Simply put, prayer is communicating with God, where we both speak and listen. It is important to remember that prayer happens in the context of a relationship, and is not simply a religious practice to perform. We have the great privilege of coming before the Lord of the universe who invites us into His presence. Yet for many of us, prayer can be so elusive. How do we pray? What do we do in prayer?
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Here are seven handles that I have used at one time or another to guide my prayer life.
- Use a Simple Tool to Guide Your Prayer. Early on I was introduced to the ACTS of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I begin by adoring God for who He is. Turning my thoughts God-ward will inevitably reveal my imperfections and lead me to confess my sins, both in thought and deed, both those of commission (what I have done wrong) and those of omission (the good which I failed to do). Then, I give thanks for all the blessings God has given me, both the circumstantial and my spiritual blessings (which transcend circumstances). I end with supplication, which is both petition (voicing my needs) and intercession (praying for others). More recently, I have learned PRAY: Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield. I praise God for who He is, I repent from ways I have dishonored God, I ask for both my needs and the needs of others, and end with yielding to God, submitting my will to His. Both these acrostics are helpful tools to guide our prayers.
- Read a Prayer Out Loud. Voicing a prayer is a good way to pray. The most obvious way to do this is to read a prayer from Scripture, such as the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) or a Psalm. Also, there are prayer books that collect a variety of prayers to pray. My favorite one is The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Reading through the prayers in this devotional reveals how superficial our modern prayers tend to be. When I read out loud, I change the “thee’s” and “thy’s” to “you” and “your” to keep it from sounding too archaic. I have found that these prayers do heart surgery in a way that few other things do.
- Using the Psalms in Prayer. As noted above, one way to pray is simply to read a Psalm out loud to get our mind in the proper framework to pray. At our Immersion Conference in February, 2014, Dr. Don Whitney showed us some other ways to use the Psalms so that they help prompt your prayers. The Psalms may point out a characteristic of God that you wish to praise, or it may voice a lament that gives voice to your sorrows. But the Psalms can guide prayers in other ways. I may read Psalm 1:1 about the blessed man who guards himself from evil influences and this may prompt me to pray for my 8th grade son who is at a pivotal time in life where he will both be influenced by peers, and will influence others. Or, the word “walk” in this verse may prompt me to pray for a dear friend who has sustained an injury and is having trouble walking. Using the Psalms in this way can refresh our prayer lives and keep us from praying about the same old things in the same old way.
- Sometimes We Think Prayer is Talking to God. Probably more importantly, however, prayer is about listening to God. We get away from the busyness, noise, and distractions of life to sit still and hear the inner voice of God speaking to us.
- Being Intentional About Who and What to Pray For. In the back of my journal, I have a Prayer Journal Method that has eight blocks on it, created by drawing a line down the middle and then 3 horizontal lines across the page. The top left block is labeled “daily” and includes things like my immediate family members. The remaining blocks are the seven days of the week and allow me to pray for people and things on a weekly basis. This may include extended family, close friends, co-workers, pastors/leaders at church, and missionaries. Also, I have used the book Operation World to guide my prayers for God’s work among the nations of the world.
- Getting Away to Pray. One of my favorite things to do is to walk around Radnor Lake and spend an hour or more in prayer. Often, I am walking around and simply letting my thoughts go and getting my mind cleared. Usually, it takes me 30 minutes or so to then be able to pray effortlessly, communing with God in nature. Also, on occasion, I will go on an overnight prayer retreat where I will devote time to prayer, reflection, and reading. Getting away to pray on an occasional basis can really enhance your prayer life.
- Prayer without Ceasing. Though there is great benefit in having designated times of prayer, we also understand that prayer should ultimately be a way of living. Driving in the car, changing a baby’s diaper, booting up your computer, a pause before a difficult conversation, these are all opportunities to recognize God’s presence and realize He is with you in all things. These are great moments to receive His grace and strength and to ask for His wisdom for the day.