Praying is a lot like shopping at your favorite grocery store. And even if you don't like shopping at an earthly market, you can't afford to miss out on these celestial bargains! Grab a cart and get started.
At the front of the store is a gateway labeled "Forgiveness Entrance". When you pass through, it blasts away any dirt, bugs, or other contaminants that would be out of place in the beautiful and clean grocery store. From top to bottom, you're completely cleansed.
As you walk in the door of the market, you're dazzled by the light. You've found something much bigger outside yourself, containing such power that there's no need for the energy-saver methods like only lighting 1/3 of the light bulbs at any given time. You can see everything so much more clearly, and you're only one step inside the door.
The display of advertised specials greets you in the entry. Every single display case in this section holds an item of praise.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise! Ps. 100:4
For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised! Ps. 96:4
Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever. Ps. 106:1
Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Ps. 107:8
No matter how pressing our business in the other parts of the store, we will miss out on a huge blessing if we push on by this important stop. There's not only a spiritual blessing here but a mental and physical blessing as well. Negative emotions depress our immune system, making us less resilient and more vulnerable to disease. The same God who wants us to be in good health wants us to praise Him. It draws us close to Him, and strengthens every part of our being.
Before we enter the main body of the store, let me tell you about a small section in the furthest corner. It contains wants, wishes, desires, and good options. There are many times in our lives when we put these items in our carts, wanting them and hoping we can keep them. Sometimes the Cashier will ring them up, but just as often, He'll put them on layaway, or even ask us to discard them. It's best to listen to His recommendation, no matter how hard it is to let go of these items. He knows what we need, and only chooses what is best, even if it seems heartbreaking at the time.
Once in a while, someone will grab the refused item back from the cashier and run out of the store with it. Not only do they suffer needlessly for shoplifting, but they had to leave most, if not all, of their other groceries at the counter.
For much of my prayer life, I've gone up and down this aisle, examining, shaking the packages, reading all the fine print, and trying to figure out before I get to the register which things I'm most likely to get to keep. Meanwhile, there was the whole rest of the store packed full of things that I was GUARANTEED to get to keep, and I hardly looked at those.
With age hopefully comes at least a little wisdom, so on this shopping trip we'll go through the other sections, too. If you look down at your cart, now heaped with praise, you'll see that it's labeled "Holy Spirit". In our own strength, we aren't able to carry what we need from the store even as far as the cash register, never mind all the way through life. He guides us at every step, and makes suggestions of what we need. The voice app is faint, and we have to be trained to listen for it. But with practice, we'll hear it more and more easily.
A rack of bread stands off to the left. There are only 66 loaves, and no matter how many you take, there are still 66 left. Each is different, but contains nutrients that we'll need to fight in the War. Remember to grab a large jug of water, too. The Bread of the Word and the presence of the Water of Life through the Holy Spirit are the foundation for all the rest of the purchases you're about to make. And whether it takes you one year or fifty, try each one of the 66 loaves.
If you follow each of these steps, you'll immediately arrive at the produce section, where all the Fruits of the Spirit are now available to you. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, and Temperance. Now, if you were to skip any of those first few sections, there would either be nothing at all in the produce section, or at best, the fruits would be small, underdeveloped, and maybe even a bit withered. But look at at the size of those fruits! Since you didn't grow them yourself, of course you won't take any credit. And whenever one of your friends asks you where you got them, you can refer them to the Market, too. Many people have made their first stop at the store because they saw the fruit that a friend brought home.
As you roll toward the other aisles to see what the store has to offer, you're astonished to see a box of Salvation already in your cart, even though you don't remember putting it there. Somewhere along the way, whether it was when you first chose to go to the grocery store, or parked in the parking lot, or walked inside and agreed to use the cart that had been provided for you, it quietly appeared. Sometimes a shopper may see this item pop into their cart, but often it slips in so quietly that they don't know till later that it's there.
It doesn't matter what order you use to shop the rest of the store. Once the foundation is laid, you may need to start with a different section each day. Discouraged or brokenhearted? Pick out some Sweet Comfort from 1 Thess. 5:9-11. Tired and worn out? Try a big bottle of Isaiah 40:31 Invigorating Strength Renewal. Need Wisdom? It comes in the extra-extra-EXTRA large size if you just ask. Give the Clerk your coupon from James 1:5. All the way down in Aisle Seven is Rest for the people of God, and if Satan has been attacking you really hard, try some James 4:7 Devil-B-Gone.
Everything you need to walk from this moment all the way into the Kingdom is somewhere there on the shelves. I could write a whole book on the products that are available - there's too many to fit into one medium-length blog post. There are Suits of Armor, Soothing Balms to heal the wounds from battle, and in the clothing section, a whole line of one-size-fits-all Righteousness of Christ Robes. They fit on over your regular clothing, and no one else can actually see them, but everyone notices the difference. Boxes of Joyful Obedience, Willing Service to Others, and Total Purity Heartwash are just a few of the things you can find. The top shelves can be hard to reach, but the Grocer will lift you up if you ask.
All this would be amazing enough by itself, but you can actually ask for anything in the store to be applied to another person's account, too. Maybe a friend, relative, or even an enemy. The Grocer never forces anyone to take His merchandise, so by asking on behalf of others, it gives Him permission to work for them in a way He couldn't have done if you hadn't asked. So while filling your own cart, keep an eye out for products that folks you know may need.
Finally, you find everything you were looking for that day, and walk to the front of the store. The Cashier rings up the price and says, "That will be one Perfection Card, please."
You hunt through your pockets, sure your Perfection Card must be in there, but all you can find is a couple of greasy paper towels you used to check your oil with that morning. "I'm sorry, Sir. This is all I have."
"Not a problem." The Cashier smiles. "If you'll just hand me your dirty rags, I'll give you My own Perfection Card. The price for all your groceries has already been paid." Amazed and humbled, you take the bright crimson card. On the back it says in golden letters, "This card and all the products it purchased have been brought to you by the Blood of Jesus."
"Come again real soon," the Cashier says. "I'd love to see you again later today, and there's no limit to how many times you can visit."
"Thank you, Sir, I will," you whisper. You're so grateful that you find yourself stopping in the Praise Section one more time on the way out.
I will praise thee, for thou has heard me, and art become my salvation. Ps. 118:21
As you load the groceries into the car, it sinks in. You can get whatever you need from the store, all the rest of your life, and it's already been paid for. The items you chose don't fill quite half your trunk. Next time, you decide, I'll get even more.
Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
What are you going to ask for today?