How do you pray? It’s assumed that pastors are supposed to have some expertise with this topic. A couple of weeks ago, I was putting together a meditation for a prayer service. During my personal devotions, I read through 1 Chronicles 23 and these words stuck out to me:
1 Chronicles 23:30-31: “They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening and whenever burnt offerings were presented to the LORD on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals. They were to serve before the LORD regularly in the proper number and in the way prescribed for them.”
What struck me about this text in 1 Chronicles isn’t that God prohibited prayer at any other time of the day, but David, through God’s leading, set up at least two times a day for the Levites—the temple assistants—to set aside time to pray. I thought, “There is my text.”
As I sat down to write the meditation, I thought it would be helpful if I gathered some best practices for prayer for people to use as a resource. What does the Bible say about prayer? I looked at a variety of texts from scripture. I read through the Lord’s Prayer found in the Gospels. I did a word search on prayer with my Bible software.Is there a preferable posture when we pray—kneeling, standing, flat on the floor? Hands folded, hands lifted up? Eyes closed or open?
What kind of language are we supposed to use—formal and reverent with language out of the King James Version of the Bible, or should we speak with God like we are talking with the friend?
What are we supposed to pray about?
Is there an order—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication?
I thought I could introduce people to the classic style of prayer, the collect, represented best by Thomas Cranmer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Some argue that we should pray extemporaneously—“as the Spirit leads”—because it is “more from the heart.”
Can’t the Holy Spirit guide us if we write out our prayers? Is one more heartfelt than the other?
I looked at different examples of prayer from Scripture as well as the different traditions of prayer that have been recorded throughout time and in the tradition of the church. I looked at the creeds and confessions of the church—the Heidelberg Catechism and other documents to see what a Reformed perspective is on prayer.
I opened some books and did a search on the internet with illustrations about prayer, thinking maybe I could find a good story that would reinforce the importance and efficacy of prayer. I was sifting through all the information, trying to decide upon an angle or direction, looking for some kind of hook that would catch us all and inspire us all to prayer.
I had all this information laid out before me when I realized, probably much quicker for you than for me, that I had forgotten one thing. I was prepared to speak about prayer, willing to share all I had learned about prayer, but I hadn’t prayed.
The point is, do we pray, or do we just talk about praying a lot? Prayer isn’t easy. It’s work. It can be easy to forget. Sometimes it’s hard to focus and our minds wander. Truly, prayer is a discipline.
Set aside time for prayer, but don’t be afraid to also pray for and with others. What if in our conversations about a concern, instead of saying to someone, “I’ll be praying for you,” as a social cue that our conversation is finished, we would instead say, “May I pray with you right now?” and then do it. What if in a Facebook post when someone shares a concern, instead of replying with the phrase, “Will be praying,” write out a brief prayer, or better yet, give them a call?
Prayer is something that should be as natural as breathing for us, but spiritually we spend a lot of time holding our breath.
Take time to pray, because God calls us to pray. Because we can. Because it’s effective. Because it’s part of our thankful worship to God. There are many helpful things to learn about prayer and many people who can teach us much about prayer, but for now, before you click on the next link or move to the next email, pray with me:
God, our Creator, Savior, and Comforter, who made us, saved us, and dwells with us, we praise you today for the gift of prayer. By your grace, help us in the morning, evening, and any time in between to thank and praise you. Remind us to pray. Give us a simple faith that inspires and spurs us to prayer, so that we can learn more, follow better, and grow deeper in our relationship with you. We pray this now, without delay, so that we are encouraged for today, confident for tomorrow, and assured from now through eternity that you are and will always be with us, for our comfort and your glory. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the Son. Amen.