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A Healthy Prayer Ratio

There are days in life when you awake to find the surprising pleasure that nothing is troubling you. For me, those days are the exception rather than the rule—but I will take as many of those easy mornings as God chooses to give! In all honesty, I like my life over-easy, my challenges well-done, and my final results with no burnt edges, all washed down with a warm, comforting cup of “my way” before I get to the business of living out the next day. If you are honest, you will admit that you prefer things to go your way also and, given the option, you would likely spend the rest of your days in the absence of drama, discouragement, and dilemma. Yet God knows best and He typically ensures that each day’s pathway has just enough obstacles so that you will continue to look to Him for help and direction.

Recently as I read Psalm 86, something grabbed my attention as I listened to the Psalmist’s plea: “Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily. Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.”

Now let’s do the math: In this prayer, there are SEVEN sentences; SIX requests; FIVE mentions of the Lord by name; NINE mentions of God by the pronoun ‘thee or thou’ and only ONE mention of the day of his trouble. I believe this to be a healthy ratio of how we should pray during days of difficulty.

His primary focus was not on his trouble, whatever that trouble might have been. He did not look at God through the lens of His problem (which can make God appear small). NO, he swapped lenses in order to retain a right focus. He sized up his personal difficulty in view of the greatness of His God and, as a result, there are a combined total of fourteen references to God and only one reference to the challenging situation.

Do you pray with that same ratio? Are your prayers crammed with burdens and problems or packed with confidence and commendation? God is infinitely larger than anything happening to you and He is not uninformed, unmoved, uninvolved, or unfeeling. He simply stands ready to help, if you’ll only slow down and adjust your prayer ratio.

The Psalmist knew what he needed from God: “Be merciful unto me, O Lord…For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” He desired God’s kindness more than the removal of his problem.

I appreciate his request because it swallows up the smaller prayers that we are so often tempted and accustomed to praying in times of trouble. A plea for mercy will accomplish so much more than stand-alone prayers like: “Lord please help me pay my bills...Lord, please change my spouse…Lord, please let me pass my exam…Lord, please take away the pain in my back…Lord, please remove my emotional hurts…Lord, please strengthen me to carry on in life…etc.” God knows your troubles; do you know what you need?

The Prophet Jeremiah helps to remind us of the value of enduring mercy over temporary relief: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:21-26

The most important thing is not remembering what to pray but remembering to Whom you pray. Our prayers are poured out to “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.” When you remember Him, you will recall that He is “plenteous in mercy” and you will find something more precious than having all your troubles and tribulations removed.


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