Thanks, Gimme, Oops, Wow–A Guide for Prayer

A few weeks ago at an interfaith-council-sponsored service project, the minister who gave the benediction took a minute beforehand to talk to the kids present about how to pray. He told them that there were four words to include:

Thanks–always start with remembering what you’re thankful for, for the many gifts God gives.

Gimme–sincerely ask for things you need, and even things you just want. God is a loving and wise parent, so you might not get everything you ask for, but the honest expression of the things you most wish for is a good thing to include in the conversation.

Oops–everybody messes up sometimes. It feels good to admit it and ask for help to move on from our mistakes.

Wow !–this was the most interesting part, and this video that Russell linked to reminded me of it. It’s an element of prayer we don’t really teach, I think–giving praise, expressing awe or wonder. I can’t say I’ve ever seen it done in a way that would feel authentic to me. In the South, there’s some praising mixed in with the thanking sometimes (with what feels to me like a LOT of direct address to the Lord), and in some liturgies there’s the Gloria or an adaptation of it. I like it as an element of liturgy, but I can’t figure out how it fits in my personal prayers, and it just feels weird. Reading the psalms aloud is my favorite way to express praise and wonder, but even that feels better in a crowd, or better yet, a choir.

What do you think? Do we need to say “wow” more? If so, how? And is the 4-word rubric a useful shorthand for teaching prayer to kids?

Comments

  1. Very clever, Kristine. I’m sure this will get a lot of airtime in upcoming Primary lessons. Not so bad for adults either. Hopefully it will displace the “thanks, gimme, gimme, gimme” prayer rut that we too often get stuck in.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    I’ve heard it taught as the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

    In my personal prayer life, I frequently chant the Liturgy of the Hours (though I’ll just recite if I’m in a hurry, I like the meditative, deliberate nature of using the psalm tones––particularly on Sundays/major holidays). I do replace the collect of the day with my own personal, extemporaneous prayer, but having the psalms and hymns to sing/recite beforehand helps me to feel spiritually attentive and ready to speak to God. The psalms particularly exhibit a breadth of emotion uncommon in my experience in the Church. Feeling angry or abandoned (etc.) is sometimes seen as faithless/sinful, but those emotions are present in the psalms, so––even if those emotions aren’t ideal––they are seen as just part of being human and living life.

    In any case, while prayer is about as personal a thing as exists, I do like the idea of teaching kids a somewhat broader pattern than the basic “please and thank you” that I got in Primary––though getting in the habit of prayer to begin with, however you can manage it, is the really vital thing.

  3. Well Latter-day Guy, I really find interesting your development of your personal prayers. I also try to include meditation, but I do it once a week and I use early gnostic ascention narratives to inspire myself, usually after having attended a session in the temple.

    Kudos on your prayer practices. I absolutely agree with you that the wide variety of feelings expressed in the psalms reflect the actual experience of the human life, and thus make a good and compelling addition to our hour of prayer, meditation and solemn comunion with God.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I don’t know if it’s exactly praise…but I’m LDS so excitment will have to do…

    When my sister got engaged I was really exicted for her. I was on my mission and home with a sick companion.who slept literally all day. I was so excited I wanted to tell someone…and after a few phone calls-with no one home, I decided to tell God. I prayed my excitement for a few minutes until … I realized he already knew.

    I think gratitude can be praise…so I think sincere gratitude counts there.

  5. I like the idea of “Wow” being a part of prayer. I think when we express admiration or just say how amazing the world is, or some aspect of His creation or His gospel, we are expressing this concept. “I stand all amazed” is the Mormon equivalent phrase, I think.

  6. I think “wow” is generally combined with the “thanks” section for most Mormons.

  7. Yeah, more “wow” is a good thing, I think. I’ve heard several Mormon public prayers that used the standard “hallowed be thy name” phrase, and I think that works nicely. I haven’t done it myself, though.

    I’m interested to see the comments and ideas that follow. Thanks for this.

