What kind of prayer expresses thanksgiving that is honest? Do I begin with my complaints and then end with words of praise and trust? Some of the psalms from the Bible follow that structure, so it must be OK. But is it enough simply to say, “Things are horrible, but I know that God is good, so I thank you, Lord, that you are watching over me”?
There’s probably more to it than that.
First, the complaints. If you’re going to gripe, you may as well be specific:
- “OK, it’s really annoying that the same week this enormous gas bill arrives, the car must go to the shop.”
- “Seriously? Someone has managed to use my credit card in Romania?”
- “I take back every prayer for patience I’ve ever prayed! Heavenly Father, you have put so many exasperating people in my life—I don’t want patience that badly. Can I be just somewhat patient and not have to deal with all of these crazy relationships?”
- “How long, Lord, must I ask for help with this mortgage? How long must I be without a decent job?”
Next, remember your history of grace:
- “Four years ago, we thought my aunt would die of cancer, but she’s in remission.”
- “That one time, out of nowhere I got this freelance job that helped us pay for the refrigerator we needed.”
- “I’ve been depressed before, and I’ve been helped by family, friends, therapists, and doctors.”
- “I’ll never forget the moment when I was looking at our little girl and was overwhelmed by the sense of God’s presence. I will never again doubt that God is here and loves us.”
Then, turn the complaints into requests:
- “Lord, I can’t control the increase in utility rates, and I’ve taken good care of this car. Please help us cover these unforeseen expenses.”
- “Help me calm down about the credit card and contact the bank—and help those professionals protect my account. Also, if the person who stole my information is desperate, help him or her get what he or she needs through means other than stealing.”
- “Give me wisdom so that I can understand how much weight to give any particular conversation or event. Sometimes I panic and turn everything into a crisis. Or I feel that one person is taking advantage of me—so of course everyone else must be too.”
- “If there is anything I should be doing about the mortgage that I’m not doing, please help me see it. If there are any job leads that I’ve missed, help me see those too. Please lead me to the right information and the right people.”
Finally, turn on the thanks:
- “Thank you for the solutions that are on their way, even while I’m frustrated and hurting.”
- “Thank you that Jesus lived an actual human life, which means that he knows what it’s like to have problems and learn to pray rather than stress.”
- “Thank you for the people who really care about me and who will support me through whatever happens.”
- “Thank you that I have the power to choose my responses to situations—that I’m not a victim but a person with spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and other resources, and one of those resources is prayer.”
This is no magic formula—just some specific steps to take toward a habit of gratitude.