Tag Archives: how to pray

Practical suggestions to help you pray

5 Jun

Image result for prayerThis winter/spring I read an amazing book on prayer I wish I had come across years ago.  It is called Prayer: Conversing with God by a missionary named Rosalind Rinker.  She first published it in 1959, but it is so relevant.  Could have been written yesterday.  Easily one of the best books on prayer I’ve ever read.

She talks about her early experiences on a missionary team, when they had staff prayer meetings:

“We were all together on our knees in the same room, each with love for the other, and each with a common purpose. But I began to realize we were each making a little speech to the Lord when our turn came. I know we were supposed to pray silently with the one who was praying audibly, but when we all covered the same ground — well, I found that I was trying to think how I could start my prayer with more “colorful” words. How I could put more “action” into my prayer, how I could make it sound more “spiritual,” and how I could take hold of the promises with more faith than the others. I wanted to word it differently from the persons who had prayed before me, and make it sound more important and interesting.”

That spoke to me.  I’ve had the same thoughts many times.  As if the prayer time was a showcase of spirituality.  Who could get the most “Amens” or “Yes, Lords”?  I’m guilty of those thoughts each month when I attend my local ministerium prayer meeting or my denominational district pastors’ prayer lunch.  There are buzzwords you can pray and you know you will get a reaction!  Start talking about revival in your prayer, that’s guaranteed to get you some “Amens!”.  But is that how we should pray?

Rinker goes on to say:

“I used to choose a chair near the bookcases, so that when things got dull, I could quietly glance through the shelves and make a mental note, and often a penciled note, of the books I wanted to read.  Then there were the times I actually pulled out a book, and using my jacket around my shoulders as a shield, leafed through some of the books during the prayer meeting.  Sometimes I just plain fell asleep on my knees during those long sessions of prayer. After my turn was over, it wasn’t too hard to do.”

Yup.  Been there too.  When prayer becomes performance, who cares if we pay attention.  But is that how we should pray?

Rinker says that her relationship with God, and thus her practice of prayer, was revolutionized when she discovered that God desires us to talk with him as a friend.  If you read through Exodus, you see the example of Moses and God and how they talked.  It is amazing.  Real friendship.  Real conversation. And in fact in Exodus 33:11, we read “God talked with Moses face to face, as a man talks with his friend.”  You read through the Psalms, and you see David is like that too.  You watch the example of Jesus, and it is the same.  Real conversation in prayer.  Real emotion.  Truth.  Honesty. That’s how we should talk with God.

But what about rote prayers?  If we are supposed to talk with God as a friend, does that mean it is wrong to read or repeat prayers?   Hear me clearly: recited prayers, memorized or read, are not wrong.  In fact, I think they can be very helpful, and we probably need to use them a lot more than we do.

A resource like the Book of Common Prayer is excellent, and I would suggest you all use it, as least from time to time.  There are also numerous BCP apps for your smart phone.  You might look into other prayer books too, and there are many biblical prayers that are fantastic.  There is nothing wrong, for example, with saying the Lord’s Prayer every day, every worship service, as long as your heart is in it!

Along with that kind of written prayer, I believe that conversational, unprepared, ad lib prayer is also very important.   This is where Rosalind Rinker’s book is so helpful.  She has loads of excellent practical suggestions for how to have great conversations with God.

From time to time I hear the argument that says “Well, isn’t prayer unnecessary, because God already knows our thoughts and our needs and everything about us?”  God does know all that.  But that’s pretty one-sided isn’t it?  A real relationship involves equal give and take, both friends communicating as much as possible. How do you think God would feel if we never or rarely make an effort to talk with him?

Therefore, God desires us to be persistent and consistent in prayer.

David says in Psalm 5 that he prays in the morning and watches for God to answer.  I encourage you to read that this week.

Then there is the parable Jesus told in Luke 18 about the widow.  Another one to read this week.  Parables can sometimes be hard to understand, but Luke tells us exactly what Jesus was trying to accomplish in that parable. In Luke 18:1 he writes “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

You know what that means?  Prayer takes energy, investment, and commitment.  When I took prayer class in college, I heard a phrase that shocked me “prayer is hard work.”

It seems wrong to say “prayer is hard work”.  But anytime you do anything consistently and persistently, it can feel like hard work.  So let’s not fool ourselves by saying that prayer is supposed to be simple or carefree or effortless.  A healthy practice of prayer, like any healthy relationship will take work.

Here’s the beautiful thing, though.  Hard work can become heavenly.  How many of you have had the experience of learning to love and enjoy hard work?  Whether it is straight up physical labor, exercising, practicing a sport or maybe a musical instrument, you can grow to enjoy it.  Say you are on a sports team.  After you practice and practice, and after you put in the hard work, how many have found it to become delightful?

