7-Day Practical Faith Blog: The Discipline of Prayer
Mark 14: 36; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-17; Philippians 4: 6-7
Each Friday during Lent, I'll write about a different spiritual discipline and how can we apply it in our 7-day practical faith. Today I'm starting with Prayer. Others in the series: Study, Meditation, Worship, Fellowship, Fasting, and Simplicity. A key point I want to make about all spiritual disciplines is that they are not rules, but tools. Disciplines are tools meant to deepen our faith. They are not rules that come crashing down on us if we fail to do them or do them "wrong."
Throughout this series, I encourage you to use the comments section to ask questions or supplement what I've written.
Prayer is a wonderful yet challenging discipline to start with, because it's hard to be succinct. There is so much to say, yet let me boil it down to its most crucial elements.
First, why do we pray? One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, in his book "Prayer: Does It Make a Difference?" says, we pray because Jesus did.
Jesus had lived in heaven and on earth. He knew that prayer was a way to bring God and us human beings together. So, whenever something important happened in Jesus’ life, you’d find him at prayer.
Yet Jesus didn't only pray in big moments, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Bible describes 25 different times that Jesus prayed, including in mundane situations. In fact, He taught us the Lord's Prayer, a daily prayer to recite.
Speaking of Gethsemane, my favorite prayer by Jesus is Mark 14: 36, as Jesus prayed in agony before his arrest and crucifixion:
"Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Jesus did not treat His Father like a genie or an accomplice. He treats God the Father with respect and sincerity. His simple prayer has three components that can be a model for our prayerful requests to God:
You are majestic and can do anything you choose.
Here is what I want.
But I desire your will to be done, whatever it may be.
I find the biggest concern people have about prayer is whether they are doing it right, either fearing that they'll offend God, or concerned that they don't pray frequently enough, or wondering how they can change God's mind. Yancey has a great line: "If you're praying, you're doing it right." Just pray! Just talk to God. You'll be doing it right.
Still, since people seek both certainty and a regimen, here are a few suggestions (not rules) for the habit of prayer:
Pray at a specific time and in a specific environment. On most days, my wife Sara and I pray after breakfast but before our daily activities. We lift up our concerns and requests and praise, then finish with the Lord's Prayer.
Pray without ceasing. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-17 to "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Pray throughout the day; be in regular communication with God.
Pray to recap the day. This habit can be useful to wind down before bed. In my latest book and video series, "Live Like You're Loved," I tell the story of a man who used a brief ritual to pray before leaving work as a way to leave the day behind and express gratitude that he had lived it.
Pray with a structure. Although free form prayer is fine, some people prefer a model. Here are two:
ACTS - Adoration, followed by Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (putting your requests last).
View from Above - A Yancey suggestion of imagining a mountain stream widening as it flows downhill. It starts by proclaiming God's majesty on the mountaintop, turns next to our own needs, and then broadens to include neighbors and the needs of the community, nation and world.
What should we experience during and after prayer? Paul gives us this amazing statement in Philippians 4: 6-7:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul tells us that when we pray gratefully, we may or may not receive what we asked for, but we'll always receive something better. The peace of God Himself, a peace that goes beyond comprehension or circumstance, will be with us throughout our trials and fears and happy moments and everything else that constitutes life.
To end this Prayer blog, I suggest that you actually pray, using some of the thoughts I've shared. At the end of it all, what prayer changes most is YOU.
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