Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6
When you sit down to draw a still life, you have to be careful to maintain a consistent position. If you get up to stretch and sit down a few inches to the right, the scene will look different. The spaces between objects will have changed, relative proportions shifted. Lines moving away from you will be at different angles. Even if you’re not an artist, you’ve probably seen this in another way. When your family poses for a Christmas photo in front of the tree, it might look as though it’s growing out of your son’s head. But if you shift a couple feet to one side, that is no longer the case. This is because you’ve found a new perspective.
When I decided to keep a prayer journal for one month (from Thanksgiving through Christmas) for my friend Peggy, I knew it would be a meaningful gift. But I didn’t realize it would be a gift to me too.
Peggy’s life intersects with mine in so many ways. She and her husband pastor our church. Our children are about the same ages, and we grew up attending the same school for most of our lives. When I went forward to be baptized in sixth grade, it was during Peggy’s slumber party (she’d taken us to her church’s revival). When I later found my church and discovered what it meant to have an intimate relationship with Jesus, I owed much of it to Peggy’s example.
Peggy helped me discover the power of prayer. We often tell people we’ll pray for them but promptly forget. So, I wanted a tangible record of my commitment to pray for her.
I chose a small journal and sat down every day to write out my prayers. I prayed for a different aspect of her life each day—her children, husband, ministry, leadership, faith life, friendships, extended family, work, finances, and health.
When I intentionally prayed for Peggy and her family, asking for God’s protection and intervention, guidance and leadership, I got a new glimpse into Peggy’s life—her faith, her struggles—that I hadn’t seen before. In turn, I found a renewed sense of gratitude for her gifts—her joy, her welcoming kindness, her fun-loving personality. I gained a greater respect for the weights she carries and for the responsibility of her position and a new awe for the strength of her character and the depths of her faith. And this made me a better friend.
Amazing things happen when we pray. God draws nearer. Rough edges are made smooth. Hardened hearts are softened. It was easy to pray for Peggy because I already cared about her. It may not be as easy to pray for someone you don’t particularly like—someone who hurt you, makes snide comments, lies, cheats, or can’t be trusted. But here’s the hard truth about Christianity: we’re called to embrace the teachings and practices of Jesus, and that isn’t easy.
Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). To pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6).
But not just any old prayers will do. We’re called to pray with thanksgiving.
Lucky for us, prayer and gratitude go hand in hand.
Pray for your enemy (or rival, or the person who offended you on Facebook) and you will discover that there’s more than one side to every story. Pray for the wife of a man you’re attracted to, and before long, you have one more good reason to avoid getting too close to him. Pray for the boss who sets a negative tone in the workplace and you might find yourself shouldering some of the emotional load he carries; your newfound compassion may change the dynamic of your relationship. Ask God to show you ways to give and you may realize your financial situation isn’t as dire as you thought.
The greatest gift you can offer to someone is your heartfelt prayer. Along the way, you will begin to see that, whatever your view, God is there.
And gratitude will bubble up. No matter where you are sitting.