Jesus’ disciples once asked him “Teach us pray.”  Great question. That’s what this sermon is all about.  We want to learn How to Pray.  So, what should you actually do?  What will this hard work of prayer look like?  And will you work at it, practice it, till it becomes delightful to be in such regular, wonderful conversation with God?

Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Plan to pray.  Carve out time.  It could mean cutting out something to make room for prayer.  I recently read an article where a guy made a commitment to wake up at 5am every day for a year.   Not necessarily to pray.  But it changed his life.  Would you wake up early to make time for prayer?  That might work for you.  Or would you cut out time on Facebook in order to have time to pray? In Matthew 6, right before he teaches the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus suggests that when we prayer, we get alone, be in secret, talk with God.  When I was a student at LBC, I used the private music listening booths in the library.
  2. Write down prayer requests.  Keep a journal.  I found a great free prayer app this week.  Prayer Mate.  It is available for both iPhones and Androids.
  3. Pray God’s word.  Write down this reference.  I preached it on Easter.  Ephesians 1:17-19.  Then the most famous prayer of all is the Lord’s Prayer.  Matthew 6:9-13.  Memorize it.  Use it both as a word-for-word prayer, but also as a model for prayer.  Take note of the elements that Jesus includes in the Lord’s Prayer.  Praise, Confessing sins, Requests, Thanksgiving.  Then go to the Psalms.  We need a steady diet of the Psalms.
  4. Just start talking.  Know that God loves you, that he is your friend.  And just start talking to him.  Tell him everything.  Have a conversation with him exactly like you do with your friends.  In a group setting, can I challenge you to take a risky step and pray out loud.  Even if it is just one sentence.

Learning to how to pray is not going to happen by reading a blog post or book about prayer.  If you want to learn how to pray, it all boils down to just starting.  Make a practical goal for yourself this week.

My personal goal is prayer walks through the church.  I need to get started.  When I walk through the various rooms and hallways of the church building, it reminds me to pray for various ministries, groups and people in our church family.  In the lobby, I see our Summer Lunch Club volunteer sign-up table.  That reminds me to pray for all the volunteers and participants in a wonderful outreach the helps families in need.  Down the hall, I walk past the nursery and I think about all the families in our congregation raising young children.  I pray for them during what is an emotionally and physically exhausting period of life.  Around the corner, I see the offices of The Door Christian Fellowship, an amazing congregation that rents space from Faith Church.  We’ve deeply appreciated our partnership with The Door, and I pray that God blesses them.  And on and on the prayer goes.

How about you?  What will you to work on prayer?

Here’s my one big action step I’d like you to consider.  Get a trainer.  Be a trainer.  Yup, just as you would get a trainer for your physical health, get a spiritual trainer to learn how to pray.  Jesus once said, “Where 2 or 3 are together, there am I with them.”  When you get together with people to pray, he is there.  What an outstanding promise!  So who will train you to pray?  Or, who will you train?

Then add Rosalind Rinker’s book to this.  Each of you get the book, and read one chapter per week.  Get together for an hour per week, and take 30 minutes to review the chapter, then take 30 minutes to pray.

Get started.  With expectancy.

With any habit, it can take a while for it to feel more comfortable. But that is the nature of anything you want to grow in.  Practice.  Practice. Practice.

You can see such a difference in people that practice.  Whether it is a musical instrument or athletics.  There is such a connection to the spiritual life.  We are not just spirits.  We are bodies too, so how we use our bodies affects our spirit.  That’s why we need to practice spiritually.

Remember God’s grace.  You don’t have to pray perfectly.  God doesn’t care about that.  Just start talking with him. Share your thoughts with him, and do it consistently.  It might feel awkward, but push through.  That’s what practice is like.  And watch your conversations with God grow and flourish.

Do you want to learn how to pray?

2 Jun

Image result for i don't know how to pray

Do you know how to pray?

Before we talk about that important question, let me back up a bit.  It took me a while to find this image. To be honest, it almost always takes longer than I want to find the right image for my posts, or for the PowerPoint slides I make to illustrate my sermons.  I use Google Image Search, and often the results returned are not quite what I’m looking for.  So I have to refine the search multiple times and scroll through row after row of images.  Sometimes the images help me think about my blog posts or sermons in a new way, and I decide to change the sermon.  But more often, I tire of not finding the right image.

This time, though, I had one phrase I was looking for: “I don’t know how to pray.”  I have heard people express that sentiment or something like it many times over the years.  That’s why my sermon this coming Sunday is called “How to Pray”.

All I wanted was one picture that said “I don’t know how to pray” or “How do I pray?”  As you can see the one I found is close.  Close enough for me.  I was surprised because I thought “How to Pray” would be a popular topic, and thus result in loads of images to choose from.

