Praise Report or Prayer Request?Nathan Mates
In my experience at a number of small groups, I've noticed one semi-regular pattern appearing. After some initial worship or prayer, a call for 'Praise Reports' (aka God Sightings, or any other of a set of names) comes. This is when people usually speak of what good things have happened to them recently, such as getting a new job, salvation of a friend/enemy/other, a promotion, healing from sickness or the like. Everyone tends to act happy about all of this.
Praise is certainly Biblical in nature; it's mentioned a few hundred times. The early Church practiced it-- from Acts 2:46-47: "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Many of the Epistles of the New Testament start and/or end with praise to God.
Back to the small groups, there's usually a time of prayer at the end, sometimes with a call for prayer requests. These tend to be specific needs of some, such as getting a job, salvation of a friend/enemy/other, healing from sickness, or the like. In fact, many prayer requests of one week turn into the praise requests of the next, as God accomplishes mighty things.
Once again, we should ask: is this Biblical? Of course prayer for specific needs is Biblical. The garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus "fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." [Matthew 26:29] Jesus himself had to pray for strength knowing what lie before him. Jesus had many other times when he withdrew to pray; while we do not know his specific requests on most of those occasions, it is certain from the Gospels that Jesus spent much time in prayer.
So far, we've had a pattern: praise God for good things, seriously pray for bad things. However, how rare to modern society is the reverse: seriously pray to God about great things, praise God for the rotten things. Why not? Have we forgotten that God is in control of all things, both good and bad? Romans 8:28 says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Now what part of "all things" doesn't apply when things are going poorly for you? Paul says later in Ephesians 1:11 "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" Once again, what part of "everything" wasn't preplanned by God?
God's plan is working in everything, both good and bad. What may seem like a tragedy or suffering at one point may just be God refining you. Sorry if this is shocking news to you, but we're promised hardship. Hebrews 12:7 says "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" Hardship isn't usually thought of as fun, yet the exact same could be said about exercise. No pain, no gain. And we're promised great gains by enduring God's righteous discipline in our lives, as Hebrews 12:11 concludes: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
So, do you worship God for the good he's done in your life? If so, do you also worship God for the hardships in your life? Both come from the same source, yet it's man's selfish, whining heart that tends to only want the good from God, and shrink away from the bad. 1 Peter 4:16 says "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." If you can't praise God during the small problems in your life now, how could you ever think to praise God if your life and liberty is at risk for being a Christian? Don't be the rocky soil that Jesus talks about, when the seeds sprout quickly, but they have no depth to their roots, and was scorched to death by the sun. [Matthew 13:4-23] Paul also rejoiced in his sufferings and weakness-- in his weakness, he was forced to rely less on himself, and more on God. He relates this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." When was the last time you boasted in your weaknesses, or even acknowledged them before the Lord? Finally, let us consider Job, someone who most would agree suffered much. Just after he lost his family (except his wife), his livelihood, his house, and servants, his actions and words demonstrate how, as noted above, we should give thanks for ALL things. Job 1:20-21 "At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."
That's praise to God in downright rotten conditions. That's faith. That's commitment. We would do well to even begin to emulate Job when we stub a toe, lose a job, or lose a loved one. Can you honestly say your reactions would be anywhere near Job's? God can strengthen your praise, your faith and your commitment, if you're willing to let him work his plan in your life through all things, good and bad.
So, should we have a praise report or a prayer request? Yes-- make them one and the same in all circumstances.