  8. Geoff, I agree that that is what happens in practice. My question is whether it might be good to focus more on the kind of praise that is not tied to gratitude. For instance, my son once said in a prayer “Dinosaurs are really cool, Heavenly Father.” Not so much in a “thanks for making dinosaurs for my enjoyment,” kind of way, but more just “nice job with the dinosaurs.”

  9. Steve Evans says:

    I hadn’t really considered before the notion of astonishment for God’s works — at least not in terms of expressing this to God in prayer. But I like it, a lot. Thanks Kristine.

  10. Antonio Parr says:

    4. Britt:

    Although gratitude can be praise, praise is an even better form of praise. In fact, praise can be a form of gratitude . . .

    Perhaps we should have both in our prayers.

    Praise ye the Lord.

  11. “Day and night they never stop saying:

    “Holy, holy, holy

    is the Lord God Almighty,

    who was, and is, and is to come.”
    __Revelation 4:6-9

  12. This was the subject of a recent NYT magazine piece, which was very good. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/magazine/20Prayer-t.html ). Definitely worth reading.

  13. There was a recent convert in a former ward I attended who had been an asst. minister prior to his baptism. I loved to hear him pray, since it came from the heart and was full of adoration and praise.

    Personally, “it came from the heart” is more important to me than “was full of adoration and praise” – but it was authentic coming from him. Otoh, I’ve been involved in non-LDS meetings where the praise felt like praise for the sake of praise (rote praise), and I’ve been in more than one such meeting where the praise was high oration only.

    I would like a little more direct praise, but I am fine with any sincere expression of love and gratitude.

  14. Sometimes when I’m stuck in an “I don’t feel like praying attitude”, starting off with praise helps me get in a praying mood. Or if I’m so scattered by the events of the day that I can’t focus, I start off with praise to get my mind into prayer mode. Once I spend a few minutes telling God how amazing he is and how incredible his influence on my life has been, it’s a lot easier to express the thanks, gimmes, and sorrys that make up typical prayers.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    I think that’s a terrific four-word rubric for teaching kids to pray. Definitely worth a Primary lesson or two.

  16. Evangelicals start almost every prayer with “Lord, I’d just like to…”, as though they are making the prayer up on the spot (which, in fact, they are).

    To my Catholic ears, this sounds lazy and unrehearsed. I spent years memorizing arcane phrases, when to say “Thanks be to God” (after readings) and when to say “Praise to you O Lord Jesus Christ” (after the Gospel).

    Everyday casual familiarity with the Godhead, as though you are talking to your buddy, is as bad (for you, God probably doesn’t care) as calling your parents by their first name. It might be lovingly meant, but it risks confusing the corrective parent role with a friend (you can’t tell me what to do) role. Jesus is not an action figure.

    Luckily, I suspect that Mormons do not indulge in this false intimacy, so I guess I am preaching to the choir.

  17. I think we most get that feeling of “wow” when we commune in hymns. It makes me long for a christmas sing with the alleluia chorus.

  18. Dan Weston,

    Someone was going to do this, so it may as well be me.

  19. some time ago I was visiting India ( my Dad is from there). One of our relatives (of the HIndu faith) wanted me to say a generic prayer at this Children’s Performance (sort of a talent show) that some of the neighbor kids were doing. I agreed. he asked me to write out what I’d say which was unusual for me- he reviewed it. He said I didn’t say “God” enough in the prayer and also told me I didn’t need to close my eyes in saying it.

    I did close my eyes, I didn’t read the prayer. I know a couple people said the prayer was nice. But it has always made me think that I didn’t say the name of Heavenly Father enough in the prayer.

    At the time I was 21, I do wish I’d done a “better job” but oh well!

  20. Duke of Earl Grey says:

    Speaking of “Wow!”, Deluxe Miracle Jesus has glow in the dark miracle hands!

  21. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 16
    I don’t think that’s quite right, Dan. Latter-day Saints know God as an embodied, literal Heavenly Father with whom we can communicate. It’s arguably a view of deity even more personal than the Evangelical understanding (and one reason I find this faith so compelling). Don’t be fooled by the thee/thou language.

