When the Revolutionary War was over and the United States became a new nation, our country appointed John Adams as its new ambassador to England. When he arrived in London, Adams was to make his first appearance before George III, the King of England. But you did not just “show up” at the court. You had to have an audience scheduled with the King. And you would not just “saunter” in there, either. There was a certain procedure to follow, and Lord Carmarthen, one of the King’s courtiers, explained to Adams just what the procedure would be: Lord Carmarthen would escort him in the carriage as they pulled up to St. James’s Palace. Adams would be led up past lords and bishops in an outer room, to a formal reception room, where the King would be waiting inside. When the door opened, Adam must make three bows before the King: one as soon as he entered through the door; a second when he was halfway to the King, and a third when he was right in his presence. He would share a prepared speech, and when the King dismissed him, he would not just turn around and walk out, but would very carefully step backwards away from the King as he left. See, you did not just “barge” into the throne room of the King of England; there was a protocol you had to follow, or you would be unceremoniously hauled away from his presence!
Well, as Christians, the Bible says we have “boldness and confident access” to God through faith in Christ — but we do want to come into His presence in a way that is pleasing and appropriate for the King of Kings! How should we approach God? And especially, what should we say FIRST as we begin our conversation with Him in prayer?
Last week as we kicked off this series, we saw that Jesus gave us this Model Prayer to help us know the kinds of things that God wants us to talk with Him about when we pray. It is not a “script” we are just to “read back” to Him; rather It is composed of 6 basic requests which form an outline for what we should talk with Him about as we pray. And the very first line is: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” This tells us that when we come into the presence of God, we are to begin with praise.
I. The Command to Begin With Praise: ”Hallowed be Your name”
As we touched on very briefly last week, the word “hallowed” means “to make holy.” So this first request is that the name of God would be made holy. How do we do that? By praising Him for Who He is, and thanking Him for what He has done. Jesus is teaching us here to begin our prayers with praise and thanksgiving to God.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this, because we find this elsewhere in scripture:
— Psalm 100:4 says: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.”
— In Psalm 118, the Psalmist is talking about how he is entering the gates of righteousness into the presence of the Lord. And what does he do as soon as he enters? He says in :19, “I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord.” So the first thing he does, he says, as he comes into the presence of God, is “enter His gates with thanksgiving,” just like Psalm 100 says! So we are commanded to enter God’s courts with thanksgiving and praise.
II. Examples of Prayers Beginning With Praise
Now, if this were really important, you would expect to find several examples of prayers in the Bible where people began 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) Their Exodus prayer-song began with praise to God for Who He was and what He had done for them.
— In II Chronicles 6, Solomon prayed a lengthy prayer for the dedication of the new Temple, and he began it by saying 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 …”.
— Nehemiah, brokenhearted by what he heard about his country, began a long prayer to God by saying in :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, after he’d been given the revelation regarding the king’s dream, prayed to God, and he too opened 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 the disciples had been arrested by the chief priests for witnessing about Christ, and when they were released, they gathered together and prayed. And how did they begin their prayer? “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 …” (and they quoted Psalm 2 about how God was on the throne, laughing at His enemies).
— And so many of the Psalms open with praise as well:
— Psalm 8:1 “O LORD our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth”
— Psalm 9:1 “I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell all Your wonders. I will be glad and exult in You. I will sing praise to Your name O Most High.”
— Psalm 18:1 begins: “I love You, O LORD my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.”
And on and on, SO many of the Psalms are songs of thanksgiving and praise, or at least begin with thanksgiving and praise.
So we have example after example in the Bible, especially when longer prayers are prayed, that they open their prayers with praise and thanksgiving to God — just like Jesus showed us to do in the Model Prayer.
In fact, it is interesting that as you study some of the longer prayers of the Bible, many of them include SEVERAL the same elements that Jesus gave us in the Model Prayer — which makes sense. It is a “Model Prayer”, and so you would expect for the best prayers in the Bible to resemble it in many ways. We may look another time at some of the similarities between the Model Prayer and other prayers in the Bible. But suffice it to say for now, that good prayers all through the Bible, as well as good prayers today, begin with praise, just like Jesus taught us here in the Model Prayer.
