“Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone. If you have never had any distractions you don’t know how to pray. For the secret of prayer is a hunger for God and for the vision of God, a hunger that lies far deeper than the level of language or affection.” Thomas Merton
Prayer gives us hope. Whereas meditation unfolds the wings contained deep within the heart, prayers unlocks the cocoon to inspire flight. We silently listen and quietly observe through meditation. Prayer helps us find lasting value and soulful embrace
It is our belief that prayer is the manner with which we each speak to God. It is a means to have dialogue with that which we consider having greater power and influence over our lives. While meditation is how we can clear our minds and open our hearts to the inner voice dwelling deep within, prayer holds the participants ability to will his spirit in a way that speaks to the forces of life we call God. It is through the direction of this personal free will that we undertake and make the effort to pray.
Many of those throughout history have undertaken efforts to pray only to be dismayed at the lack of response, affect, or change in life circumstances. They are told that when prayer is left unanswered it is not due to a lack of the confirmation that God or a greater power exists, but that circumstances within the individuals life need to be altered such as sin or karma. Therefore, we propose that response to prayer is not of great importance in the immediate moment of prayer. It is first significant that we find the courage to begin prayer.
We look at prayer as the other half of a coin containing meditation on the flip side. The victory held and contained in prayer as well as meditation can be found in the effort to implement; that is the effort of directing ones free will toward answers to life’s questions outside of the realm of the laws and science of this world. Just as we can not measure the depth of ones love, we can not measure the importance or value of prayer. The farmer does not understand the workings of the seed and its DNA structure. He only relies upon his faith in understanding that through the planting of the seed, he can sustain the physical lives of himself and his loved ones.
“There is a voice that doesn’t use words.” Rumi
It is in the faith the farmer has in a single seed, that we encourage the practice of prayer just as that of meditation. The farmer understands that the seed will not bear fruit in a single day. It is through the continual efforts which the farmer directs in the sustaining of the plant’s growth in which fruit is rewarded. It is with this faith of things unknown that the farmer relies.
We each need to refrain from looking for immediate results or responses to our efforts in prayer. In this attempt for immediate results we are truly deaf to the language of the heart, the dialogue of the soul. We must understand that we cannot only listen with our ears. We need to hear and trust in the silent words of faith. We need to have the faith of the farmer to rely on his daily and consistent efforts. It is through consistency of practice we must rely.
Thus through the continued efforts to express our will through prayer do we find the unfolding of the great majesty of life. There is far more available to us in this world than meets the eye. Take the time to sit quietly and discover the beauty and magic within. To do this, we must first quiet the mind and open the heart. Listen to the voice of the heart. It speaks in a very different language, a language that cannot be heard with the ears, but only with the heart. This is the language of God. God listens to our hearts and that which emanates from it. With an open heart we become like the farmer with his seeds. The mystery of life then travels from our heart and into our prayer. Our prayers then take flight and our journey through life now just begins. We discover that we have never been alone. We discover that we have always been loved. We become aware of the beauty and magic of God and how our spirit has always been one with His Spirit. If we would only be persistent in letting go and finding the trust held in hope. Silently listen and quietly observe the lasting value waiting deep within the wings of the heart. Hope then fulfills its unspoken promise through God’s loving embrace.
“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”
– Max Lucado .
April 27, 2016
How’s your prayer life?
It’s a simple question, but it can be tough to answer. Literally it sounds like, “How has your talking to God been lately?” Emotionally it might feel like, “Sum up your relationship with God at this point in your life.” Bible reading, by comparison, is clearer and more “objective.” How many pages? How far along in your plan? Which books have you been reading? What have you learned? Prayer doesn’t fit into an Excel sheet quite as easily.
God means for your life — married or unmarried, student or employee, young or old — to run on the power of prayer. Prayer fuels the engine of your heart and mind. It’s not coffee, or Chipotle, or social media buzz; it’s prayer. You need God in and through prayer more than you need anything else. We will not do anything of any real and lasting value without God, which means we will not do anything of any real and lasting value without prayer.
And yet you probably feel as insecure about your prayer life as you feel about anything. Prayer might be, at the same time, the most pivotal and most puzzling activity in the Christian life. It is the lifeline and life-mystery for believers. We know we need to pray, but we know we don’t pray enough. And we’re not always sure we’re even doing it right when we do pray. Should I even be asking God for this? Should I still be asking God for this? Do I even know what I need?
Conscious, Personal Communion
The Bible refuses to give us one small, simple picture or pattern for prayer. Jesus never intended for his model prayer (what we call “the Lord’s Prayer”) to be our only guide or counsel for prayer. It is a great place to start, but God’s word gives us so much more material for our prayer lives.
Prayer is objectively real — a real God, real communication, real work, real answers. But it also comes in a million shapes and forms. Prayer happens in seconds — short moments in the cracks of our day — and it can happen for hours at a time, even throughout a whole night.
