Coffee steaming, sacred silence in the house, heater warming my workspace (the big comfy chair in my living room), I sat down at my computer this morning to begin writing about my prayer habits. The dog interrupted, wanting to be let out. I set down my coffee, unwrapped the blanket carefully tucked around my legs, and let her out. Returning, I picked up my computer and looked down at the one sentence I had written and came to an embarrassing and convicting realization. I had not done the very thing I was anticipating writing about.
In an attempt to be transparent, here is basically what I prayed in that moment. Lord, forgive me for being so proud that I should tell anyone about prayer, when I have not even stopped to invite you into the conversation. Please let the words pour through me so that the reader sees only you. Draw them into the quiet and sacred space where they have only an audience of One. Please help me to clearly articulate the means, importance and benefits of a rich and healthy prayer life.
The next several entries will be focused on prayer. I will be sharing a series of tools that I use in order to organize my prayer life in an attempt to not be overwhelmed, redundant, or thoughtless. But before I do that, I want to explain the foundational structure of the gift of prayer, the who, what, when, why, and how of prayer. It may sound complicated, but really it is quite simple.
WHO: Our Father who art in Heaven
God is our daddy. He wants to love us, talk with us, and provide for us.
It is good for our friends and family to know that we pray for them. It is important that, when we pray in public, whoever is listening can pray along with us and grasp the articulation of what we are saying. But we need to remember, that when we pray, we are talking to God and God alone. Our prayers are not pontifications or speeches. They are not monologs, sermons, or exhortations. They are a conversation with our Maker. (We could also talk about who we pray for here, (our leaders, families, ministries, and even our enemies) but that will be coming in the next few weeks) I John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
WHAT: Thy will be done.
While we may have a shopping list to share with God, what we should really desire is His will. On the other hand, we might think we can take care of ourselves without any help and not want to bother God with our problems. After all, He does have a few other billion people to worry about. The first words out of my mouth as a child were “I do it myself.” It has been a struggle for me to not get trapped into thinking that I have to solve all problems, take on all tasks, or figure things out for myself. But realizing that my “Good, Good Father” can do so much better than I ever could at providing, solving problems, protecting me etc., gives me hope that I don’t have to do it myself. The Apostle Paul says it well in his letter to the Philippians; Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
WHEN: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. I Thessalonians 5:16-18
In the Morning: I noticed it was getting lighter outside and glanced toward the front door, facing east. I was greeted with a breathtaking, brilliant sunrise. My heart heard this song/Psalm Psalms 5:1-3 Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee and will look up.
In the Evening: Psalm 141:1-2 O Lord, I am calling to you. Please hurry! Listen when I cry to you for help! Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.
I love this little chorus I learned as a child. “Love Him in the morning when you see the sun arising; Love Him in the evening, ‘cause He took you through the day; And in the in between time when you feel the pressure coming, remember that He loves you and he promises to stay. When you think you’ve got to worry, ‘cause it seems the thing to do, remember He’s not in a hurry, He always has time for you.”
All the time is the right time to pray.
WHERE: Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
Some versions of this verse tell us to go into our closet to pray. Many of us have wished for the opportunity to shut ourselves in a closet to have some blessed quiet time with Jesus, hoping we will not be like the disciples and fall asleep when we finally get that time. I don’t think this scripture is only talking about a physical place to pray, although that would be great. The idea is to close out the distraction of the world and of life for whatever time you can to focus solely on communing with Jesus. Our brains are noisy places, and our thoughts are battling to constantly distract our prayer time.
Any place is the right place to pray.
WHY: Throughout history there have been as many reasons to pray as there have been humans. The fact that I am a fallible human being should be enough reason to pray. We pray because we are happy, relieved, sad, need forgiveness, need to forgive, need wisdom, or we may pray just to make our needs known to our Abba Father who is always listening.
James 5 Answers sums up the why question well. Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:13-16
HOW: Scripture is full of examples and explanations of how to pray. We are to come boldly into God’s presence. We are to humbly bow before Him. We are to pray about everything and for everyone. We are to cry out to Him. We are to praise Him. And we are to bring everything to Him with an attitude of faith and gratitude.
Eps 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
Mark 11:24-25 Tells us to pray believing that God will answer but pray after having forgiven our offenders. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him…”
James 4:2-3 Explains that we need to pray with the right motives. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Ephesians 6 summarizes well the “Who, What, Why, Where, and How” and the benefit of praying. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Scripture has so much more to offer in knowing how to pray. I encourage you to do your own research. Biblegateway.com is an amazing resource as is your search engine of choice (Bing, Google, etc) Know that the tools that I will be sharing over the next few weeks are my tools. They work for me. You may need to organize your prayers differently. You may be a whole to part thinker rather than a part to whole thinker. You may need an outline, or you may need to write a whole book. You may be a planner or pray by the seat of your pants kind of person.
One thing that remains consistent, the need for prayer and communion with our Father. It is like any discipline, if you do not make a plan and commitment, it is less likely to happen. We have the benefit of direct access to Father through prayer. It is not complicated. It is simply a conversation with God. But know this, we do forfeit our peace and carry unnecessary burdens and pain when we do not embrace the gift we have of prayer.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there. Joseph Scriven, 1855