  22. Kristine, thanks for this. You have shared something worth pondering. I think sometimes gratitude does go a step further into pure wonder and awe. I have had a few of those moments as of late, but you make me want to look for more reasons to have that level of gratitude and awareness of God’s amazingness.

  23. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Giving praise, or expressing astonishment beyond gratitude may very well be something that would spice up my personal prayers. However. the last thing we should ever do is encourage something that would make public prayers longer. Short and sweet is the goal, and if it can’t be sweet, at least make it short. Also, expressing the “Wow!” in a communal prayer would just seem to draw attention to the one giving the prayer, which should never be the goal. I think there is a definite public/private implication in the application of this element.

  24. I just had a thought..take it for what it’s worth..most of our public prayers are around sacrament meeting, which are quite frequently survived more than they are found praiseworthy. I can think of some good praise surrounding the children’s program. Personal prayers would be easier. Are we more self conscious than pentacosals?

    I’d love music to be more praise filled-frequently it’s rather mumbly

    We don’t say praise the Lord as commonly as other christians…why is that? over repitition of the name of God?

  25. Jim Donaldson says:

    ReL #16 and #21
    I find myself concerned with that over-familiarity with God stuff too. We (at least I) often hear about how people emotionally want to run up to Jesus and give him a hug. Nearly all the scriptural accounts of human encounters with the divine have the poor human hitting the ground, with the divine response being to get up now, let’s talk. But I think that would be the overwhelming feeling, to find yourself on the ground. That’s why we kneel, no? God is not your peer. This should make the Wow part easier to teach.

  26. I like this approach. Of course, what matters most is that I am authentic and speak from the heart. Whether that is a prayer just of thanks, or just of wow, or just of oops, or just of gimme, or just of something else. Personally, sometimes I add a report to God of how I am feeling (angry, frustrated, content, happy, amazed, etc . . . ), not that God doesn’t know that already, but because it is nice to know that God cares and listens when I tell God about those feelings.

  27. I like the concept of giving children an easy outline to help them with prayers, but I don’t really like teaching them “Gimme”. That seems disrespectful. Overall, I would prefer: Thank you, Please, Sorry, Wow. No, not as catchy, but more in line with the kind of tone I would like to teach my kids to speak to their Heavenly Father with.

  28. Stephanie, I mostly agree–“Gimme” sounds awful. On the other hand, we are greedy and petty creatures sometimes, so I also kind of like the idea that we can speak to God without editing for tone. It was interesting when the minister was explaining, too–you could see all the kids kind of do a double-take when he said “gimme” because they knew it wasn’t polite.

    Anyway, if I were teaching it in Primary (which is unlikely–it generally only takes people about 5 seconds to realize I’m _terrible_ with kids), I think I would use “Please” also, but with older kids, I might want to try to get at some of the nuance of “gimme.”

  29. #25: Jim, now I see the exact opposite of your conclusion in the example you just gave. We mortals, suddenly in the presence of the divine, feel the need to throw ourselves to the ground in our nothingness, but the Divine one says rise and let’s talk. Without getting into detail, the latter approach is also how it seems to work in every instance where mortal meets immortal in the Temple ceremony.

    Could it be that the honorific/humble dichotomy is more mortal social construct than divine expectation?

  30. One of the most amazing testimony meetings I’ve ever been in was when a Liberian sister in my ward just left her interpreter behind as she broke into sobs and started singing her gratitude and praise to God, as she danced behind the podium. It was like she was praising God with her whole body.

    One of the most authentic witnesses I’ve ever seen.

  31. We have to also make a difference between self-induced “altered states” that can come from chanting and such. People can get pretty involved in a baseball game (beats me, too) not to mention football (soccer, actually).

    And there’s mass hypnosis, that Hitler mastered very well.

    That’s why to me the thoughtful way that the LDS people I know give praise and thanks is more sincere than trance-like chanting and random convulsions/distortions of face and body (there’s an example of that from Church history, just briefly referenced in the Section headings in the D&c).

    I try to remember to praise God every day. I praise him when I tell people that through Jesus’ Atonement we can be clean and stand before God with a clear conscience, if we are born again of water and Spirit.

