Here are some practices that might help you with your prayers. Many of concepts I'm using come from two books - Prayer - Does It Make a Difference by Philip Yancey and a classic - Prayer by George Buttrick
But first a disclaimer:
These are just some ways that others and myself have found to helpful in prayer. There is no tried and true formula that if followed to the letter will guarantee your prayers will be answered -
THE SUGGESTION THAT IF YOU -
• Pray in this posture -
• Use these words -
• Have this proper amount of faith
AND IT WILL BE DONE AS YOU ASK
- IS NOT CHRISTIAN PRAYER - it is magic and superstition -
Next week I'm going to talk more about the difference between prayer and magical thinking - but for now - I want to be very clear that the ideas and practices I share are just tools to help you in your prayers and not methods to guarantee your prayer requests will be answered as you like -
EXPERIMENTS IN PRAYER:
The first has to do with time and place of prayer
You can pray anywhere and anytime - and daily life should be punctuated with brief prayers to God - sort of an on going dialogue but there also is a place for structured prayer.
I think most folks have tendency to find one or the other easier or more fitting for them -
Some folks have a continual prayer dialogue with God through out the day - God, help me - God be with that person - thanks God for opening my mind and heart to that other way of thinking … But they have a hard time remembering to kneel by their bed at night or in the morning.
Others may have no problem stopping at certain times during the day for prayer. They start the day kneeling by their bedside or in the kitchen with coffee and talk with God and read a few scriptures. Pause at lunch break and then before bed. But in-between those times - they just live life and trust in the Lord - and don't talk with God much until the next appointed time.
Neither is right or wrong - I think we need both. It is like in a marriage. Many times during the day you may say - I love you. - There might be many hugs or kisses on the cheek - or glances across the room - phone calls - and that is good and necessary
But then there are other times - private times alone when you share your love together in more intimate and passionate ways - You set dates to have a special dinner together - even though you could be close and eat dinner as you do every night - you set special dates to just be with each other -
Both connections are needed in a healthy marriage and both types of connections are needed with God
My struggle is not with the on-going prayer dialogue - my struggle is with the special scheduled times of prayer -
Here are some things that have helped -
Find places and times when you are already alone and quiet and take advantage of those times to pray -
So mine are in the shower and driving to work - those are prayer times that work - Yours may be different - Could a coffee break during the day - could be a time at night when you finally get the kids to bed and your spouse falls asleep on the couch as usual - but try to notice those times and use them.
Make times and make a place
You might actually schedule a time in your calendar or set an alarm on your cell phone or PDA and have a quiet place in mind like a garden or study. We think of Islam as having certain times of prayer - but Morning Prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer have long been part of the Christian tradition.
What do I pray about? How do I keep focused in prayer?
I was at a conference on prayer at MPPC and John Ortberg shared about how his mind wanders from thing to thing when praying and how that would drive him crazy - O Lord I praise you for - and he would think of a problem at home - or an issue a staff member had - of something he was supposed to do that day - and the thought came to him that maybe those things weren't really distractions - maybe those were the very things he needed to be praying about -
• Praying out loud can help - softly - be careful here
• Writing prayers
• Reading prayers of others - psalms and collections - I found one at a bargain book store - called "A Time to Pray" that has 365 different prayers from scripture, early church, Celts, mystics, reformers, hymn writers, modern authors - great help in learning to pray.
• Use the Lord Prayer as an outline for prayer (I will post an example of this later)
Here is an example of a prayer that has helped me by John Baillie CH (1886-1960) was a Scottish theologian who wrote A Diary of Private Prayer (1936)
Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin:
Let me use disappointment as material for patience
Let me use success as material for thankfulness
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance
Let me use danger as material for courage
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering
Let me use praise as material for humility
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance
Let me use pain as material for endurance -
Consider your posture in prayer
There is no proper posture in prayer - but I do think there should be a congruency in our verbal language and our body language and I would encourage experiments in posture and prayer - the Bible has people sitting, standing, bowing, raising hands, dancing, spinning, lying down - all sorts of postures in prayer - try raising your hands or opening your hands in a symbol of receiving or letting go - try kneeling as a posture of submission or reverence - lay prostrate on the floor as a sign of helplessness before God - It won't guarantee that your prayers are any holier or greater, but it might help you prayer more with your whole being and not just your head - or intellect.
Think through what you are really trying to accomplish in prayer - are you really seeking God's will and involvement or are you trying to use prayer as a way of manipulating God and others?
David Mains gives a checklist of good questions to make sure or prayers or on target:
1. What do I really want? Am I being specific, or just rambling in my prayers?
2. Can God grant this request? Or is it against God's nature to do so?
3. Have I done my part? Or am I praying to lose when I haven't dieted or pass a test when I haven't studied?
4. How is my relationship with God? Are we on speaking terms?
5. Who will get the credit if my prayers are answered? Do I have God's best interest in mind?
6. Do I really want this prayer answered? What would happen if I actually got that job? Or if I actually did get that boyfriend or girlfriend back?
One last thing that can help with prayer - talk to others about your prayer life - what has been helpful - share about times when you feel you have connected with God and about times you have not - and there will be a strengthening and as you encourage others you will be encouraged -