Giving thanks is an important part of prayer. We should express gratitude to God for the personal blessings he has given us. More than that, we should thank God for the promises he has made to bless us in the days ahead, including his promises for us in eternity. Gratitude for future blessings is an expression of praise.
Thanksgiving is one way of praising God. In addition to praising God for what he has done, we should praise God for who he is. We should also praise God for his attributes, his character. We can praise him because he is holy, because he is powerful, and because he is love.
By his power, he made the universe. He made us. He is worthy of our praise for giving us life and for giving us an incredible world in which to live.
By his love, God has given us salvation. We should praise God for sending his Son Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin.
Our sin reminds us of another category of prayer.
Confession and repentance are vital parts of our prayers. When we confess our sin, we affirm God’s holiness and righteousness. If we refuse to confess our sin, then we are defying God by rejecting his standard of goodness, his commands.
Repentance is also necessary. Not only do we agree with God’s standard of righteousness, including our agreement that we have fallen short, but we commit ourselves to turning away from sin and turning toward God. By following God and submitting to his Spirit, we learn to live in a manner that is not only in compliance with his standards, but in a manner that is pleasing to our heavenly Father.
After acknowledging God through worship and reconciling with God through repentance, we can move on to the next category of prayer: petitions and intercessions. Petitions are requests that we make to God for ourselves. God invites us to bring our requests to him in prayer. We should be transparent with God about the desires of our heart.
Intercession is like petition. We intercede by asking God to do something for someone other than ourselves. The other person may be someone we love deeply or someone we have never met. As followers of Jesus, we even intercede for our enemies and those who persecute us.
When we approach God with our petitions and intercessions, we must remember that God is not a cosmic vending machine. We don’t just ‘pull the lever’ of prayer and get anything and everything we want. Our wise and loving Father in heaven hears our requests and responds as he should. He sometimes says yes. Other times he says no, or not now, or yes, but. . . .
The fourth category of prayer may be a surprise to some people: questions and complaints. We can ask God questions in prayer. Most of us are full of questions about spiritual realities. God’s answers may come to us as we read the Bible, listen to Bible preaching and teaching, or through other avenues, but we can learn to recognize his responses to our questions.
Saints from Bible times onward have lodged their complaints with God. He is willing to hear them. The secret to complaining in prayer is to avoid disrespect. We can bring our frustration, disappointment, and impatience to God without slandering him.
The fifth category of prayer is covenants and commitments. Covenant is a word from Scripture that speaks of agreements between two parties. God has made certain commitments to us. We should make commitments to him. Prayer is an appropriate place to do so. We commune with God in prayer not just to get things, but also to give something.
The five categories of prayer are not rules to follow, but tools to handle. Having fewer tools makes the job more difficult. The more tools we have, the more details and the more beauty we can create in our prayers. Learn to use all five categories of prayer and your prayers will be enriched!
May God always hear and answer our prayers,