    Born of the Spirit is the subject that we’re really encompassing here. It can be hugely misleading to people to see just the effects; the force behind the effects is not always benign…

    Discernment is important!

    I praise by dedicating all I do to God (following Alma’s admonitions in Alma 34 – 37) and giving him thanks for all I receive from him. “All” means even that difficult trial of faith.

  32. I am not sure Natalie was talking about a trance like state on the part of the sister who bore testimony through song and dance.

    My personal opinion is that had the gospel been restored in certain other parts of the world, dancing and singing and clapping and swaying would be part of the standard Mormon worship service.

    I think God appreciates worship in whatever format it is manifested, with or without chanting, formal western Sunday attire, rock music, Gregorian chants, or Motab.

  33. Singing, dancing, clapping and swaying is fine with me (as long as the clapping isn’t drowning out someone’s message, which it often does, as far as I’ve seen in, say, Pentecostal meetings). I have opened up with years of experience and am much more expressive. I often cry or laugh or something like that in a situation where I feel the Spirit strongly.

    I figure God appreciates sincere worship in whatever form. It’s people who sometimes are lead astray by strong feelings of camaraderie or something and mistake that for the Holy Ghost. God doesn’t need formalities; we need some to help us keep the sacred and profane separate. Plus, respect is related to a formal relationship in a way…

  34. mike,

    i think dan is closer to the truth than you suggest, because i read your statement as possibly equating “close and personal” with “peer” or “buddy.” i am not buddies with my parents, or with my heavenly parents, but i certainly have a close, personal relationship with them, in which it would seem (in my family, anyway) out of order to talk to them as i talk to my peers. (if i misunderstood your comment, then please correct me.)

  35. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE 16: Yeah, I have also been surprised by the huge repetition of the word “just” in evangelical prayer habits. (Some interesting examples of this can be seen in the documentary “Jesus Camp,” which is really worth a look for lots of other reasons too!)

  36. Glenn Smith says:

    Although not usually part of my formal prayers, the ‘wow’ is often expressed independently, such as when walking out the door, I’ll say, “What a beautiful morning, Father!” , or, “The stars are sure bright tonight!” , or, enjoying the beauty of a post-freeze violet.

  37. Thank you, Glenn. You put it in a simple and beautiful way. We praise the Father, when we appreciate his creations.

  38. I prefer Stephanie’s version, too. I don’t like the way “gimme” and “oops” sounds. They don’t sound sincere at all.

  39. I’m a relatively recent convert (19 months now) and my Protestant prayer background has been primarily Thanks and Praise (wow).

    I feel VERY uncomfortable with the gimme since I was taught was a child that our Lord knows our every need and want and cares for us according to our needs.

    As a result of my mixed faith heritage my children tend to hear me praying with more of a mix of the thanks and praise with occasional gimme requests on behalf of others.

    I have to say that when I first started investigating the LDS Church I was surprised by the lack of praise I heard during
    Sacrament Meeting and prayers. I miss the praise in my worship services and probably find myself using it even more in my family prayers and personal prayers.

  40. I think that any lack of praise in our meetings is the fault of misguided expectations, and possibly traditions. However, the Brethren have been counseling us in the spirit of correction. Elder Bednar taught only a year ago: “Let me recommend that periodically you and I offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude. Ask for nothing; simply let our souls rejoice and strive to communicate appreciation with all the energy of our hearts.”

    I would argue that to truly express gratitude to our Heavenly Father requires us to express the sheer awe we feel to be alive and to be His children.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    Hey Paradox, are your feet better?

  42. I was reminded of 2 Nephi 9 as a praise cahapter. Msny times in between doctrine there are phrases of “how great the goodness of our God”, or “”O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!”

