The Subject of Your Prayers
I know this may sound like one of those cheesy ads on a website sidebar, or perhaps the trite fare so often offered in evangelical circles, but I do not know how else to ask you. So here goes.
Want to make a simple adjustment that will, by God’s grace, transform both you and your prayers?
If so, read on. But first you need a basic grammar reminder.
Look at the following bold sentence. I just want to praise You, God. By virtue of reading this post, I can assume that you know that the subject of this sentence is “I.” You also know that the word “you,” referring to God, is the object. So far, so good.
Now notice something else about that sentence. By making yourself (“I”) the starting point of the sentence, the focus of the sentence is on your praise of God more than on the praiseworthy nature of God. This sentence, if offered in prayer, is like a plane heading down a runway. It causes your heart to stay earthbound for a while before seeking lift-off to God. If it is followed by others like it, such as the short prayer below which tries to capture common expressions, notice the effect it has on you. It can be like one of those old movie clips of makeshift airplanes. They lift off a bit several times then touch down again and again, only to end with a crash:
I just want to praise You, God. I love You for saving me, Lord. I just want to thank you for sending Your Son to die for me. But I need You to help me today. I have so many concerns, Father…
By keeping yourself as the subject, you are directing your heart to focus on your concerns more quickly than upon God. Certainly there are times when we must make ourselves the subject as we examine ourselves or share with God the anxieties of our hearts. Yet if we are honest, we can all readily admit our prayers are too often predictably like this. Rather than confidently reaching heaven, our prayers can feel as if they never left earth and our attempts to pray have crashed.
So let’s switch our sentence above around a bit and see what happens. In this next bold sentence we make God the subject. God, You are worthy of praise, or even God, You are worthy of my praise. Here we see that the impact of the prayer on us is more like a helicopter with direct lift-off. By making God the subject of our prayers, the address to Him is immediate. The structure of the sentence is lifting our hearts heavenward.
Of course, this is not a new idea by any means. Rather, it is simply an observation of Biblical prayers. As others have pointed out, notice how the prayer the Lord taught His disciples, set out line-by-line below for emphasis, is structured throughout with God the Father as the subject.
Our Father, who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory forever.
Remember that in the requests, such as “Hallowed be Your name” or “Give us this day our daily bread,” the implied subject is “You” in reference to God. The only first person subject is plural (“we” not “I”) and is in a clause in a sentence where the Father again is the subject.
We see God as the subject often in the openings of Biblical praying. Here is Nehemiah’s prayer that started a reformation:
O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you…
When he mentions himself, it is to note his day and night dependency on God and to begin confessing sin. Solomon’s prayer for wisdom in I Kings 3 is similar, as the Lord is the subject throughout and subject self-references are admissions of helplessness:
You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.
When David prays in response to God’s covenant with him in II Samuel 7, he does begin with “I” but it is in the form of a question highlighting the graciousness of God. It is then followed by a flood of God-in-the-nominative, God-exalting praises:
Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears…
The psalms are filled similarly with these types of prayers.
In conclusion, do not overreact by thinking you can never say “I” to your Father. We are permitted to start prayers with “I” or “my,” as the beginning and end of even a praise psalm such as Psalm 145 show (yet do note the middle of this psalm!). This is written simply to help bring balance to our prayers and cooperate with the Spirit of adoption, who yearns for us to cry out first and foremost “Abba! Father!”