III. WHY should we begin our prayers with praise?
Jesus doesn’t actually give us reasons here WHY we should begin our prayers with praise, but I don’t think it is difficult to see some some scriptural reasons why we should:
A. First of all, we should begin with praise because God is worthy of it!
Revelation 4:11 says, “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 praise. 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, I would go so far as to say, if all we ever did in our prayer time was praise God, and nothing else, that would be a great prayer time! Remember, Jesus said earlier: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask”! He already knows all our requests; what He really deserves from us is our praise. Praise is the first and most important thing we can do in prayer, if for no other reason, just because God deserves it!
— But I think there is also a practical reason for beginning our prayers with praise: because it changes the outlook of our prayers when we begin them with praise. We pray a different kind of prayer, when we praise God to begin it, because when we thank and praise God at the beginning, it changes our outlook for the rest of our prayer. Praise reminds us of who God is; thanksgiving reminds us of what He can do, and so it impacts everything else we say in the rest of our prayer.
For example: we mentioned in the disciples’ prayer in Acts 4. They had just been beaten up, and threatened not to preach and teach any more in Jesus’ name. You might have expected them to have a very depressing, desperate prayer time after that; something like: “O God, we are all beat up, they are threatening us ..”, and so on.
But instead Acts 4 says they began their prayer with praise: “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them …” — and that praise of God led them into a powerful prayer! The Bible says the 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 us of who God is, and what He can do. It changes the kind of prayer you pray when you put things in perspective by beginning with praise.
When I was at my first pastorate in Oklahoma City, I had what seemed to be to a big problem that was facing me one day in my office. I can’t even remember what the problem was now, to be honest with you, but I DO remember what I did in response to it. I was so discouraged, I just got down on my knees in front of a chair in the office, and I started to pray and tell God all about my problem — but then I remembered that I should 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 “O problem, I have a GOD!”
It makes a HUGE difference in US when we begin our prayers with praise. It reminds us of who God is: it reminds us that He is on the sovereign throne of the universe; that He is all-powerful; 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 will end up praying a different kind of prayer than we would have prayed, had we not praised God first.
So we should begin our prayers with praise, first of all, just because God DESERVES it; but also because it will have a positive impact on the kind of prayer we will pray afterwards.
IV. HOW to begin our prayers with praise
Some people might say, “So 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. Some types of prayer come more naturally to us than others: it is easy for most of us to ask for requests. And if we’re honest, and actually take the time to confess our sin, that can come pretty easily too. But praise does not always come as easily to a lot of us.
Now there are some people just seem have a natural gift of being able to just lavish praise on God in an amazing way. Charles Spurgeon, who was called “The Prince of Preachers” was like that. In one of his sermons, he addressed 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 most of us would say, we do not have that ability. So for me, and others of us who are like me, who may not have NOT been blessed with Charles Spurgeon’s ability, let’s look at 3 Scriptural ways that every one of us can praise God to begin our prayers:
A. Scriptures of praise
So many Psalms, and other scriptures, offer praise to God. So one of the best ways we can praise God is to use these scriptures. Read them to God to start your prayer time — don’t “just” read it; make it personal and read it as YOUR own heartfelt prayer to God. He loves for us to use His word in our prayers.
We’ve seen 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 …” We saw that was a great way to begin their prayer with praise — but the fact is, they did not just make those words up — it was actually a QUOTE from Exodus 20:11 in the 10 Commandments! So the Apostles used God’s word from the Old Testament to begin their own prayer with praise.
We can do the same thing. Use Psalms; use other verses of praise to start your prayer time. I almost always begin my prayer time in the morning with a Psalm, or some verses from Psalms. And it’s good to memorize some Psalms and verses of praise, so that you can use them in your prayer times. When you have them memorized, you can really make it personal and heartfelt. A few years ago I noticed that the last 5 Psalms (Psalms 146-150) are all Psalms of praise. All five of those Psalms begin with the words “Hallelu-YAH” and all five of them END with the words “Hallelu-YAH.” So I decided to memorize those, so wherever I am, on the road driving, or wherever, I can quote one of these Psalms to begin my prayer with praise.