What was interesting, though, was that another result filled the page with images.  That other result was the question “What to Pray?”  It seems that people are talking about “What to Pray” rather than “How to Pray.”  Or at least people are posting more images about “What to Pray” than they are posting images about “How to Pray.”  The exception is that there were a few images referring to how to pray in specific circumstances.  I would suggest that “How to Pray (in a specific situation)” is just a variation of “What to Pray”.  So I didn’t want to use a picture that described, for example, “How to pray for your kids”.

I also didn’t want an image that referred to “What to Pray”; I wanted one about “How to Pray.”  If you learn how to pray, it will be much, much easier to determine what to pray.  Furthermore, I suspect that people, based on the input I have received from our Faith Church family, want to learn how to pray.

This morning I was talking with someone who mentioned prayer times before extended family meals. One older member of the family always does the praying.  They are not rote prayers.  But this person seems to be able to speak with eloquence in his prayers.  So that person always prays.

Is that the answer to “How to pray?”  Eloquence?  Do you have to be a good public speaker in order to pray?

Or what about those rote prayers?  I mentioned rote prayers above because that is another way people answer “How to pray?”  A rote prayer is a memorized prayer that is recited.  For example, The Lord’s Prayer which starts “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”  There are mealtime prayers, bedtime prayers, and so on.  Among the various religious traditions there are loads of rote prayers. Are rote prayers the answer to “How to pray?”  I would say “Yes.”  But only partially.  I love The Book of Common Prayer, as it helps us pray in many situations.  You can read and inhabit one of its meaningful prayers for a host of common life situations.  I believe we that we would do well to memorize and recite, or at least read, these pre-written prayers often.  But I also believe there is more to prayer.  Much more.

How about you?  Do you feel you have a good handle on prayer?  Are you wondering “How to Pray”?

At Faith Church on Sunday we begin a summer teaching series called Spiritual Exercises, and if you don’t have a church family, we invite you to join us at 9:00am.  For the next few months we’re going to be talking about the following habits/disciplines/exercises which are vital for helping us live eternal life now.  How to:  pray, read the Bible, fast (deny yourself), talk about God, worship, be humble, depend on God, serve, give, make disciples, have solitude, love God with your mind.

We start off tomorrow trying to answer the question: How to pray?

Why an increasing practice of prayer is so important – Luke 18:1-17

29 Feb

If we never or rarely pray, what are we saying?

Maybe that we are Christian atheists, unbelieving, like I mentioned last week? It is not enough to believe intellectually that Jesus is God and that he died on the cross and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins, we also show that our faith is real by the choices and actions of our lives. Persistent prayer is an action that shows our faith is real!

I see this as referring to both personal prayer and corporate prayer. Each one of us should spend time in prayer, just as Jesus did, so often alone. And we should gather together as a church to pray, as the apostles did when the church was just beginning. In Acts 2:42-47, we read that the church was committed to prayer.

What does it take to sustain consistent prayer? Yesterday at Faith Church we heard Jesus tell a story about how we should pray and not give up.  What will it take to grow our practice of prayer, both the focused times of prayer, as well as a conversation with God all day, as well as a commitment to corporate prayer?

Time of crisis can drive us to prayer. Remember the days after 9/11? Churches were full. Government officials prayed in public on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC.

Another more personal example of how times of crisis can lead to prayer might resonate with you because it is about dating.  Remember that anxious excitement you felt when you were getting close to a potential date?  You’re hanging out a lot, really enjoying one another, and you’re thinking this might become a serious relationship!  One couple from Faith Church told the story of their first moments of dating.  They were getting close, but they wanted to be sure they were right for each other.  So they had a couple days of nervous prayer when they asked God, was this right?

It might be a huge need in your life, it might be something small. But what happens when the crisis passes, when the need is met? So often our practice of prayer fizzles away.

How can we sustain a vibrant, consistent prayer life?

What could it look like to have a vibrant, consistent prayer life?

We need, first of all, to believe that it is important, that it is valuable. We do what we believe is valuable.  Have you heard of the Tyranny of the Urgent? It is the principle of life that the Urgent crowds out Important. We can evaluate our lives and see how much time we give to social media, to TV, but we say we don’t have time for prayer.  What is really important?  For me it took a course in college on prayer tot opened my eyes to the importance of prayer.

Second, remove busyness. There are moments, and maybe your life feels like this, when you are on the go sunup to sundown. When you are young, though you feel busy, don’t allow yourself to believe that you don’t have time. “Remember your creator in the days of your youth,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes.

Third, don’t give up. Like the persistent widow, we do what we value. We might say that we believe in prayer, that we value it, but so often our belief is just intellectual. If we say we value prayer, but rarely pray, what do we really believe about prayer? Our actions speak louder than words.

Fourth, remove hindrances to prayer. Ask people in your life to help you see those hindrances. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you those hindrances. Are you prideful? Do you need to increase your faith? Do you have broken relationships?

