Inch by Inch

“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! Did you know that the term “Methodist” was given to the Wesley brothers at Oxford? The other students used it as a term of derision, noting how methodical the brothers were in their piety. Centuries later, it is still our identifying characteristic. We proudly approach our faith in a methodical way. Pursuing incremental progress toward a goal ensures that you continue to move forward, and that’s a good thing.

We are invited to practice spiritual disciplines as we participate in the serious work of moving step by step, inch by inch toward the goal of growing closer to God. Lent is not quite over yet!

Today’s reading introduces us to a step-by-step approach to prayer.

Philippians 1:1-6 (Common English Bible)

1 From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.

To all those in Philippi who are God’s people in Christ Jesus, along with your supervisors and servants.

May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 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. 

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.

Paul was methodical in his prayers and always started with thanksgiving, as we see here. 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 first for the blessings that are poured out, 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 in a spirit of praise, joy, gratitude, and humility. We remember how good God is.

The second step is intercession, where we “mention others” and 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 that we exist in fellowship and connection with others. By putting the needs of others before our own, we focus on the mercy of God, and practice the type of humility Jesus taught from the cross.

A natural 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. Confession focuses our attention on the forgiveness of God.

And then we finish with a doxology, or a word of praise. God is worthy of our praise every day, and it’s important to let God 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. Praise focuses us on the joyfulness of worshipping God.

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.

Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow by Michelle Robertson

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