong, IF we are singing to God, then we are actually spending quite a bit of time in prayer!
Singing is indeed taught in scripture as a means of praising God:
— Psalm 9:2 says “I will SING praise to Your name, O Most High.” How can we praise God? By singing praise to Him!
— Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a SONG of praise to our God.”
So God gave David — and US — SONGS with which to praise Him. It is a Biblical means of praise. And we are continually commanded in scripture to praise God by singing:
— Psalm 30:4 “Sing praise to YHWH you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name.”
— Psalm 66:2 “SING the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.”
— Psalm 81:1 “Sing for joy to God our strength ….”
— Psalm 95:1 “O come, let us sing for joy to YHWH …”
— Psalm 100:2 “Come before Him with joyful singing”
— Psalm 96:1 “Sing to YHWH a new song; sing to YHWH all the earth; sing to YHWH, bless His name.” THREE times there it commands us: “SING … SING … SING …”! And so on throughout the scriptures.
So one of the best things we can do to praise God in our prayer time, then, is to sing.
This is something that most of us can do — just take the songs that we have learned in church, and sing them in your praise time to God. If you are singing to God, that is a prayer — just make sure that you aren’t “just singing” but that you are singing to Him.
To help remind us that we are singing to God, many of the best songs to sing in our prayer time are what we might call “vertical” songs: those songs which are addressed to God, like “I Worship You, Almighty God”, “My Jesus, My Savior, Lord there is none like You …” or “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty; early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee …”.
Contrasted with those “vertical” songs are what we might call more “horizontal” songs, which are not addressed directly to God, like “On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s fair and happy land where my possessions lie.” That is not to say that that, and other songs like it, are not “good”; they are good songs of testimony, of faith. But they might not serve as well as songs of praise for your prayer time, as more “vertical” songs which are addressed directly to God.
So one of the best things you can do for your praise time in prayer is to pick some songs that are “vertical” and sing them to God. If you read a Psalm or scripture first, the Lord might put a song on your heart that comes out of that scripture reading. Or it just may be a song on your heart, or one of your favorites (Jim mentioned that one of his favorites is “I worship You, Almighty God” — that’s one of my favorites too, as well as “You are my God, You are my King”. And there are many, many others.)
The important thing is just that you sing TO GOD. He commands us to do that, there is a great joy in it, and I believe that it is a foretaste of what we will be doing forever in heaven.
C. Giving Thanks
Along with scripture, and singing, we are commanded to praise God by giving thanks. Repeatedly we are commanded in scripture to do this:
— Psalm 100:4 “Enter His gates with thanksgiving … give thanks to Him …”
— Psalm 106:1 says: “Praise the LORD.” How do you do that? The next part of the verse exhorts us: “O give thanks to the LORD for He is good …”
— Psalm 95:2 “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving.”
— Psalm 105:1 “O give thanks to the LORD”
And on and on, almost more times than we can count, we are admonished to praise God by giving thanks.
Praising God by giving thanks is one of the most basic, and simple, means of praise.
It is easy: the smallest child can do it! A number of years ago, when our 29-year-old son Paul was 4 or 5 years old, we went to Grandma’s house for a party. While we were there, the kids got to swim in the pool, and eat ice cream, and at evening’s end they were smashing some bugs on grandma’s back porch. So when we got home, I had Paul pray before he went to bed, and he said: “God thank You that we got to go to Grandma’s house; thank You for the ice cream, that we got to go swimming — and that we got to smash bugs on her back porch.” At first I thought, “What in the world kind of prayer was THAT?!” — about smashing bugs?! But then I thought, no, that was a GREAT prayer to pray — because that is what he was really thankful for!
The smallest child can give thanks, and we never grow out of our need to give thanks to God in prayer. Now, hopefully as we grow spiritually, we will move from giving thanks primarily for material things (which are still good to give thanks for; every good thing is from God) to where we are thanking God more for the SPIRITUAL blessings He has given us, like: the forgiveness of our sins; the Holy Spirit in our heart; His providence and leadership in our lives, and so on. But giving thanks is a basic means of praising God which we should employ every day in the praise time of our prayers.
We’ve seen 3 Biblical means of praising God in our prayer time: scripture, singing and giving thanks.
I think it’s significant that IN PSALM 95:1-2 WE FIND ALL THREE OF THESE MEANS OF PRAISE COMMENDED:
“O come, let us sing for joy to YHWH, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with Psalms.”
Here were are commanded to 1) SING, 2) come before Him with THANKSGIVING, and 3) to shout joyfully to Him with PSALMS. ALL THREE ARE PRESENT HERE: SCRIPTURE, SINGING & THANKSGIVING!
So I would encourage you to use these 3 scriptural means of praise to open your prayer time.
It is EASY to spend a good amount of time in praise in your prayer, just by employing these 3 Biblical means of praise:
— You can spend minute or two with a Psalm or another scripture
— If you sing two songs, that would easily be 6-7 minutes or more
— It would not be hard to spend several minutes in thanksgiving.
So can see how it would be easy to spend 10 minutes in prayer, ONLY on the praise portion of the Model Prayer.
SO many people say things like: “I just can’t pray for an hour.” I was at a mens retreat not long ago, and I was talking with this guy and he said that some years ago, he had wanted to pray for a long period of time, so he got down on his face before God and prayed for everything he could think of about three times — and he looked up, and only 5 minutes had gone by!
I think a lot of people share his experience. They want to pray longer, but don’t know how to do it. Jesus’ Model Prayer helps us with that. It give us these 6 categories for which to pray, and if you spend just a few minutes on each category, you will end up spending a pretty good amount of time in prayer. A lot of people say “I just can’t see how I could ever pray for an hour!” But if you spend 10 minutes on each of these categories Jesus gave us, you will pray for an hour!
And it’s easy to spend 10 or minutes, merely on the praise portion of your prayer, if you use these Biblical means of praise each day: use a scripture, sing one or more songs of praise, and give thanks.
AND: I might add, if you only have time to praise, you have done the single most important thing you can do in a day. It is more important than any requests you might have; remember Jesus said: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask”! The most important thing you can do in your prayer is to praise God.
There have been many days as a pastor when I have had a lot of important things to do. But I always try to look at it this way: If I have opened my day by praising God, then no matter what else I do or do NOT accomplish that day, I have already done the single most important thing there is to do in a day — I have praised God. It is the first and most important thing we can do in a day, it is the first and most important thing we can do in our PRAYER — and it will be our employment for all eternity as well! Let’s learn to begin our prayers with praise!