Prayer is conscious, personal communication with the God of the universe. A better question than “How’s your prayer life?” might be, “Have you been enjoying conscious communication with God — over his word, in your daily needs, throughout your day?” Has your relationship with him been real — not a box to check, not just a hurried place for help, not a vague abstract idea hovering over your head and life? Has your faith been tying you to him in your heart? Have you been leaning on him, and not yourself?
So how is your prayer life? If you (like me) are not happy or content with your answer, here are seven ways to grow in your time alone with our God.
1. Pick a time and place.
You can pray anytime and anywhere. Jesus met a woman beside a well who thought we all had to go to a particular place to pray and worship, as God’s people had prayed in the Old Testament (John 4:20). But Jesus says to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–23). No longer in a place, but in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).
“Prayer is the most important thing you can do for the most important people in your life.”
The freedom to pray anywhere, though, often leads to praying nowhere. We should absolutely pray spontaneously whenever and wherever prayers arise in our hearts — during a break at work, before a test, in line with our groceries. But our lives are fueled by prayer, so we shouldn’t leave it up to spontaneity (we wouldn’t do that with fuel for our cars). Pick a consistent time and place when you can be alone. It might be in the morning at home, or during a long commute, or over your lunch break, or at a convenient time in the evening. The times and places can be different for different people — one of the stunning blessings Jesus bought — but it should still be consistent for you. And Jesus is clear that it should be consistently alone (Matthew 6:6) — not exclusively, but consistently.
2. Listen before you speak.
For some people, setting aside time to be alone with God is intimidating. In fact, for many today, any time alone at all — no friends, no television, no phones — is unnerving. We are speaking to almighty God here. He already knows everything we need and everything we are going to say. So what can we even say?
One important thing to learn early on about prayer is that it truly is a conversation. Just as God really does speak to us in his word, he is also really listening when we pray. It may just feel like journaling out loud at times, but there is always someone on the other side of prayer. Jesus promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). A real Giver, a real Guide, a real Host.
On any given day, God may choose to move or “speak” in some unexpected way through his Spirit — bringing something to our mind, altering some circumstance, saying something through a friend. But God has told us how he speaks, the only truly trustworthy way we hear his voice. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Read something from the Bible (even just a verse) before you pray. Those words from God are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
John Piper writes,
Oh, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible. (“The Morning I Heard the Voice of God”)
When you sit down to pray, let God speak first. Let him have the first word. Put his living and active words into your ears, and let them shape and inspire what you say back to him. If you learn something new about him and his ways, tell him. If the verses raise questions, ask him. Eventually, you can move on to today’s burdens, but begin by worshiping him over and through his word. Enjoy the relationship. With reverence and awe, be a son or a daughter, and listen well.
3. Prioritize the spiritual over the circumstantial.
Often when people ask how they can pray for me, I immediately try to assess if I have any unusual needs right now (like, this minute). If I don’t, I start to think about people close to me that do. “Pray for my co-worker whose dad passed away last week.” Or, “Pray for my grandmother who’s back in the hospital, again.” It’s not wrong by any means (we should be praying for these things, and asking others to pray, too). But if we take that mentality into prayer, we may only ever pray for physical or circumstantial needs. Physical needs are important, but they pale in comparison to our spiritual-emotional and eternal needs.
Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Does that mean we will never have to worry about or spend time on our physical needs — food, work, cancer? Absolutely not. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). It means life is mainly about unseen realities. At the end of each day, what matters most happens at the spiritual and emotional level, not the physical and circumstantial.
That reality should be lived out in our prayer lives. We should spend as much time praying for our souls, for the salvation of our loved ones, for the spread of the gospel, and for the establishment of God’s glory and his kingdom as we pray about anything. Those prayers shouldn’t be tacked on to the end of our “real” needs. They are our deepest and most enduring needs.
4. Don’t be afraid to stop and pray now.
Prayer should be prioritized and scheduled, but the beauty of our newfound freedom and mercy in Christ is that prayer can happen anywhere. It should start alone with God in your prayer closet, but it never needs to stay there. It must not stay there. Bring prayer into the cracks of your day. And I don’t just mean before meals. When you feel the impulse to pray, seize it. Take it as the prompting of the Spirit (Satan certainly won’t encourage you to pray).
“Physical needs are important, but they pale in comparison to our spiritual-emotional and eternal needs.”
A few years ago, I saw a friend in passing. We caught up for a few minutes. At the end, I asked him if he would pray for something I had shared with him, assuming he would just take that request home with him. To my surprise, he responded, “Sure! Can we pray right now?” It felt awkward the first time, but I learned an important lesson. One way to ensure you do pray for someone and their need is to pray right there in the moment. It only takes a minute or two, and more than meeting a need, it draws you both Godward in the middle of a day. It can be a brief and unexpected (and needed) meeting with the Almighty.
