“Step by step, inch by inch…” this phrase from an old Three Stooges movie reminds me of how some people approach faith. There is nothing wrong with a methodical process, says the Methodist minister! The blessing of pursuing incremental progress toward a goal ensures that you continue to move forward, and that’s always a good thing.
In his book based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Because of This, I Rejoice,” writer Max Vincent leads us to find joy in our Lenten disciplines as we participate in the serious work of moving step by step, inch by inch toward Easter.
In discussing Paul’s approach to prayer in his letters, Vincent neatly breaks it down into four discernible steps. See if you can spot some of them in this passage:
Philippians 1:1-11 (Common English Bible)
3 I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. 4 I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 5 I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 6 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. 7 I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. 8 God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ.
11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
Paul used a four-step method, starting with THANKSGIVING. This is key, as it focuses us on God’s activity in our lives and in the lives of the people for whom we pray. When we concentrate on thanking God for the blessings he has poured out first, it helps us focus on God’s POWER before we even begin with our list of wants and needs. Giving thanks at the beginning of each prayer puts us into a spirit of praise, joy, gratitude, and humility. By starting our prayers with words of thanksgiving for all of our blessings, we remind ourselves of how good God is.
The second step is INTERCESSION, where we petition God for the needs of others and ourselves. We ask God to intervene in our lives and our situations to bring healing, mercy, comfort, and grace. We are reminded here that we exist in fellowship and connection with others. By putting the needs of others even before our own, we again focus on the power of God, and practice the type of humility Jesus taught from the cross.
The third step is CONFESSION, a necessary part of every prayer. We confess our distance from the righteousness to which we are called. We confess our willfulness. We confess our sins. We confess it all in the sure and certain knowledge that God hears our confessions and cleanses us of our sins.
And then we finish our confession with the doxology, or a word of PRAISE. God is worthy of our praise every day, and it’s important to let him know that! We praise God, from whom all blessings flow, and that moment reminds us that we are not self-reliant, but indeed we rely on God for everything that we have and need.
Try this pattern in your prayer time this week. Remember that God ALWAYS answers our prayers, so be persistent. Prayer changes things…mostly it changes US.