Scripture gives us many examples of this model of prayer
The simplest pattern for prayer could be called a “praise sandwich.” This type of prayer starts and ends with praise. A quick glance through the pages of Scripture will reveal that most of the “formal prayers” in the Bible fit that pattern. You find them in both the New and Old Testaments—the Lord’s Prayer, Solomon’s Temple dedication prayer, Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20, and most of David’s psalms. Yes, we do bring our requests before the Lord, but we ask them within the context of praise.
To praise the Lord is to focus on His attributes and acts. Nehemiah 1:5–11 is a good example of a praise sandwich.
The first part (the “bread” of praise) is in verse five. Nehemiah starts by praising God for who He is (His attributes), what He has done (His work in and for us) and what He has promised in His Word. Nehemiah writes: “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (v. 5 NASB). In other words, he was praising God for who He is.
As we worship Him, we often become painfully aware of our own shortcomings. Nehemiah does in verses 6–7: “let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.” As we see who God is, we acknowledge that our sin is an affront to His attributes, we accept His forgiveness, and are restored to fellowship with Him.
Only after we look at who God is and who we are can we get to the “meat” of asking Him for things. Nehemiah does this in the next verses: “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell’” (vv. 8–9). Nehemiah interceded with God for the people. He asked God to fulfill the promises He had made to His people. In intercession we take the needs of others to God, ask Him to hear our requests, and answer them according to His will.
Finally, we end once again on a note of praise: “They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man” (vv. 10–11). It might not sound like praise, but Nehemiah affirms that God is in charge and we are in need. God is our Redeemer. He has great power and a strong hand. His name is to be revered. Prayer is our declaration of dependence on God. We come to Him because we don’t know what to do or how to do it, but He does.
So, like Nehemiah, let’s start our prayers by praising God, with our focus on who He is and what he does. As we see who He is, we see how we fall short, and move into confession and restoration. That then leads us to ask our loving Father for our needs and the needs of others. In gratitude for His hearing us, we end with praise, once again focusing on Him. Only He is worthy!