    Perhaps one thing that separates praise from thanks-just speaking of the amazing nature of God can be praise-it doesn’t have to emphasize how that nature has helped us specifically

  43. Antonio Parr says:

    Recently, I had the very sad experience of losing a sister to breast cancer. Her funeral was held at the evangelical church that she attended. One of the songs that we sang during the proceedings was her favorite “praise hymn”, “Shout to the Lord”:

    Shout to the Lord, all the earth,
    Let us sing
    Power and majesty, praise to the King;
    Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
    At the sound of Your name.
    I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
    Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
    Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

    My Jesus, My Savior,
    Lord, there is none like You;
    All of my days
    I want to praise
    The wonders of Your mighty love.

    My comfort, my shelter,
    Tower of refuge and strength;
    Let every breath, all that I am
    Never cease to worship You.

    Shout to the Lord, all the earth,
    Let us sing
    Power and majesty, praise to the King;
    Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
    At the sound of Your name.
    I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
    Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
    Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

    Shout to the Lord, all the earth,
    Let us sing
    Power and majesty, praise to the King;
    Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
    At the sound of Your name.
    I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
    Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
    Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.
    Nothing compares to the promise I have
    Nothing compares to the promise I have in you

    ~~~

    The grief that I felt at the loss of my only sister and dear, dear friend was acute. But equally powerful — perhaps more so — was the comfort and strength that came from singing this song of praise and worship to our Lord. Because of Jesus, death is not the end.

    Who can glory too much in the Lord?

  44. I’ve often been struck by the difference between how we teach people to pray and the Lord’s Prayer. Half of that example is praise or adoration or acknowledgment. Seems like a good message to us that this is an important prayer ingredient.

  45. Antonio Parr says:

    (My prior post should have included a reference to Alma 26:

    16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. )

  46. I attended an evangelical service once with a missionary companion – there was a section of the service set aside specifically for praise.

    On the way out, my comp said “God doesn’t need our praise. He needs our fear.”

    I, too, have noticed the evangelical use of the word “just” a lot. We just want to praise You. We just want to thank You. We just want…. Along with this is quoting scriptures as part of a “claim” that can be made on God. We claim the blessings You stated in (chapter and verse).

    I once taught a man who was teaching his kids along with us during the discussions. He had a great take on prayer – Thank Him, ask Him to help other people, ask Him to help you. Don’t ask for more for yourself than you would have for others. And thanks always came first.

  47. Hopefully your companion was able to do some scripture study during his mission to check the relative numbers of injunctions to praise and commandments to fear.

    And, at least evangelicals know the chapter and verse to claim. We just take Grant von Harrison’s word for it and make stuff up.

  48. Antonio Parr says:

    I realize that this discussion is winding down, but I have a couple of observations that I will pass on:

    1. I, too, have seen the evangelical overuse of “just”. I am not comfortable with it, but suspect that we Latter-Day Saints have our own quirks when it comes to our language patterns.

    2. With respect to language of praise, I still haven’t figured out why the restoration of all things has not restored praise. Consider this from King David:

    1 Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights.
    2 Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.
    3 Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.
    4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.
    5 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.
    6 He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.
    7 Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
    8 Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word:
    9 Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:
    10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:
    11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:
    12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:
    13 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.
    14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord.

    (Psalm 148.)

    or this excerpt from Nephi’s psalm:

    30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
    31 O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
    32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
    33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
    34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
    35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.

    (2 Ne. 14)

    Although many (most?) Latter-Day Saints seem uncomfortable with the concept of praise (stubbornly substituting thanksgiving for praise — the two are not mutually exclusive!), it is difficult to justify this position, since the scriptural mandate to praise God is found throughout scripture.

    3. I hope that Latter-Day Saint reluctance to use language of praise is not a byproduct of the King Follet Discourse, which I fear may have had the unintended consequence of compromising for Latter-Day Saints the wonder and awe that believers of all stripes and denominations feel for God.

  49. Antonio Parr says:

    (I withdraw, with apologies, my use in the prior post of the word “stubbornly”. Too inflammatory and too judgmental.)

  50. Well, Hallelujah, praise the Lord, brother.

    Anyway, I guess this is an issue that goes into personal territory. My praise is usually fairly private (in my personal prayers and when I talk to family and friends). However, I have begun using the language of praise, with some modern twists.

    Anyhow, I think the best praise for Father is that we honor his creation, and especially give to those in need that which we have.

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