How is your prayer life? I have always struggled. As an activist I am more comfortable doing things for God than communing with Him. I expect 2016 to be no different. Yet the heart of the Christian faith is our relationship with our heavenly Father. Well, maybe we can be helped to pray by reducing prayer to the bare cries of the heart. Anne Lamott says that the three essential prayers are “Help”, “Thanks” and “Wow” (Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow [New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2012]). My list is slightly different and a little more polite: “Thank You”, “Sorry”, and “Help”.
At a recent watchnight service, I suggested that we look back at 2015 with “thank you” and “sorry”. I am not sure how your 2015 turned out. May have been a great year, may have been a rough year. I am sure God was there. We really need to stop and count the blessings. The trouble with modern life is that we are always looking forward. We tend, then, to focus so much on things the Lord has yet to do, or things we wish He would do, that we do not stop to remember what He has already done. Too many of us are like the lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus (Luke 17:11–19).
This is unfortunate and dangerous for our souls because gratitude is the main wellspring for the life of the disciple. We love God and neighbour because He first loved us. Our first prayer then should be “thank you”. As we look back at 2015, remember the many specific ways the Lord has blessed you and it may indeed surprise you what the Lord has done.
Looking back we also need to say “sorry”. Sorry, Lord, for the many times we blew it. Sorry, Lord, for the many times we did/thought/said what was not of You. Sorry, Lord, for the many more times when we should have done/thought/said what was right and loving but we did not. The idea here is not to wallow in self-pity. Indeed, we know the Lord has dealt with our sins on the Cross. Otherwise we would have no hope.
But there is a place for the need to be sorry for sin. A pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding culture has made this unpopular. We know the Holy Spirit/God can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). We are not saved because we feel bad. But we are sorry we failed Him. We want to acknowledge the fact. We want to confess. We do not want to enter the New Year glossing over our sins. We want to acknowledge them so that we may receive fresh reassurance of our salvation and fresh joy in our walk with Him.
And looking forward we say to the Lord, “help”. The Lord’s model prayer reminds us that the main focus of life is God and His glory and the pursuit of His will (Matthew 6:9–13). The second half of the prayer reminds us that we are to ask the Lord for what we need. The heart of sin is the illusion that we do not need God. So we come before the Lord and say, “help”.
Help, my daughter is starting school. Please help her adjust quickly. Help, I am out of a job. I need one desperately. Help, the doctors say that my husband has only a few more months to live. Help.
Since God invites us to come before Him with our needs, it is safe to conclude that He wants to meet our needs. Not our wants. And sometimes we are not sure what our real needs are. But we bring what we know to Him. Help, Abba, help. Earthly parents love their children. Well, most do. And we try to do our best by them even though we fumble at times. Our heavenly Father can hardly do worse. Indeed, we are specifically told He will do much better (Matthew 7:9-11). So with confidence, we whisper, or cry out loud, “help!”.
Here then are three basic prayers — “thank you”, “sorry”, and “help” — not a bad way to start the year with the Lord.
*Stock image by Nat Arnett, freeimages.com