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Copy of New City Catechism 38.2

Question 38: What is prayer?

Answer: Prayer is pouring out our hearts to God in praise, petition, confession of sin, and thanksgiving.

Among the various actions we take in prayer (e.g., confessing our sins, petitioning God for help), praise and thanksgiving should be at the top of our list. Repeatedly, Scripture commands us to praise the Lord (e.g., Psalms 146-150). When we celebrate God for who he is in himself, we may call that “praise.” When we celebrate what he has done for us, we may call that “thanksgiving.” The two actions can be distinguished from one another conceptually, but they are closely related.

Praise and thanksgiving should characterize our prayers for two main reasons. First, God is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, and it is fitting for us as creatures to ascribe to him what he deserves. Second, by praising and thanking God, our hearts are formed to love him more. Praising and thanking God are actions that enable us to enter more fully into the joy of knowing him. We don’t add anything to God when we praise him. He is full and sufficient within himself. As creatures, we could not possibly enhance the joyful life of the infinite, triune God. But we can certainly enhance our own experience of knowing him. Praising and thanking God are ways to grow our hearts bigger for God. May our prayers be full of them both.

Suggested passage for personal or family reading: Psalm 100. How does this psalm command us to praise God? What does it teach us about God and ourselves? How is good for us to praise God?

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