Practicing the Pleasure of Prayer
We started the New Year with a focus on prayer last Sunday. After walking through Zechariah 10:1-2, we took note of the following truths in relation to prayer:
- We won’t pray as long as our confidence is in our idols.
- Prayer isn’t hindered but enlivened by God’s plans for the future.
- God refuses to give us the kingdom apart from a relationship with himself.
- Prayer is about aligning our hopes with God’s plans for his kingdom.
- God is generous to answer our prayers.
But still, some of you may be asking how to practice praying, or how to make prayer a more regular part of your Christian walk? Here are a few ideas that I hope will equip you to pray even more in 2016 and beyond.
1. Meditate on the Gospel
As a matter of first importance, I would encourage you to meditate on the extraordinary news of what God, in his extravagant love, has achieved in Christ to reconcile you to himself. Without Christ, we remain dead in our sins and separated from God. By trusting in Christ, we have real communion with the Holy One of the universe. Yes, discipline is important and practical steps will serve to deepen someone’s prayer life, but the place to begin is not another program or a different schedule. The place to begin is with enjoying God himself through the person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we are cleansed to approach the throne of grace (Heb 4:16), we are adopted to cry out “Abba!” (Gal 4:6), and we are assured that we will be heard (John 14:12-14).
2. Remember, You Are Not Alone
We should also constantly look to God for encouragement in our prayer life. Days will come when you will struggle to pray, when you lack the words to pray, and when your spirit is too faint to voice even a cry. Remember that you are not alone as you learn and long to pray in those days. Your great High Priest, Jesus, always lives to make intercession for all he purchased with his blood (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). In the same way he fought in Gethsemane on his knees while the disciples slept(!), he continues to fight for us even now with his requests to God (Matt 26:26-46; John 17:1-26). Moreover, the Holy Spirit helps us similarly as he intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26-27).
3. Pray God’s Words from Scripture
In addition to the Son and the Spirit’s help, we should also remember that we have God’s word to help whenever we are confused or lacking words to pray. We affirm that the Bible is God-breathed revelation, and what that also means is that God has even given us God-breathed prayers to imitate. The Lord’s prayer would be the most obvious example, but we could also think of the prayers of Moses, Elijah, David, Jesus, the apostle Paul, and so forth. Take note of how the writers of Scripture pray and imitate their cries to the Lord. Also, even where prayers are not explicitly mentioned, let the words of Scripture shape what you ask for and desire most.
4. Schedule Prayer
A relationship takes time, quality time. Schedule prayer into your day, into your family life, into your evening with your spouse, into your care group meetings, and then guard that time. Create environments for prayer with other brothers and sisters, even outside our corporate gatherings. Yes, this takes discipline and hard work, but no more discipline than what we already exercise at meal-times in order to satisfy our stomach with food. Let us also schedule time to satisfy our souls with God less they shrivel up with self-sufficiency and self-rule. Remember as well that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps 127:1).
5. Use Tools to Focus Your Prayers
Use or create tools that will help focus your prayer time. Some people use prepared note-cards with names of people on them along with a relevant Scripture passage to pray. I use the membership roll to pray through each day, not all at once but about 10-15 folks each day. Our family also uses a flip-book on their kitchen table to pray for our overseas missionaries or a lost neighbor as they give thanks for the meal. I’ve seen another family use two jars with pop-sickle sticks that have names of church members on them, and each meal they move a stick from one jar to the other, beseeching the Lord on behalf of that person/family. Just think of it: that’s 1,095 simple opportunities to pray for others each year. Or, others make use of a calendar or reminder feature on their smartphones. There are many other ways to help focus prayers and foster more prayer throughout your day.
6. Pray as Requests Are Given
Also, pray with and for each other as the requests are given. Whenever possible don’t merely say that you’re going to pray for someone when a request is made, but actually pray with and for them on the spot. Often our “prayer-talk” is coupled with a forgetful mind; or it was functionally only another way to express sympathy quite apart from any longing to intercede. That we have confident access to the Father in any context through Christ, we should be driven to pray for one another more often. If you are not in a place to pray for the brother or sister, write down the request and pray later, send them an email or text with a prayer in it that you prayed to God, or call them and pray over the phone. One brother at Redeemer has does this for me every so often, and they are incredibly meaningful and encouraging to my faith.
7. Give Thanks Publicly for Answers
Practice giving thanks publicly for answered prayer requests, even when God answered them in ways far different than you expected. Paul even says this is one of the goals of why we pray for one another, that thanksgiving might abound to God (2 Cor 1:11). Schedule a meeting with your care group and spend the evening rejoicing in the Lord’s answers to prayer and then pray for the Lord to continue his good works.
8. Consult Good Resources on Prayer
Make use of good resources on prayer to stimulate more prayers to God. Some good books on prayer include the collection of Puritan prayers entitled The Valley of Vision, D. A. Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, chapter 2 of John Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad, Paul Miller’s book, The Praying Life, Tim Keller's book Prayer: Experiencing Awe & Intimacy with God, or Charles Spurgeon’s book, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life. Scotty Smith also has an excellent blog called, Heavenward (now hosted by the Gospel Coalition), which he devotes to writing out daily prayers to God.
9. Take Advantage of Corporate Prayer Times
Take advantage of scheduled corporate prayer times such as when we ask the congregation to pray over one another during the service or when we pray together at a Members Meeting. While not everyone can make it, another avenue for corporate prayer occurs on the first Sunday of every month, from 6:00-8:00pm. Ask Wes Duggins for more information and come beseech the Lord together to penetrate the darkness in White Settlement and then learn how you might lead similarly in your immediate neighborhoods.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but I hope they are at least a helpful starting place. May the Lord’s grace be with you all as you enjoy your communion with our heavenly Father. Remember, it’s not a mere discipline to check off, but a relationship to be enjoyed.