Welcome to Linger Longer, our mini-course on the spiritual disciplines. We've spent the past few weeks talking about establishing a quiet time routine that works for you and learning to read, study and meditate on God's word. If you're new to the series, you might want to visit those posts first.
The framework that we're using for our conversation is drawn from David Mathis' book, Habits of Grace, which I highly recommend. This week, we'll be talking about the second category of spiritual disciplines: Having God's Ear through Prayer.
Before we get started, I want to remind you that all of these are habits that we intentionally develop over time. None of it happens overnight. All of it takes practice. When you're just getting started, pick one habit to establish and build on it from there. Give yourself grace. Don't expect perfection. Aim for growth and a deeper relationship with the Lord. That's where the good stuff happens.
Matthew 6:9–13 “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (ESV)
Put simply, prayer is our response to the God who has spoken to us. It's a conversation between us and the Lord, but we aren't the ones who initiate it. He is. God has spoken to us throughout time and history: through the words of scripture and also through the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ his Son. In prayer, we respond.
It's kind of hard to believe that God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, would deign to communicate with us. Yet, he has. And in prayer, he bends down low and listens close to hear what you have to say in return. Yes, he's the high king of heaven, but he's also a loving father who has adopted you and called you by name. He knows you, loves you, and cares about the details of your life. He wants to hear from you.
Ultimately, we pray not to get something from God or to beg him for answers we want, but to enjoy the privilege of his presence. Prayer is about drawing near to the Lord and spending time with him. Not because we have to, but because we want to.
In Habits of Grace, Mathis says that we learn to pray by praying. Like everything else we've talked about in this series, if you don't know where to start, it's OK. Just start somewhere.
For most of us, the problem doesn't lie in motivation or desire. We know we should pray, and we want to pray, but when it comes right down to it, we don't know what to say. Maybe it feels awkward. Or a little unnatural. Or like you're talking to the wall. If that sounds familiar, well, keep reading sister friend. You're not alone.
Start with God's Word. I've found that when you don't know where to start, having a simple plan in mind can help immensely. If prayer is a response to God, then it makes sense to begin with your Bible.
First, spend some time listening to God speak and meditating on the Word, then respond in prayer. Let your meditation lead you into the presence of the Lord, where you respond naturally to the truth he has revealed to you through scripture.
Move into ACTS. After reading, meditating, and responding to the Word, try using the loose structure of the ACTS method to guide you through the rest of your prayer time. I first heard this described as a high school student learning the basics of faithfulness, and it's still a method I use today.
The Bible tells us that Jesus frequently retreated to quiet places to pray. I daresay he had more people clamoring for his attention and a few more responsibilities than you or me, yet he still made time to escape for a bit of dedicated quiet time alone with the Father.
This is probably the kind of prayer that you’re most familiar with. They’re the prayers that you whisper in the secret, quiet moments of your life when no one else is looking. These prayers are just between you and God.
I don't know what this looks like in your life, but in mine, it's most often carried out after I finish my daily Bible reading. Sometimes I journal my prayers like a written letter to the Lord. Other times, I simply bow my head and talk quietly with God. I try not to put any rigid parameters around the time but instead let it flow naturally from where my heart leads each day.
Because no one else can see your private prayer life, it’s a true test of your devotion, and just like reading the Bible, it’s an essential part of growing faith. God uses our private prayers to heal the broken places inside us and transform us into his likeness.
If you don’t feel like praying, start by asking God to give you a desire to pray. Ask him to help you realize your need for him. If you don’t know what to say, then write out your prayers like a letter. Pour out your heart to the Lord. Tell him about your day. Share the things that gave you joy or brought you pain. Talk to him. He wants to know.
Prayer begins in secret, but that’s not where it ends. In addition to a dedicated time of private prayer each day, we should also turn to the Lord throughout the day. Prayer should be the background music of your life. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” Quick little prayers, a flicker of your mind’s attention and heart’s devotion, should pepper your day.
When a friend requests prayer, stop what you're doing and pray right then. When you're facing a difficult situation, pray through the options. When a troubling headline crosses your newsfeed, ask the Lord to intervene.
Pray while you dry your hair and put on your makeup. Pray while you wash dishes. Pray while you drive. Pray while you work. Pray while you're sitting through another practice. Pray while you're running errands. Pray while you fold clothes. Pray when an “enemy” crosses your path. Just pray, pray, pray.
When practiced like this, constant prayer is a reminder and acknowledgment of our dependence on God. Like the old hymn says, we truly do need him every hour of every day. This type of prayer recognizes that need and gives it over to the Lord.
We should pray in private. We should pray constantly. And we should also pray together. There’s nothing more powerful than a group of believers kneeling together before the Lord. It can be awkward and intimidating to pray in a group, but it's truly one of the most rewarding things we can do together.
We pray for one another and with one another because it binds us together, helps us draw nearer to the Lord, and teaches us how to pray more powerfully and effectively.
There's no way that we could exhaust this subject, y'all, but I hope that this brief overview has been helpful for you. Whether you're a seasoned prayer warrior or a brand new believer, it's good to be reminded of the basics every now and then.
What's your best prayer tip? Share it in the comments below so we can learn from each other, and be sure to check back next week for the final installment of our Linger Longer series.
Until next time, grace and peace.
January 8 // Linger Longer: One Day at a Time
January 15 // Linger Longer: Hear God's Voice (Word)
January 22 // Linger Longer: Have God's Ear (Prayer)
January 29 // Linger Longer: Belong to God's Body (Fellowship)
Believing that God's love is better than life is the kind of thing that's easy when life goes sideways, because there really are situations when life on earth is so bad that to die and be with Jesus would be a mercy. But what about when the opposite is true? When everything is going great? When life is just as you imagined and all your wildest dreams are coming true? Is God's love better even still?