There are a number of short Psalms you can memorize to praise God: Psalm 100, that we mentioned earlier, is only 6 verses long, and it is one of THE best praise Psalms. Read, memorize, and quote Psalms or other praise scriptures. And one of the best things you can do as you do your Bible Reading each day is to find verses of praise that you can use later in your praise times.
So scripture can help us begin our prayer time with praise. The old hymn says: “Come Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy praise.” The Psalms and other scriptures can help “tune our hearts” to praise God.
B. Songs of praise
One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that singing can be a prayer, IF you are singing it “vertically” to God. Now, if you are just 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! In fact, I think singing is some of the best praying. My personal conviction is that God created music for the specific purpose that we might praise Him with it. We use music for a lot of other purposes, but I believe the best and highest original purpose of music, the reason God gave it to us, was for us to praise Him.
Again, scripture shows us that singing is a means of praising God:
— Psalm 9:2 says “I will SING praise to Your name, O Most High.”
— Psalm 30:4 “Sing praise to YHWH you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name.”
— Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
So God gave us songs as a means of praising Him. And we are continually commanded in scripture to praise God by singing:
— 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 ways to praise God in our prayer time is to sing to Him. This is something that most of us can do — just take the songs that you have learned in church (or on Christian radio on KSBJ or whatever) and sing them in your praise time to God. When you hear a song in church or on the radio that you like, especially if it is a song of praise, write it down. Look up the lyrics online. Download it on your iPhone and then use it in your prayer time to sing to God. I know Cheryl uses songs on her iPhone every day during her praise time. Or get a hymnal and use it to sing to God. Singing to God is a prayer — just make sure that you aren’t “just singing” but that you are singing TO HIM. Make sure that HE is your “audience.”
It will help you sing TO GOD if you use what we might call “vertical” songs in your worship: songs which are addressed to God, like “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” or “I Worship You, Almighty God” — See, these songs are “vertical;” they are addressed to God. There’s a lot of other songs that are “good,” but they aren’t really addressed to God, so try to pick songs for your prayer time that are addressed TO GOD Himself, and that will help make your singing a real part of your prayer time.
So to me, one of the best way to begin a prayer time, is to read a Psalm or scripture first, and then sing a song that goes with that scripture reading. I usually open my prayer time with a Psalm, and then a song or two will come to mind, and I will sing them. I know my wife Cheryl actually began a project about a year ago, of writing down different qualities of God she finds in her daily Bible reading, and she uses a different one each day in her praise time. She was telling me about that one day, and I said, “It would be neat if you found a song to go with each one” — and she was like, “Now that’s a lot more work!,” but she DID do it, in fact she now has two songs to play each with each quality and now she has like 76 days of different qualities of God lined up to praise Him for, with songs that go with them, and she rotates them and uses them for her praise time each day.
Now, you don’t have to do it just like that, and you don’t have to do it just like I do it. But however you can do it best, use scriptures and songs in your prayer time to praise God. There is great joy to be found in singing to God; and I believe that singing songs of praise is a foretaste of what we will be doing forever in heaven. SING to the Lord in your praise time.
C. Giving Thanks
Along with scripture, and singing, we can praise God by giving thanks. Repeatedly we are commanded in scripture to give thanks:
— Psalm 100:4 “Enter His gates with thanksgiving … give thanks to Him …”
— Psalm 106:1 begins: “Praise the LORD.” How do you do that? The next part of the verse tells 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 in scripture to praise God by giving thanks.
Giving thanks is one of the most basic, simple, means of praise. It is so easy that the smallest child can do it. A number of years ago, when our 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 I noticed Paul was smashing some bugs on grandma’s back porch. So when we got home that night, 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, thank You that we got to go swimming — and thank You that we got to smash bugs on the porch.” At first I thought, “What in the world kind of prayer was THAT?!” — smashing bugs?! But then I thought, that was actually 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: 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 that we can employ every day in the praise time of our prayers.
