How to Deepen Your Prayer Life (Part Two)

Last post, I began a discussion about how we can deepen our prayer life by using the model prayer Jesus has given us. In the Lord’s Prayer, there are 6 topics Jesus addresses as shown on the following diagram:

 

The Lord's Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you who feel this is too regimented, I totally understand. What I have found is that it gives some structure to my prayer life so that I am praying for the things that are on God’s heart–and yet it is also very much about relationship. It is certainly not a legalistic form letter to use when we pray. In fact, notice the center of the hexagon–“Prompting”. In each of the prayer areas, I encourage us to take time to listen to the Spirit’s leading as we are broadly focused on that particular area.

Last time, we talked about how we can begin with “Presence” and then “Praise”. The third section Jesus mentions is  “Purpose”–Your kingdom come, Your will be done.

The focus here is on praying for God’s kingdom to advance. The kingdom of God is the reign or rule of God. As you listen to the Lord, think of areas, situations, or people in which you would love to see the kingdom of God advance. Ask for His kingdom to come in that area. For instance, right now on my heart is a marriage that is struggling. I’m also thinking about my friends in the Middle East who are ministering in a very difficult circumstance. So I might spend some time praying for these situations, that God’s rule and influence would come into these situations. I usually pray for my family, for our church and church staff as well as any other issues or people God lays on my heart.

The fourth area Jesus mentions is “Provision–Give us this day our daily bread.”

In this section, we are focused on our own needs. Notice the significant transition that has taken place. The first three areas of the Lord’s prayer are focused on God–His presence, praise and purpose…which is a powerful reminder that our prayer life is to be about more than simply listing our needs. By beginning the way Jesus does, we are reminder that ultimately prayer is about us fitting into God’s agenda rather than trying to get Him to fit into ours. But once our hearts are tuned into Him, we can then focus on our own needs. Are there burdens you are carrying–worries about finances, strained relationships, physical difficulties? Then ask God to provide in those situations–healing, wisdom, grace. He is our loving Father and He cares about the things are on our hearts–even little things. Come to your Father and open your heart to Him.

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.

The Government Shutdown: A Forgotten Response

It seems that everyone is frustrated about the recent government shutdown. We the people wonder why our leaders can’t seem to work together. And our leaders seem to be focused on blaming the other side for the mess. As I write this, there is not even a glimmer of hope on the horizon that an agreement can be reached.

So how are Christ followers to respond to this? Some of us prefer to ignore the discussion entirely, choosing a silent cynicism. Others choose to read the political editorials and watch the various pundits on television, which only increase our blood pressure.  We feel a growing anger.

But there is another response—one that I’m guessing most of us who are Christ followers have not embraced. Paul writes of this response in I Timothy 2:1 “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases our God and Savior.”

This is no trivial or flippant thing. Paul is urging us to do this—to earnestly pray for our leaders, interceding on their behalf, praying for God to intervene. He tells us that this is good and is pleasing to God, and also that it results in blessing to us in terms of our being able to live peacefully and to live godly lives in our country.

So why don’t we do this? Here are a few hunches: One, I’m not sure we believe that prayer would make any difference on something of such a grand scale. This is a faith issue, isn’t it? Do we really believe that the God who spoke creation into being, the God who sent Jesus to reconcile the world to Himself and to each other, the God who calmed the sea…. is able to do this? If we did believe prayer would make a dfference, we would do it.

A second hunch I have regarding why we often don’t apply Paul’s command is this: We are often so caught up in the polarizing dialog of politics and are not wanting the other side to “win”. We don’t want THEIR agenda furthered—but Paul doesn’t give us any out on this one. He urges us to pray for our leaders….not just the ones we like. I find it interesting that when George Bush was President I regularly received emails urging Christians to pray for him. I have yet to receive any email urging the same for President Obama. Again God doesn’t command us to have selective praying for our leaders, depending on their political party, etc.

 So how might we pray for our leaders in the midst of this shutdown? Here are a few ideas:

             1. Pray for wisdom—that God would give wisdom to them to find ways to move forward.

            2. Pray for humility—that they would have the humility to stop blaming each other and instead to explore ways to compromise. Pray that they might have the humility to initiate these dialogs rather than waiting for the other side.

            3. Pray for reconciliation and dialog to occur—that they would choose face to face dialog rather than throwing stones at each other via speeches.

 So how about we spend some time praying about these things this next week and see what happens?

Does God Just Listen?

god_listening
I was listening to an audio book recently. The book was actually about “listening”—why listening is so important in all of life and how we can improve our listening. The topic is of interest to me because I feel like listening is something I could really grow in.

At one point, the author was talking about how often when we listen effectively, people who may have come to us with a “problem” end up solving the problem themselves, simply because our listening enables them to process better. And then she said something like this: “It’s sort of like prayer. Most people don’t experience God doing anything in response to our prayers, but when we do pray, it often helps us feel better. We are able to process more effectively.”

Now I realize she wasn’t intending to make a theological statement, but she did—one that I found particularly disturbing. Is prayer simply a means of processing our own stuff—in other words, does it not matter whether or not God is paying attention on the other side?

How radically differently prayer is portrayed in Scripture. Jesus tells us “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

Jesus is challenging those who “use” prayer in a way in which God is not necessary—whether He is there or not doesn’t matter. They get their own reward. But He points out that they are missing something huge, something that is at the heart of authentic prayer: an intimate relationship with God. In that day, it would have been scandalous for Jesus to refer to God as “Father”. No rabbi would have done that. It would have been perceived as being irreverent.

But Jesus wanted us to know the essence of prayer—being alone with your Heavenly Father. This Heavenly Father is not a spiritual statue, who is there for the purpose of allowing us to process things more deeply. Rather He is a God who desires to be intimately involved in our heart and life. He hears us when we pray. He responds to our prayers. And He speaks to us. What an incredible relational experience He invites us into—and it begins by us simply getting alone with him, closing the door and praying to our Father who is unseen.