By Ted Schroder,
What would it be like to hear Jesus praying? What would it do to your own prayer life? That is what happened to the disciples. They asked Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1) The Lord’s Prayer is not only a prayer to pray but also a pattern prayer. We can break its phrases down and let them lead us in prayer. What would I hear if I listened to you praying? A distinguished member of my congregation in San Antonio came in to ask me to hear his prayers to make sure they were appropriate. It was a humbling experience. Let me share with you some ideas on how to develop a balanced and healthy prayer life.
First of all find a time when you can be quiet and alone with God. Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 6:6) This can be in the morning, or lunchtime, or in the evening before you go to bed. There is no better way to begin the day than with God.
Read a portion of Scripture. Reflect upon God’s Word and ask what he is saying to you in it. What lesson does he have for you? What promise can you claim? What encouragement does it contain? St. Paul writes, “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another — showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
Use an outline of prayer, such as the acronym ACTS.
A stands for adoration. Begin by becoming aware of the presence of God. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps.46)
Spend time praising God for his character and his works. Use a psalm, or a hymn. Time spent in such worship draws us to appreciate God’s love and goodness, fosters such qualities in us, and is a corrective to self-centeredness. Adoration nurtures reverence and humility in our souls.
C stands for confession. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”(Ps.139:23,24).
What patterns of behavior do you observe about yourself? Do you have the need to control your own life, and be independent of others? Are you guilty of being obsessive-compulsive? What is your addiction? Where do you get your value? Perhaps you are the product of emotional absence in your family of origin, and suffer from love deficits which make it difficult for you to affirm others, and be warm and loving in relationships. Know yourself so that you can work with Christ to develop into his image.
Admit your weaknesses, and sins of commission and omission: the things that you have done that you ought not to have done, and the things you have not done that you ought to have done.
It is valuable sometimes to examine your life by Paul’s Hymn of Love (1 Corinthians 13): “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12) Come to the Cross in repentance, and seek the cleansing of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ for your sins. Ask that the Holy Spirit would fill you so that you may produce in your life the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
T stands for thanksgiving. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”(James 1:17)
Review all of God’s blessings in your life and be grateful. We will never appreciate all that we enjoy unless we recall them to mind. Gratitude puts all our needs into perspective. We take so many things for granted in our lives for which we never give thanks. The ability to live and love, to walk and talk, to see and be seen, are gifts of God. Even when we are impaired or handicapped in any way we have so much for which to be thankful.
S stands for supplication. “Be alert and always keep on praying for all believers.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Pray for yourself, and your needs. Pray for your day, and any future plans. Remember your family and friends, and others who have asked for your prayers. Pray for our nation, for the work of your church, your Pastor, and other missionary work. Pray for your fellow-members in the Body of Christ. I have always been impressed by the words of Samuel to the people of Israel: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” (1 Sam.12:23) Intercessory prayer is a ministry in itself. “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” (Colossians 1:9) Intercession is a test of our unselfishness in prayer. You don’t have to know someone personally to pray for them. In God’s kingdom prayer affects the lives of others.
What should we pray for others? Paul writes, “Asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:10-12)
As Jesus prayed for the disciples that they would be protected from the evil one, so we can pray for others: “Holy Father protect them by the power of your name.” (John 17:11, 15) As I pray for others I ask God to put it in their hearts to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and that they may be guided in his Way.
Praying in these ways for others is a form of loving your neighbor as yourself. It is a means of proclaiming the Gospel. It is a form of serving. Make time in your prayers, for intercession. By so doing you will forward the work of the Gospel in the world, you will strengthen the community of the Chapel, and you will be effective in God’s service.
Sometimes it is a help to use books of prayers, the prayers of others, or hymns and songs. There are many books on the practice of prayer. I have a whole library of them. Some people find it helpful to write out their prayers each day. It serves to keep their minds from wandering and focuses them. Use the method that suits your personality and need. Remember,“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) What is your prayer life like? What would it be like to hear you pray? Resolve to develop a healthy prayer life?
The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Island Plantation Church on Amelia Island, Florida