5. Identify your prayer circles.
When I say “prayer circles,” I’m not talking about circles of people that pray in a group, but concentric circles of people in your life. When it comes to praying for the needs around you, you will have to prioritize some people over others (at least consistently). Otherwise, you will do nothing but pray.
I pray outward in circles, beginning with my own soul, then for my wife, then for our families, then for our small group and our church, then for our nation, and lastly for the nations, especially the unreached in the world. I don’t hit every ring every time, but the circles lead me as I pray each morning.
The rings should not keep us from praying for the random stranger we met yesterday. They’re just meant to keep the consistent people in our life consistently before us in prayer. If prayer is the most important thing we can do for someone, shouldn’t we structure our schedules to do that for the most important people in our lives?
Try praying through your circles. And be willing to pray for someone or something that doesn’t quite fit.
6. Ask whatever you wish — literally anything.
If we’re honest, many of us lack courage and imagination in our prayer lives. We have a tiny little box of routine things we’re willing to ask God for, and we take on everything else — our questions, our frustrations, our dreams — on our own. We assume God’s not interested in or doesn’t have time for the small details of our day. And we can’t even imagine him conquering global crises like 27 million in slavery and millions more enslaved to sin and headed to hell. And so we settle for middle-of-the-road mediocre requests. We wait to pray about something until it becomes “serious enough” for God to care about, and we don’t pray for something unless we expect him to do something in the next 24 hours. And so we deprive ourselves of his mercy and power in massive areas of our life and world.
“May God give us enough imagination to pray for the salvation of whole people groups and the end of sex-trafficking.”
Do we have enough courage to pray that God would save the 136 million men and women in the Shaikh people group in Bangladesh? 0.00% Christian. Is that too big for God? “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14).
Do we have enough imagination to ask God to end sex-trafficking in India (and in Minneapolis)? We pray to a God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Jesus says, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain” — the sex-trafficking slave trade or an unreached people group of 120 million in Japan — “‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Will we believe Jesus and pray for big things?
Do we have enough faith to think God cares about another Monday morning at work or with the kids? God cares about everything in your heart and life, down to the very smallest things. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything” — your random conversation with that friend, your sleep tonight, this month’s budget — “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Anything and everything, every day. Don’t be afraid to pray big prayers, and small ones.
7. Be willing to ask one more time.
Jesus knew we would lose heart in prayer, specifically that we would pray for things for long enough that we would start to question if God was listening or might ever answer. But he didn’t want us to lose heart or give up. He wanted us to keep asking, keep pleading, keep praying. He tells his disciples a story about a widow seeking justice from a judge, “who neither feared God nor respected man.” She pled and pled with him. Luke writes,
For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:4–8)
“God knows what’s best for you, and he’s listening. Don’t be afraid to pray and ask him, again.”
The widow was rewarded for her persistence by an unrighteous judge. How much more will God listen to his precious sons and daughters who ask and ask and ask? If the unrighteous judge could not ignore her, how much more will our heavenly Father hear us?
Don’t think now about praying for that need or desire for decades. Just focus on today. If God has given you a burden or a desire for another day, and you really believe that burden or desire might be from him, be willing to ask him one more time — one more prayer for relief, for reconciliation, for provision, for a breakthrough, for salvation. He’s still listening. Are we still believing? Jesus says,
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11)
He won’t give you a stone. He won’t give you a serpent. He loves you. He knows what’s best for you. And he’s listening. Don’t be afraid to ask, again.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
— Mother Teresa
“A Call to Mercy” is available in hardback, paperback, and Kindle form through Amazon.
“I saw the children-their eyes shining with hunger-I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. ” As these words make it plain, Mother Teresa’s sensibility to the hungry is evident in the way she was moved by her direct contact with them. She was stirred in the depths of her heart by her encounter with those suffering real physical hunger…..
“We have to do something about it.” She then did anything possible in order to bring food to the hungry. At times she literally ‘moved the world’ to provide food for those who were starving.
Hunger may be something that is remote from our experience or from our immediate surroundings. Maybe we ‘meet’ the poor who suffer hunger only through the disturbing reports about some faraway disaster. However, if we ‘open our eyes to see’, as Mother Teresa challenges us to do, we might encounter many more people suffering from having their basic need for sustenance unmet.
Mother Teresa is known not for setting up great programs that resolve world hunger (worthy and necessary as they are) but for “feeding the hungry”, one by one, one at a time. Yet in doing so she made a great difference first in the lives of these individuals, and ultimately in the world.
