By now, we should have the motivation to pray and no doubt have assembled a good list of people to pray for. But how should we go about praying for all these needs? On the face of it, this may seem a straightforward proposition, but in my experience, engaging in prayer often challenges both our ability to concentrate and to find the right words.
When we pray, It is helpful to find a suitable location, preferably where we can get away from other pressures. Jesus’ approach was to draw away to somewhere remote after a busy day of ministry:
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.Luke 6.12
Also, it should be a private matter – not an activity to be seen and admired by other people:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.Matt. 6. 5-6
We can be confident in our approach to prayer – through Jesus we always have access to our Father, God:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings…Heb. 10. 19-22
We can also be confident in speaking to God in colloquial language – relating to God by calling him “Abba, Father”. It is not the eloquence of our prayers that matter:
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.Matt. 6. 7
In naming our requests, we are encouraged by Jesus in the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18, not to give up but to be expectant of an answer, if we ask in faith.
There are many helpful resources to which we can turn to help us to pray. We can refer to the Green Prayer Book, and we can easily find suitable prayers for almost every occasion from other books. However, ultimately it our own heartfelt prayer that will be effective, better expressed in ordinary language rather than using eloquent words from another source.
In some circumstances, it will be helpful to pray with others – informally or by seeking out prayer partners. We are promised that praying together will be effective:
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.Matt. 18. 19,20
One helpful tool is the setting up a “Prayer Diary” where we can record our prayer requests and the answers to prayer. We can send out “arrow prayers” where we make immediate responses to needs – and can share these requests through a Prayer Chain of other committed church members. We can use other resources: a globe for world vision, the prayer request sheets from mission societies, the Diocesan prayer diary – the list is potentially a long one, and we will need to prioritise those areas that God has identified as a personal priority. Finally, we can use photographs of our own friends and family to remind us of their specific needs. We may even need to take up Paul’s suggestion to the church in Thessalonica: “pray continually…” (1 Thess. 5. 17).
We are not alone in struggling with our prayer life. The disciples also realised that they needed to be taught how to pray:
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: …”Luke 11. 1,2
Over the next two weeks, our reflections will consider how Jesus responded to this request by giving them the prayer we know today as the “Lord’s Prayer”.