I like to walk the lane in front of our house and pray before I go to bed. Because it is dark there are few distractions. The roundtrip is exactly one mile and takes about 20 minutes. It’s perfect.
However, a while back I sensed something wasn’t right with my prayer experience. Often, after asking God for something that I wanted badly, and that I had prayed for repeatedly, (say the conversion of a close friend), I would end feeling frustrated, even anxious because it wasn’t happening. This put a damper on my prayer experience. Obviously, something was wrong. Prayer is not supposed to be stressful.
As I thought about it the nature of the problem became clear. I wanted God to do something, and I wanted him to do it now, and he wasn’t doing it, and I was getting frustrated. In my college Psych 101 class, I learned that anxiety is a byproduct of goal-blocked behavior. That was me. My goal was blocked. God was not answering my prayer when and how I wanted, and the result was anxiety!
About the same time I came across 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Here is how it reads, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Rejoice! Pray! Give Thanks! Here was the formula to end the prayer frustration I was feeling. It boils down to three tools. The first is rejoicing. It is the best way to begin intercession. “God I rejoice in your sovereignty and perfect wisdom. I rejoice that you listen intently to my intercession, that you love me, and I rejoice that you know the best time and way to answer my prayers .”
The second tool is the prayer request. “Father, heal ____, convert ______, give me the promotion I want at work, grant me power to overcome lust, discontentment, jealousy, anger, _____, etc.”
The third and last tool is Thanksgiving. “Father, I thank you for your goodness and sovereignty. You always know the right time and place to answer my prayers. Not only that but I am thankful for my conversion. I deserve judgment, but I am getting grace. I am thankful for the gospel which opens access to you, my heavenly father, in prayer. I am thankful that I can call you Father, that I am one of your children.”
In essence, I am sandwiching my intercession between rejoicing and thanksgiving.
When a Christian prays with these three tools they can pour out their heart with fervent passion for something desperately desired, but do so with the peaceful realization that God knows how and when to answer. The result is intercession in a stressless, peaceful environment, and this is good news for every Christian who wants to deepen his or her prayer life. We approach God’s throne with our desperate needs, and we walk away bathed in joy.