Growing up in church, I did a lot of praying.
I learned to bow my head, close my eyes, and say all the right words. I could pray quietly and reverently or passionately and intensely. We prayed before meals. We prayed at bed time. We prayed at church. We even attended prayer meetings–gatherings for the specific purpose of prayer. If there was one thing I knew how to do, it was pray.
But too often, prayer often fell somewhere in the “if I can get to it” category of my to-do list. After all, if I didn’t get around to praying today, there was always Sunday. Then my world was shaken.
Suddenly, my only moments of refuge from the storm were my moments in prayer. Connecting with God on a daily basis became my top priority. It’s funny how a crisis will quickly put things into perspective. I no longer worried about when I’d get the laundry folded or if my floors were swept. I wasn’t concerned about the format or volume of my prayers, or even the words I used. In fact, many times my prayers were reduced to the emotional ramblings of a crumpled mess.
Jesus–who was somewhat of an authority on the subject–had a lot to say about prayer.
When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5,6)
Jesus isn’t saying we should never pray in public. He’s saying prayer should be, first and foremost, a personal, private priority. Yes, we should pray with others and for others (see James 5), but if that is the extent of our prayer lives, we will not see much in the way of spiritual growth. We’ll be reduced to emergency- or obligation-only prayers.
Think of your closest human friendship. It’s probably the result of many private, intimate conversations. Imagine the relationship you’d have with your spouse if your only conversations were in front of others! Just as our human relationships grow through personal conversations, we must be intentional about having consistent, private conversations with God in prayer.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7, 8)
If God knows what you need before you ask, why pray? Here’s a hint: It’s all about relationship. God wants to have a relationship with us. Prayer isn’t about checking the box on a spiritual to-do list or bringing a laundry list of needs to God. Prayer is the point of connection with God through which our relationship with Him grows.
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, (Matthew 6:10-13
What to Pray?
While there’s no “magic formula” to prayer, Jesus–in His infinite wisdom–gave us a guide. Personally, I think He knew I would need a little help! Having a plan, or a guideline, helps me to be intentional about prayer. I don’t follow a model every time I pray, but for those times when I need a little nudge, it’s a great way to give my prayer time some focus. What better guideline than the way Jesus himself taught us to pray?
Our Father…hallowed be your name: Begin by praising God for Who He is and what He’s done
Your kingdom come…will be done: Remind yourself that God is Sovereign…over your life and your circumstances.
Give us this day: Lay out what you need from God…in your life and the lives of others
Forgive us our debts: Ask God to search your heart and reveal areas you need to change/grow (this is also where you can ask God to help you forgive those who have wronged you)
Deliver us from evil: Pray for protection over your family and loved ones.
It’s ironic that something as simple as prayer–having a conversation with God–can be quite difficult to accomplish. It’s too easy to allow the urgent tasks of my day (children, cooking, laundry, etc.) to crowd out the important things (Bible reading and prayer). That’s why I’m determined to #BeIntentional about prayer in the new year!
My biggest concern for this generation is the inability to focus, especially in prayer ~Francis Chan.
More Great Reads to Help you #BeIntentional in Prayer: (Follow the #BeIntentional Pinterest board for these and other resources.)
The Power and Privilege of God’s Children
When Prayer Comes Out of the Closet
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson
The Prayer that Changes Everything by Stormie Omartian
Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer by Max Lucado?
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller
Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.