Prepared by Rev Philip Gardner
We want to be known as a praying church. A people whose lives are marked by faithful and effective prayer. We believe that our best efforts will fall short unless what we do is prompted through prayer, begins in prayer, is sustained in prayer, and ends in prayer. As the Psalmist proclaimed,
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. (Psalm 127:1)
The problem is that I can’t imagine any Christian disagreeing with these statements. We all believe in prayer. However, many of us know only too well that our prayer lives are less faithful than we would desire. So this little guide is an encouragement to help us grow as a praying people, from one who struggles with these issues.
Pray as you can, not as you can’t.
There is a well known adage “pray as you can, not as you can’t”. It is a helpful reminder when we are feeling guilty because we don’t pray like someone else. We are not necessarily meant to pray like other people. If you find that silent meditation on Scripture leaves you cold, but that singing worship songs leads you deeply into prayer, then go with the one that leads you into the presence of God.
We are not all the same. When it comes to prayer one size does not fit all. God made us with infinite variety and we respond to God with dazzling diversity. Richard Foster’s book Prayer has twenty one chapters each describing a different form of prayer. Some of us will be drawn to forms of prayer that are reflective with significant use of silence. Some of us will have a heartfelt passionate prayer life, others one that is intellectually rich. Some of us will find stillness conducive to prayer, others will find movement and dance essential to their prayers. Our role is not to judge others’ prayer lives but to experiment and search so that we know what helps us pray.
I was helped by Peter Wagner’s observations on people whose ministry was in personal intercession. That is, their prayers were focussed on praying for other people. He noted that some people have prayer lists, lists of people that they faithfully bring before God. Other intercessors will have only one or two people they pray for, but they will prayer in depth over long periods of time for these people. Then there were those who would pray for someone when they felt prompted by the Spirit, they might wrestle mightily in prayer for a limited time, but once that sense of call to prayer was ended there was not an ongoing intercession for the other person. Wagner believed that all were faithful and essential to the ministry of the church. I was able to recognise people who prayed for me in each group as well as recognising my own preferred model.
We’ve all got to start somewhere…
John Ortberg has made the observation that we overestimate what we can achieve by trying and underestimate what we can achieve by training. (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted chapter 3) Even the fittest person shouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without some training. Without training we might start well but find ourselves eventually running out of puff. With training however we might build ourselves up to run longer and longer distances. Effort and enthusiasm can only carry us so far.
It is the same in our prayer lives. We might decide to pray an hour a day, but without having prepared ourselves over a longer period of time this could end up feeling like we were running a spiritual marathon on effort alone.
Seek a regular cycle of prayer in your day. Pray at the time of day that best suits your body clock and other commitments. Remember to use a variety of types of prayer – adoration and praise, confession and lament, intercession and petition, thanksgiving and blessing.
Feel free to use the prayers of others.
There is sometimes a prejudice among Christians that only spontaneous heartfelt prayers matter to God. Moreover, if people read prayers, whether it is their own or someone else’s, this proves that the person is spiritually deficient. This can be an unhealthy prejudice. The Bible is full of prayers that we can study and use to our advantage. The Psalms is one long prayer book. And they have formed the cornerstone of many Jewish and Christian prayer lives down through the ages. Jesus encouraged us to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Paul has some great prayers in his letters that we can use as a guide for our own prayers. And of course there are two millennia of Christian tradition to draw from also – prayers and hymns and songs that might deepen our prayers and praise. Even if it is just a springboard for your own prayers, don’t hesitate to use the prayers of others.
Plan with larger time-frames.
We often start a new discipline with great enthusiasm. However, it is easy for that enthusiasm to wane when we enter a difficult or busy time in our lives. We might find it difficult to have a sustained time of prayer every day. I have been helped by those who suggest that it helps to use larger time frames than simply a day to plan your prayer life. You might look at a week, even a month to think about your prayer times. You might have a short daily time, or times. Then once a week schedule a longer, more spacious time for prayer and study. You might even consider participating in a retreat or quiet day to deepen your relationship with God.
There is a lot more we could say about prayer. Just as we haven’t touched on other disciplines. For now, remember that prayer is primarily about relationship – our relationship with God. And like any relationship it takes times to build and deepen. Good relationships enrich our lives. Our relationship with God enriches our lives immeasurably. We invite you to think afresh about building that relationship – for your own sake and for the sake of the world.
- What was the main point that spoke to you in this article?
- Discuss the statement, ‘many of us know only too well that our prayer lives are less faithful than we would desire.
- Without inducing guilt, how can we encourage each other to be more faithful in prayer?
- Have you found an approach to prayer that works for you? Share with each other.
- What might be Phase 1 of our ‘training programme’? Be specific.
- Are there any aspects of prayer that we continually overlook? (e.g. praise, confession, thanksgiving)
- Is there anything for the Action Page that can be implemented straight away?
- For personal reflection: How might we individually work with ‘larger time frames’ to allow for a greater breadth and depth of prayer?