There is another type of hunger that Mother Teresa began to speak of, especially after opening her houses in the West. She often repeated that these people are “not only hungry for bread but hungry for love.” Though suffering from this need is not commonly referred to as poverty was “so much more difficult to remove.” Thus it was also this “hunger for love” that she wanted to alleviate. She challenged her sisters, “You are meant to be that love and compassion to the people here.”
Mother Teresa said, “When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied, I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society-that poverty is so hurtful and so much, and I find that very difficult…..”
Finally, Mother Teresa found another type of hunger, in countries both poor and rich, among people of all classes and religious backgrounds. “People are hungry for God”, she used to say. This reality of “spiritual hunger”, which she experienced deeply and encountered wherever she went, she addressed in a simple and timely manner. She wanted to be “God’s love, His compassion, His presence” wherever she went, so that people looking at her might come to know the God whom she wished to reflect.
Excerpt from “A Call to Mercy” by Mother Teresa
It is universally understood that Christians should pray. But what should we say to God? Do we know how to pray? How does God want us to pray?
When we wonder about prayer, it should be reassuring to know that even a disciple of Jesus asked Him for instructions about how to pray.
“Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).
Simply stated, prayer is our means of communicating with God. As with any personal relationship, interaction with God matures as we spend more time with Him.
As the Lord’s disciple indicated, prayer is something that does not come naturally to us—it is something that needs to be taught. The inspired Word of God provides the answers to some frequently asked questions about how to pray.
To whom should we pray?
Elijah and others in the Old Testament prayed to God. The apostle Paul made references to praying to God in both of the epistles he wrote to the Christians living in the pagan city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:13 and 2 Corinthians 13:7).
Jesus taught His disciples to pray to “our Father” (Matthew 6:6). Jesus Himself told the gang that arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane that He could pray to His Father right then and be rescued (Matthew 26:53).
After His resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him because He had not yet ascended to heaven. He told her to tell the others that He was ascending to “My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17).
When should we pray?
There are several references to praying in the middle of the afternoon—“at the ninth hour.” The point is that there is no wrong time for prayer, and that we should make the time regularly. Paul even said to pray “without ceasing”—meaning that prayer should be a regular and consistent part of our daily lives and not something we resort to only at difficult times (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
How long should our prayers be?
When Jesus selected His disciples, He spent the entire night in praying.
“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).
However, that was a special occasion. Jesus selected the 12 apostles and warned them not to pray like the hypocrites, heathen or scribes.
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:5-7).
“Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).
The 18th chapter of 1 Kings relates the confrontation between Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal. After they had prepared their offering, the prophets of Baal prayed to their god all day long, from morning until the time of the evening sacrifice. They shouted and cut themselves trying to obtain an answer from Baal.
Finally Elijah spoke these few words: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (1 Kings 18:36-37). Those words were all that were necessary for God to answer and reveal Himself powerfully to everyone present.
Should our prayers be public or private?
This depends on the circumstance. There are times, of course, when praying in public is appropriate, such as at a church service, wedding or a funeral.
Jesus said we should ask our Father for His Kingdom to come and for His will to be done—which includes praying for the work of His Church to be done. We are also told to ask for our daily needs, for forgiveness and for deliverance from “the evil one” (Satan).In the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, Jesus instructs us to go into a “secret place” when we pray: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6).
What or whom should we pray for?
Jesus said we should ask our Father for His Kingdom to come and for His will to be done—which includes praying for the work of His Church to be done. We are also told to ask for our daily needs, for forgiveness and for deliverance from “the evil one” (Satan) (Matthew 6:9-13).
He also told us to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
In his epistle, James wrote that we should pray for one another (James 5:16). Paul expands that to include praying for all people: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Is there a prescribed posture to assume in prayer?
The Bible gives examples of people praying while standing, kneeling, prostrating themselves on the ground and sitting.
King Solomon stood as he prayed as recorded in 1 Kings 8:22, but he also prayed when he was kneeling before the altar (1 Kings 8:54). Jesus Christ, the prophet Daniel, Stephen the martyr, the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul also knelt while praying (Luke 22:41; Daniel 6:10; Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5). Kneeling is a sign of submission to God, and Romans 14:11 says, “Every knee shall bow to Me.”
Others such as Abram, Moses, Aaron and King David prostrated themselves in prayer, but David also sat as he prayed (2 Samuel 7:18).
The apostle Paul wrote to the young evangelist, Timothy, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). King David exhorted the people to lift up their hands in the sanctuary (Psalm 134:2).
It seems there are various respectful ways to approach God, depending on the circumstances, and you do not have to assume a particular position in order for you to be heard.
From these scriptures, we see that God and Jesus want us to pray, and they have not left us ignorant about how to pray. It doesn’t matter as much when we pray or how long or even the position we’re in as we pray. What God desires is that we approach Him regularly with reverence and with humility.
For more guidance on how to pray, see the articles in this section: “Prayer, Fasting, and Meditation: Relating to God.”