Over a decade ago, a wise pastor gave my husband and me some advice on prayer. He suggested a specific method of prayer that involved praying in a certain sequence. Briefly, this was the recommendation:
2. Confess your sinfulness, and also thank Him that he has forgiven you.
3. Make your requests to Him.
I didn't realize at that time how this would change my perception of God; how it would change my perception of life's problems; and how it would change the way I pray.
I've spent over a decade praising Him because...
I know He knows me, and He knows what I have faced in the past and what I will face in the future. I am thankful for that.
I know that He is all powerful, and that He is vastly greater than any problem I may face. I praise Him for that.
I know that He is vastly wiser than I am; and that He has the ability and the desire to work all circumstances out for a good outcome. I am so incredibly greatful for that.
The list could go on and on; but let's look at just those three again:
He already knows what has happened and what is to come in my life.
He is all powerful; anything is within His ability.
He is all-wise, and He has promised to work all things, even problematic things, into a good end for each person who genuinely seeks His ways.
When you start a prayer praising God for even just those three major attributes, then how do you even ask for anything specific? Why would you want to figure out a solution to your problem and then ask God to give you the solution you thought of?
Think of God as the Counselor. He is not just a counselor. He is the Greatest Counselor in the world. Do you go to an earthly counselor and say, "Mr. Earthly Counselor, I have this problem and I think I know how I want it to work out. Here is my plan, and what I want and what I think is probably best. So please tell me that my plan is good and let me have my plan. Thank you so much, you are such a wonderful earthly counselor."
No, you wouldn't go to a counselor or an advisor in that way. You don't go to an advisor merely to give him or her your understanding of the problem and best solution. You go to the earthly counselor because you know, or at least you hope, that the advisor has a greater level of wisdom or expertise in how to solve your problem. You want his or her advice, because you realize that he or she may see things differently than you do; and he or she likely knows of a method or path of resolution that is better than what you can think of on your own.
So if God is the Greatest Counselor; why would you try to solve your own problem, and then ask Him to just bless it and let things go the way you want? Wouldn't you want His solution and His help in guiding you through the problem? Wouldn't you trust that His level of expertise is so infinitely greater than yours?
The Bible tells us, "You have not because you ask not." (James 4:2) Based on my experience, however, I believe this verse, when taken in context with all scripture, could also be read in an extended way such as this: "You have not greater things, because you have asked for too many specific things. Your specific requests indicate that you lack understanding of just how infinitely great and powerful the Father is. See, you asked for a specific type of resolution; and that resolution was within my will, so I let you have the resolution you asked for. However, I actually had a better plan available, and if you had just asked and trusted for my bigger and better plan, then you would have received a surprise quite greater than your own proposed solution."
For clarification: there is nothing wrong with making very specific requests to God; nothing wrong with that at all; and in fact, He wants us to bring all our requests to Him. Oftentimes, however, it works out better to let go of your own ideas and your own resolution plans, and just seek His solution.
Now these days, when I have a prayer request, I mostly just pray something like this: "God, I have this problem _______. And I'm thankful that you are already aware of it and are able and willing to work it out for a good result. I really just want you to know that I want YOUR best solution, whatever it is -- and I want to thank you for the solution that you will provide; and I want you to know that I accept your solution, knowing that it is ultimately for the best. I don't even want to ask you for a specific result, because all I want is your provision; I want it solved in your way, not mine...because your ways are so infinitely greater than anything I could try. I look forward to how this is resolved, Lord, and how it may bring me closer to you."
I will also explain, that sometimes a problem does require an immediate action of some sort, and you may not be sure of exactly what to do. You may not know what God thinks is best for you to do; but you have to make a decision based on some external deadline or consequence. In those cases, I will usually pray, "God, I have this problem, and I need to make a decision quickly. I believe this solution I thought of is best at this time, and this is they way I am going to proceed for now; however, if you have a better way, please make it readily apparent, because I want your ways over my own."
Based on my experience, I believe the above prayers, when prayed authentically, in true faith, and with a willingness to wait on Him -- will always bring God's best resolution.
It took at least 15 solid years of walking regularly with the Lord before I could have such a faith to pray such a way. I spent many, many years praying for things to "please be done my way."
And when it comes to Thanksgiving, I am truly most thankful for this: Knowing that His solutions are always available to those who seek His ways and are willing to wait.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding,
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV