I plop down in my favorite chair in our office, and almost immediately the requests start to flow. I’m so busy right now, please help me feel less stressed. Be with Joseph and his big deadline coming up. Help Karis learn how to be obedient. And the list goes on.
Now these prayer requests aren’t bad. In fact, Scriptures commands us to cry out to the Father day and night (Luke 18:7) and to confidently draw near to God’s throne when we are in need (Hebrews 4:16).
So why, after I “let [my] requests be made known to God” that morning, did I not feel “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7)?
That passage in Philippians 4 is one of my favorites: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve long struggled with anxiety, and it’s a verse I frequently call to mind when I feel my worry getting ahead of me.
But I had only ever memorized those two verses together until a few months ago, when I realized that verse 6 starts mid-sentence. Whoever established the boundary lines of chapters and verses cut the command—to not be anxious—away from its context: “The Lord is at hand,” (Philippians 4:5b).
Why can we not be anxious? Because the Lord is here! Our anxiety is not taken away because we say magic words in a prayer, but because we believe our God is sovereign and good.
That revelation showed me that my prayers are not founded in my own prayerfulness, but in the character of God. So as a habit of prayer, I have begun is to meditate on one attribute of God before I dive in to the anxieties of my heart. Here are three ways praying God’s attributes have changed my prayer life.
It reminds me to whom I am praying.
Why do Christians believe that their prayers are effective in comparison to the prayers of Muslims or Jews or other religions? It’s not because we have more beautiful prayers or better traditions. It’s because of who we pray to. The power of our prayers has nothing to do with who we are; it has everything to do with who God is.
When I meditate on the fact that God is creator, I am reminded that he is the author of all life and gives it order. When I pray to God’s sovereignty, I am trusting that he can do whatever he knows is best. And when I pray that God is omniscient, I have faith that he knows what’s best because he knows everything.
Praying God’s attribute gives my prayer power because I remember that the God to whom I am praying. It gives me the faith to surrender my anxieties at the feet of the one who is truly in control.
It reminds me of who I am.
When I pray the incommunicable attributes of God, I am reminded of all the ways that I am limited. God created humanity with limits: we can only know so much, go so far, and do so many things. When I remember to first focus my prayers on God’s attribute, I fight the temptation of self-sufficiency. When praying God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience—all things that I am not—I surrender the burden that I place on myself to do, know, and be everything.
It’s the same lie as old as the serpent in the garden—you can be like God. By meditating on verses that speak to God’s complete grace, mercy, and love, it doesn’t take long for me to realize that these are all things that I am not. I cannot be God, and that is a good thing.
Beginning my prayers focusing on God’s character instead of my own abilities helps me to truly give my anxieties to God, trusting that he can do what I can’t.
It puts my prayers in context.
So much in our culture is human-centered. My social media feed is tailored to my digital footprint. Amazon sends me ads based on what I’ve bought before. Spotify alerts me when my favorite artist releases a new album. Their goal is to meet my needs and in my time.
Starting my prayer time focused on God instead of myself puts my prayers into the greater context of redemptive history. It’s easy for me to get focused on my own day-to-day troubles, that I forget to pray for God’s will to be done on earth.
For example, when I meditate on God’s justice, I begin to see the injustices in the world that don’t affect me. I pray that God would execute his justice in those areas. When I meditate on his eternality, I remember that the foundation of my prayers is a hope for a future promise, not just present answers. While God wants me to turn to him for my daily needs, he also wants me to lift my eyes further in the distance and pray for the consummation of redemptive history, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20).
I believe these are a few of the reasons Jesus starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). You could recite the most beautiful of prayers, but if you were praying to a nonexistent god, they would be ineffective and worthless. But when we focus our prayers on the God who creates and sustains, the God of steadfast love and unending mercy, the faithful God who promises—our prayers have power. Not because of who we are but because of who he is.
The header image features one of my favorite tools for maintaining this discipline in prayer—the Attributes of God Verse Card Set from Daily Grace Co. The set includes 19 attributes of God with definitions and Scripture passages to go along with them. They are so helpful in guiding my meditation of God’s character.