How to Deepen Your Prayer Life Part One

I think most people long to have a deeper, richer experience with God in prayer but we don’t really know how to get there. Simply making more time for prayer often leaves us more frustrated as our mind wanders and we struggle to know what to pray about. I have found in my own life a God-given tool that can help us grow in our experience of prayer. It’s simple enough for a child to use and yet deep enough for a mature Christ follower to benefit from.

In Luke 11, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, His response was to teach them a simple and yet specific pattern for prayer. This prayer tool is often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. Now the mistake many people make is to think that the Lord’s prayer is only a prayer to recite verbatim—as often occurs in church services. While reciting the prayer can be helpful, what radically impacted my prayer life a few years ago was when I began using the Lord’s prayer as a guide for my praying.

In this prayer, there are 6 areas of focus, each of which functions as a spiritual “mile marker”, letting us know where on the “prayer track” we find ourselves. This is not intended to be a legalistic list of topics that must be prayed for, but rather can serve as a guideline to help us develop a healthy and balanced prayer life. For many of us, our prayer life consists of us asking God for things. It’s certainly appropriate to ask God for things in prayer but if that is all our prayer life consists of, we are missing out on a fuller experience with Him. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are given 6 areas of focus—the first three focusing on God, the last three focusing on our need. This pattern can help us avoid getting into a prayer rut that is singularly focused.

Here are the 6 areas of prayer, plus one bonus area:

The Lord's Prayer

When I have a prayer time with the Lord, I frequently use this pattern to guide my praying. So in this and the next few blog posts, I’d like to unpack further what this looks like practically speaking. Let’s look at the first two in the rest of this post.

Presence: “Our Father in heaven”

When I begin my prayer times, I like to spend a few minutes reflecting on and enjoying the Lord’s presence—the reality of Him being my Heavenly Father. I often begin this section by praying something like this: “Father, you are my abba, my daddy. I love you and I rest in Your love for me. Thank you that Your love for me is not dependent upon my performance, my ability, my worthiness but rather is solely based upon Your Son Jesus.” It is wonderful to just sit in that reality for a few moments, not saying anything. Just enjoy this incredible relationship that is yours in Christ.

In this section, I also will often acknowledge, not only His love for me but also His Lordship. He is “in heaven” which speaks of His position as King and Lord of the universe. I may pray something like, “Father, thank you too for your power and your majesty. You are Lord of all. You are in control. I rest in Your power and presence today.”

Praise: “Hallowed be Your Name.”

I then transition to this second section, in which I focus on Jesus. To hallow His name means to honor it as holy. His name represents the fullness of who He is as Savior and Lord. So in this section, I spend a few moments expressing praise to Jesus for who He is. I might pray something like, “Jesus, hallowed by Your name. I praise You for your mercy, your power, your holiness, your life poured out on the cross. Thank you for forgiving me and saving me.”

Next post we will look at Purpose and Provision.

Lonely Places

In my devotional time with the Lord I have been slowly reading through certain sections of the book of Luke. I totally love this book. I love Luke’s emphasis on the Spirit and prayer, and also on issues of justice and the poor. A few days ago a particular verse caught my attention and I spent some time hanging out there. The verse before it sets the context: “Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.” Luke 5:15

Jesus was busy. News about Him was spreading. More and more people in need were coming to hear Him speak and to be healed. He was doing the very thing He had been called to do—proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of God. Things were happening.

Immediately after this description, Luke adds the following critical piece of information: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16  There are three words in particular that have stood out to me as I have been thinking about this passage.

“Often”—Jesus often withdrew. This wasn’t a one-time thing that only occurred in the midst of crisis—when things are going poorly. Jesus often prayed to His Father. Here we see this prayer time mentioned in a season when things were going well. But Jesus knew that His relationship with the Father was the most important thing in His life and His ministry so He made it a regular priority.

How about you and me? Do we “often” get alone with our Father to pray or is our prayer life directly connected with difficulty—when things are bad, we pray. Otherwise, we just keep busy? In other words, is our prayer life relationally driven—we pray because of our relationship with the Father—or is it crisis driven?

“Withdrew”—Jesus often withdrew. He got away from the crowds, away from the busyness, away from the need. He withdrew so that He could be completely focused on and attentive to His Father. No agenda other than relationship with His Heavenly Dad.

How about you and me? Does our prayer life involve an intentionally withdrawing? What I find is that for a lot of people, much of our prayer life occurs while we are doing something else—while we are exercising, while we are driving from here to there, while we are waiting to pick up our child from school. Now I love the fact that prayer can happen anywhere—after all, we are encouraged to pray without ceasing. But if our prayer life never involves an intentional withdrawing to be alone with Jesus, we are potentially missing the heart of prayer: Intimacy with God.

How intimate can I be with my wife if we are both focused on doing other things while we are with each other? Not going to work. Deep relationship require focused attention, a withdrawing for the purpose of engagement. Prayer is no different.

“Lonely Places”—Jesus often withdrew to lonely places. Sometimes prayer can be a lonely experience, because in prayer all the scaffolding of our life is stripped away. Our addiction to productivity, looking good, achieving etc. is suddenly exposed. This time alone with God can feel so wasteful and unproductive. In addition, the quietness can be unnerving because we are not used to that. The absence of productivity and noise can be very unsettling for our soul—a bit lonely even.

But that of course is the power of prayer. It can be a much needed reminder of what it is that truly matters in life, what truly has weight and substance. It is not the rat race of things we spend our lives pursuing so earnestly. Rather it is in relationship with the God of glory. The word glory literally means “weight, substance”. He is the One who truly matters. In the midst of the busyness and noisiness of our lives, we need that reminder.

No wonder Jesus often withdrew to a lonely place and prayed. What would this look like in your life and mine?