How do we measure success in ministry?

This is really personal for me, thinking about the power of prayer. Prayer is saying to God, “Work in your power through these situations.” He alone has the power, the true power. As Christians if we say we believe that God alone is powerful, and not we ourselves, but we do not pray, we are like Christian atheists. How do we show that we Christians believe that God exists and that he alone has the power?

As Jesus taught in John 15, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”

I need to apply this to my pastoral ministry, to the church.  But it can be applied to your work, to your family, to any way you serve the Lord.  For me I have to ask, should I just do the tasks of ministry:  sermon prep, email, phone calls?  I have to ask, where is the power in ministry?  The power of ministry is remaining in Jesus. A significant way to remain in him is a persistent, consistent practice of prayer.  As I think about how Faith Church pays me to be pastor, based on what Jesus says, the church’s money is best spent if I am spending ample time praying.

This reminds me of something the Apostles said in Acts 6.  The events of Acts 6 take place when the church was in its infancy, likely within the first few months or years after Jesus had returned to heaven.  The church had grown significantly, possibly into the tens of thousands in number.  At one point, we learn in Acts 6, that the Apostles faced a logistical crisis in their church’s ministry of providing food for widows in need.  Rather than spend time on that problem, they selected quality leaders to make sure people were being treated fairly.  You know what the Apostles’ reasoning was delegating this ministry and not handling it themselves?  They said they needed to focus on the ministry of word and prayer.   But I have to admit to you that I have been weak in prayer. I want to make a change and prayer more. One idea I had was to try to take prayer walks around the building of Faith Church, praying for the various people and ministries of the church.

I would also encourage you to think about how you can increase your practice of prayer.  What can you do to pray and not give up?  If you are part of Faith Church, and even if you’re not (!), I would like you to consider if you could make time in your schedule to join us for Wednesday evening prayer.  I continue to believe that it is vitally important for churches to have a regular time for their entire congregation to gather for prayer.  Have you heard the story of the Brooklyn Tabernacle?  I encourage you to read all about it Pastor Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.   Brooklyn Tabernacle was weeks away from shutting its doors early in Jim’s tenure as pastor.  During a vacation he sought the Lord in prayer, and felt God wanted him to continue, but that prayer had to be central.  Here’s what he told his congregation upon returning from that trip:

From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. What happens on Wednesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us. – Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Prayer is the engine of the church. Let us measure our church not on Sunday morning attendance, but on how much we are praying!  Brooklyn Tabernacle regularly sees 75% of its Sunday morning crowd attend prayer meeting.  Does your church have a prayer meeting?  Have you considered it to be antiquated?  Perhaps you will reconsider!

What do you need to do to increase your practice of prayer?  Do you need to spend more time praying?  Less time doing other things?  More time trying to have an ongoing conversation with God?  Let’s avoid Christian atheism by being persistent and consistent in prayer.

When the world throws crazy at you, put on headphones – Luke 6:12-16

15 Apr
Today we welcome Phil Bartelt as guest blogger!  Phil is a pastor in the EC Church, who, along with his family, are part of the family of Faith Church.  After taking a couple weeks to fast-forward in Luke to the stories of Holy Week, Phil resumed our teaching series through Luke.  You can listen to his sermon on Luke 6:12-16 on our church website.  With this post Phil reflects on the sermon and Jesus’ practice of prayer.

In the recent film The Internship one of my favorite actors plays the role of a computer expert working at Google. He’s a rather quirky character, and the biggest of his quirks is that he always wears headphones. headphonesEarly in the film when others try to speak to him he doesn’t answer so they assume he can’t hear them. Later when another character encounters a crisis he’s startled when the computer expert hears him voicing his problem out loud and responds. As the film winds to a close we learn that the computer expert isn’t listening to music or anything else in his headphones. He is simply not comfortable around other people and uses the headphones as a barrier between him and others.

On Sunday we looked at several passages in Luke that demonstrated to us that Jesus lived a life of prayer. The challenge for us as disciples is to figure out how we can follow his example and incorporate prayer into our daily rhythms. We talked about creating or finding a place for prayer, what it looks like to make space (time) for prayer, and how in doing so we are giving a gift to ourselves. We also looked at some different ways to approach prayer like art, journaling, or nature. In the end we saw that the most important thing was for us to find a rhythm of prayer that helped us hone in on God’s perspective as we live in a world that often throws tons of crazy at us.

Shortly after I watched the film, I read an article that stated people were very unlikely to bother you if you were wearing a pair of headphones. So maybe in our era of busy, putting in some ear buds or wearing a pair of headphones might be all it takes for us to carve out a few minutes of separate time with God. Over the next week give that or one of the other options we talked about a try. Or take some time to discuss different prayer options with a friend. No matter what you choose, you can be sure that finding a place and space for prayer in your life will certainly bear fruit.