I’ve been asked recently to talk about the way I approach prayer. Not the philosophy or theology behind it, but just the mechanics. How do you pray?
It was a surprisingly refreshing and yet difficult question to try to answer. My main concern being, I’d hate for someone to take what I do and make a formula out of it.
For example, a famous Christian author firmly believes that one must be on their knees in prayer as a sign of reverence and humility. My friend who had tried this position lamented at how distracting it was – she kept smelling the carpet which made her wonder which kid spilled what beverage and how to get it cleaned.
Others sit quietly in silence for a period of time to settle their minds, others confess sins to cleanse their conscious, others pray quietly in ‘tongues’ to lift them up into a place where they feel they hear from God and sense his will.
Entering into prayer is as varied as our denominations and all are valid in my opinion – as long as we don’t prescribe what works for us personally to the rest of humanity, demanding our way is the best way.
That said, Jesus did prescribe at least one thing when entering into prayer – always approach God with the expectation of a child approaching a loving Father, acknowledging he isn’t at all like your earthly Dad – in that he’s Holy and perfect in how he parents us.
But, for those who are curious of what a typical prayer meeting looks, here’s some of the steps we usually take:
1.) We embrace silence. We are coming out of a instant, push button, hand-held, information all-the-time, entertain-me, kind of world and in the practical sense – we just need to settle the heck down and take a time out.
2.) We acknowledge, thank, and praise all persons of the Trinity. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers and to help us to pray when we don’t have words or wisdom on how to pray and to also bring to our minds things that He wants us to pray for.
3.) We then, depending on how the Holy Spirit is leading, try to cover some things while we pray, things like interceding for our church, city, leaders, friends, family, neighbors, schools etc…,
4.) After interceding, we then take up our prayer request list and lay those requests before him. Holy Spirit also often comes and guides us here too.
Ideally, I’d love to end prayer with a time of just listening and waiting. I feel like some of the sweetest times of prayer comes at the end. I read a beautiful quote on the idea of waiting on God during a time of prayer by Laura Harris Smith,
“I am reminded of mother’s milk and of how doctors say the longer an infant nurses, the sweeter the milk becomes. They call it hind milk, and it is the richest and best. Most of us settle for the foremilk – if we come to feed at all.”
For those of us who are venturing into intentional times of prayer for the first time or trying to get back into it but find the idea exhausting, pointless, hopeless, difficult, or hard to manage, I hope this brings a you a little good news; it’s okay to just come to God and sit and drink in who he is.
Though it may take 45 minutes to get to that sweet place of intimacy, most likely it’s not because he’s making you wait to teach you patience, it’s mostly because it just takes us that long to get there!
For us to become a fountain of living water for God to refresh the world through, we need to acknowledge our thirst and drink from that fountain ourselves. I would encourage those of you trying to get back into a place of prayer to toss the ‘prayer list’ for now and come to prayer with only one agenda – to seek his presence. If no words come – it’s okay. If many words come, it’s okay. Be open, honest and humble – nothing surprises him and he, believe it or not, is blessed by your effort to seek him, as feeble as that effort may seem to you, it pleases him.
I remember one particular time when I was praying for a family member, I had to admit to God that I didn’t want to pray for them, “God, I have no faith that you can save this person. It’s gone. Too many dissapointments. I don’t even know how to pray. Forgive my unbelief, but please help me pray.” A few minutes later, things I had never even thought of to ask for this person came pouring out of me and my faith as feeble as it was for this person was strengthened afterwards. It’s still not where it should be, but it’s getting better. So, just be honest with him! He’ll meet you where you are.
After a time we’ll find, as we get filled up, ‘prayer lists’ and intercession for others becomes much easier and even a joy as we begin to see and participate in the will of God as he guides and answers those prayers. But first things first, drink.
Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” John 7:37-38