So we’ve seen 3 Biblical means of praising God in our prayer time: scripture, singing and giving thanks. I think it’s interesting that in Psalm 95:1-2 we find all three of these means of praise commanded in one place:
“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) to come before Him with THANKSGIVING, and 3) to use PSALMS. ALL THREE of these elements — scripture, singing, and thanksgiving — are mentioned here in this same verse.
So I would encourage you to use these 3 scriptural means of praise to open your prayer time every day. It is EASY to spend a good amount of time in praise in your prayer, if you will just employ these three elements:
— Start off with God’s word, and spend a couple of minutes with a Psalm or another scripture
— Then if you sing a song or two, that could easily be 5-6-7 minutes more
— Then it would not be hard to spend several minutes in giving God thanks for various things. So you can see how it would be easy to spend 8-10 or more minutes in prayer, ONLY on the praise portion of the Model Prayer.
SO many people say things like: “Oh, I just couldn’t pray for an hour.” I was at a mens retreat a few years ago, and a guy was telling me that some years before, he had wanted to pray for an hour, so he went outside and got down on his face before God and prayed for everything he could think of — 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. He gives us these 6 categories to pray, and if you spend just a few minutes on each one, you can end up spending a pretty significant amount of time in prayer. Many people who might say “I could never pray for an hour,” might be surprised how long you can pray, if you will spend just a few minutes with each of these requests Jesus gave us. Spend 5 minutes on each, and you’ll pray for 30 minutes. Spend 10 minutes on each, and you’ll be praying for an hour. It was when I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book on the Sermon on the Mount, and learned that Jesus’ Model Prayer was an outline, that I first began to be able to pray for an hour each morning.
And you can see how here: it’s VERY easy to spend 10 minutes or more on the praise portion of your prayer, if you just use these three Biblical means of praise each day: start with a Psalm or scripture, sing one or two songs of praise, and give thanks for everything on your heart. You’ll soon be praying a lot longer.
But listen, it’s not all about how much time we spend. We don’t need to sit there with a stopwatch counting the minutes we pray. As we saw last week, it’s all about spending time with our glorious Heavenly Father.
Back in the 1800’s, Mark Twain took a trip to Europe, and he wrote about his experiences in the book A Tramp Abroad. At one point, describing the beauty of Heidelberg Castle in Germany, he wrote: “There is a saying that if a stranger will pass over the drawbridge and walk across the court to the castle front without saying anything, he can make a wish and it will be fulfilled. But they say that the truth of this thing has never had a chance to be proved, for the reason that before any stranger can walk from the drawbridge to the appointed place, the beauty of the palace front will extort an exclamation of delight from him.” (p. 363)
I don’t know if that’s true of Heidelberg Castle or not — but I know it IS true of our God! He is the glorious King — and we ought never pass through His gates, without exclamations of delight and praise as we come into His glorious presence! Let’s always begin our prayers, with praise!
INVITATION: How do you need to RESPOND to God’s word today?
— You may need to begin a daily prayer time for the first time
— Or perhaps you have one, but it has been brief, and repetitious, not as meaningful as it should be. Ask God to help you use this Model
— Especially ask Him to help you to use these 3 Biblical tools as you begin your prayer with praise each day.
— Or maybe you need to commit your life to Jesus as your Savior for the first time today.
CONCLUDING “PRACTICE” PRAYER TIME: practice what we’ve learned, RIGHT NOW!
— begin with Psalm 100
— sing song/medley: “10,000 Reasons”: (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”) and “Great Is Thy faithfulness”
— spend just a minute giving God thanks
(Then we’d follow with the other elements of the Model:)
— Kingdom Requests
— God’s Will:
— Forgiveness: yours/of others
— Spiritual Protection: marriage/family/staff/church
Let’s start putting this into practice this week!