My wife and I are trying to teach our three-year-old son good manners. When he wants something, we remind him to say, “Please!” And when he gets it, we remind him to say, “Thank you!”
“Please!” and “Thank you!” are good table manners, but they’re also good prayer manners. Indeed, prayer seems to be little more than asking and thanking. Consider what Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote in 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10:
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
At the dinner table, “Please!” always comes before “Thank you!” because asking comes before getting. But in prayer, that order is reversed. The missionaries expressed their gratitude first, and then they submitted their requests to God.
This order of prayer is important because it expresses a theological truth. Before we ask God for anything, he already loves us and is at work to bless us. Gratitude comes first in prayer because God’s grace comes first. It is the air in which we breathe our prayers.
There’s a call-and-response chorus you may have heard in church: God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. This is the foundation of prayer. Unless God is good, we have no business asking him for anything. Jesus put it this way: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9–11). Precisely because God is good, however, we can thank him, and out of that gratitude ask him for whatever we need.
So, “Thank you!” first. But then always “Please!” It is never inappropriate to ask God for what we need. Even when we have been glorified in the new heavens and new earth, we will continue to ask God for what we need. If thanking God reminds us of his goodness, then, asking God reminds us of our dependence on him for every good thing.
Of course, the missionaries said “Please!” and “Thank you!” for specific things. What things? Not things at all, really, but relationships. They thanked God for the Thessalonians, who brought them joy. And they prayed to be reunited with the Thessalonians so that they could supply whatever their faith needed.
Too often, we focus our prayers on material needs. This is understandable. Even Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, after all. But relationships are more important than stuff. Today, make sure to thank God for your family, friends, and associates. And ask him to help you supply their needs.