Prayer is a very big topic about which thousands of volumes have been written. Yet, not only is prayer a very large subject, it is also a controversial one in many places, for when it comes to the subject of prayer, we often forget one slippery little detail…
There is no “one size fits all” answer to questions about prayer.
Now, before you feel the need to call me a heretic, consider this fundamental presupposition that you will need to address: God is willing to meet us where ever we are.
That statement doesn’t just refer to geography, it goes much deeper. Each of us has a different personality, different expectation, hot buttons, ways of understanding and comprehending things. We have different life experiences, different fears, different cultural backgrounds and theological backgrounds… and God knows each and every one of us better than we know ourselves. He created each and every one of us after all, including our personalities, hot buttons, emotions and so forth. He wants an intimate relationship with each one of us, and thus, why wouldn’t He know us so intimately: He is all-knowing isn’t He?
Since prayer is all about knowing God, relating to God and communicating with God, doesn’t it stand to reason that each of us would relate to Him slightly differently?
When you stop and think about it, isn’t that why there are many classical spiritual practices and not just one?
I have a dear friend, an absolutely wonderful brother in Christ who almost always begins a prayer by saying something like this: “Our most gracious and merciful Heavenly Father…”. I, on the other hand, just say “Lord…” or “Father…”. Which one of us is right and which one is wrong? In general, my friend is a tad more formal than I am; he is also 10 years older. If you think about it, he came of age when formality in social settings was still more or less the norm, while I came of age right around the time informality was coming into vogue; could that have something to do with it? It’s possible.
When I was a little kid, my parents attended the Episcopal church, and looking back, it was a “high” church, rich in tradition, ritual and ceremony. Each week the same prayers were read from the Book of Common Prayer of 1840; there was no deviation. For me at least, and remember, I was a little kid, God was entirely unapproachable, and a really scary dude, always anxious to smite somebody, little boys most of all! “Better mind your P’s and Q’s young man!”
When I came to discover that God was not only approachable, but that He desired a relationship with us, everything changed for me; terror changed to love, and I was eager to approach the throne of grace.
My friend came from a different church background than I came from; maybe that’s where my friend and I grew to have different approaches; still, neither is “wrong”.
This then, is the first lesson about the spiritual practice of prayer: It is perfectly fine if you approach the subject a little differently than I do, as long as we both approach the subject honestly.
Prayer is really the fundamental spiritual practice of the Christian life, and although we often neglect it, we do so at our loss. There are four main types of prayer found in the Scriptures, prayers of praise, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of intercession for others, and prayers of supplication which are personal requests. What follows here is an easy matrix that can be used to begin a deeper prayer life. It begins with a Scriptural foundation, and then moves onto action steps, and if you put it into practice for a period of time, not only will you have a deeper and more meaningful prayer life, you will also have a documented record of all that God is doing in your life which, in and of itself, makes the effort more than worth it.
Of course, this is not the only way to approach individual prayer, not by a long shot, but it has been used for many centuries by God’s people, it isn’t complicated, and once it becomes a habit, it will easily be the favorite part of your day. It will also send you off to school or work or whatever, with a whole different perspective.
Biblical basis for prayer
The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him. Proverbs 15:8
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.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Intercession (praying for others)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
2 Corinthians 1:10-11
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Supplication (Prayer for yourself; asking for things)
The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Pray in the Morning
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.
- Take a piece of paper and label it “Things I’m thankful for”. Then list everything you can think of that you are thankful for… don’t leave anything out, no matter how small it may seem.
- Take another sheet and label it “Things I want to praise God for” and list everything that you can think of to praise God for.
- On a third sheet label it “People I need to pray for” and list everyone you can think of who needs prayer.
- Label a fourth sheet “Things I need to pray for” and list anything that you need prayer for in your life.
- Select a book of the Bible that you either are currently reading or one that you would like to read. If you can’t think of anything, pick Matthew, starting with chapter one.
- Make time the following morning for prayer, and then pray through your lists in the order from above: Do not deviate from that order, this is important!When you are finished with that, turn to your selected Bible reading and slowly, prayerfully go through it, asking God to open your eyes to see the riches that it has for you.
- Do this every day from now on; force yourself if necessary!
- As your prayers for yourself or others are answered, take them off of those lists and add them to your thanksgiving or praise lists. In a few months, you will have a documented record of the amazing things God is doing in your life, and you will never view life the same again.