Honest Talk about Honest Prayer
- Thursday, February 05, 2009
Here are some practices that may help develop that attitude: My last thought before I sleep and my first thought when I wake up is centered on God. When I get mad or stressed, I try to see things from God’s perspective. When I am waiting for someone, I use that time to pray. I do menial tasks with an awareness and love of God. I often have a praise song on my mind as I go through the day.
Breath prayers are another practice that can help. These are super-short prayers that we can utter with one breath at any time all through the day. The first one we know of, that has been used for centuries, is the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Most pastors may rather spontaneously say their own breath prayers, such as, “I praise you, Lord.” “Fill me with your Spirit.” “I receive your peace.” The possibilities are endless.
You talk about "prayer of agreement." Can you explain that and why it's an important element of powerful prayer? How valuable are Pastors' Prayer Groups for this?
We’re all familiar with Matthew 18:19–20: “If two of you on earth agree about anything…” That’s a major part of agreement in prayer, but there’s more. I encourage people’s agreement in prayer to start before they even pray. We first need to be in agreement with God’s Word. I always try to pray in accordance with a promise or exhortation or example in Scripture—rather than just give my own agenda to God and hope he blesses it.
Second, pray in agreement with the Holy Spirit. However the Spirit communicates with us (everyone is different), we may feel led to focus or stretch our faith on what God intends, and that may mean letting other prayer requests go. When our prayer is led by the Spirit, we have far better results than when we’re in the driver’s seat.
Third, we agree with others in that fascinating, inscrutable pattern in Scripture where people joining together exponentially increases answers to prayer. When we do this, it’s important to establish exactly what we’re agreeing on. In a hospital, for example, do I as a pastor agree with Mrs. Smith that God will guide the doctor, or that she will have a miraculously fast and complete recovery, or that God will miraculously heal her so that surgery is unnecessary? The amazing thing to me is that God tends to answer prayers at the level where people put their faith.
Pastors’ Prayer groups are great for this. I started and lead one myself. We’ve got a bunch of guys who commit to two things: leave doctrinal differences at the door and relate to each other in humility. It’s wonderful. With great diversity, we combine our knowledge of the Bible with openness to the Spirit and to one another’s wisdom born out of experience. I wish every pastor were in such a group.
You're a proponent for creating a place of prayer and establishing a time of prayer. Why are these important elements for prayer?
These two disciplines are the most important external helps for maintaining a strong prayer life. Without them, our good intentions eventually drown under the assaults of busyness and distractions.
A place of prayer helps us concentrate in the face of distractions. That place could be the church sanctuary, an empty room in the house, a spot in the back yard, or even a rug laid out on the floor, on which the only thing we do is pray. The physical surroundings of a location devoted to prayer tell our brains, “Focus on God.” And if we ever feel bored or in a rut of over-familiarity with a place, a change of location can be stimulating.
Establishing a set prayer time ingrains a habit of prayer into our minds, such that if we miss it, we feel anxious because something is missing or wrong—and it is! A set prayer time is not to force ourselves to pray as much as to create a boundary of protection from busyness. That boundary of time is like a protective fence around a garden, where we give ourselves freedom from intrusions to spend unhindered time with God. Preferably we’ll do this as early as possible in the morning, so we can lay the whole day before the Lord. And unlike a prayer place, I have never found benefit in changing my prayer time, so I highly recommend keeping it sacred, especially if we’re traveling or really busy. Whether short or long, this protective fence of a set time must be intentional, because no one else can do it for us.
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