Thursday, March 05, 2015

Praying is Easy

It is often said that prayer is just talking to God.  Just talking to God!? As if a conversation with the Creator and Sustainer of the whole entire Universe (or Multiverse!?) could be “just” a chat!  In the Scriptures, intimate conversations between God and a human being usually involve the human being falling on their face and/or breaking into song.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.  In light of the unfathomable realities of prayer, it is no wonder we are often skittish to engage in a dialogue with the Almighty.  (See last week's post: "Praying is Scary")

But the definition of prayer I gave above has some merit to it.  Though prayer is a serious endeavor whose gravity we can never quite appreciate, it is also meant to be a normal, every day activity… and even an every moment activity.  The Scriptures tell us to “pray chronically.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:17) And many Christians throughout history have talked about “praying as you go” and "practicing the presence of God," ways of praying throughout the whole day, moment by moment. 

So, if prayer is meant to be done throughout the day and if we are meant to pray often, then we must not expect every prayer to be an experience of the glory of God on par with the Transfiguration.  Prayer, in this sense, can be very ordinary and easy.  The ineffable God is also the gracious God who loves his creatures and hears their prayers.  Yes, prayer is a profound mystery, but because God is gracious, even a child can pray.  And if it is that easy, then even I can do it… and so can you.

How then shall we pray?  In light of the ordinariness of prayer, I want to offer in this article just a few suggestions for very easy and practical ways to pray.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are some of the easiest ways I’ve discovered.  And I think you’ll find that even though these simple ways to pray are straight-forward, it will take some tenacity to live them out daily.  Any of these can be done alone, or with your spouse, roommates, or family.  I recommend picking one, then doing it for two weeks before moving onto another.

  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer - Don’t you ever wish you could ask God Himself how we're supposed to pray? Well, that’s exactly what Jesus’s disciples did!  The disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11:1 - “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  Jesus answered their question by giving us the prayer known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  You can pray the Lord’s Prayer in two ways:  1) You can pray it word for word.  This is the most common way Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer.  If you do this, you can add your own personal requests before or after you pray the Lord’s Prayer.  2) You can also use the Lord’s Prayer as a template for prayer.  So, for the first line, you would say the prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name…” and then you would add your own personal prayers to this line, prayers consistent with the theme of that line, prayers of worship (e.g., “God, I praise You because You made this world beautiful and because You are the source of all beauty!”) When you get to the line that says “Give us this day our daily bread,” you can then pray for every and any need you may have.  After you go through each line of the prayer, adding your own prayers between each line, you’re done. 

  • Pray the “Jesus Prayer” - The Jesus Prayer is a short prayer that can be said at any time throughout the day to call out for God’s help, to confess sins or to remind us of God’s caring and holy presence throughout the day.  The prayer goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”  This prayer comes from Luke 18:10-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  You can write this pray on a note card, and pull out the card throughout your day and pray this prayer.  Once you’ve got this short prayer memorized, you can say it throughout the day whenever you need to call on God’s help, be reminded of his presence, find yourself battling with sin, etc.  Saying the Jesus Prayer is a great way to start your prayer times throughout the day: you can pray the Jesus Prayer, and then add your own personal prayers after it.

  • Pray the Scripture - This, I think, is something every Christian should learn to do.  To pray the Scripture, we read part of it out loud, then we respond to God’s Word by praying “back” to God, what his Scripture just said.  So, for example, you could read Psalm 13:1 “How long O Lord, will you forget me forever?” And then pray to God: “Lord, there are times I feel like you don’t hear.  Please stay near.  Please help me.” Then you would read the next line of the psalm and continue on.  You could also pray Ephesians 2:1 “For you were dead in your transgression and sins…” And then pray: “God, thank you, that even though I was dead in sin, you’ve made me alive.  Father, I am amazed that you can make dead things live, that you can make life out of nothing!” Praying the Scripture is another way that God teaches us how to pray, and in addition to that, when we pray the Scripture we are learning God’s Word as well! 

  • Pray the Hours - The Book of Psalms describes prayer and praise to God happening at fixed times throughout the day.  Morning, noon, evening, sundown, and even at midnight.  It appears that throughout OT history and throughout the history of the Church, God’s People would set aside set times during their day to stop and pray.  This is called “praying the hours." In the Anglican Church, it is common to do this four times a day: morning, noon, evening, and before going to sleep.  If you’ve never prayed the hours, a great place to start is the prayers for individuals and families on pp. 136-140 of the Book of Common Prayer (1979).  

  • Pray A.C.T.S - A.C.T.S. is an acrostic: each letter stands for something.  A is for adoration: a prayer that praises God for who He is (e.g., “God, you are holy and powerful and loving.”)  C is for confession, a prayer where we confess our sins to God. (e.g., “God, please forgive me for ____.”)  T is for thanksgiving: a prayer where we thank God for what he has done. (e.g., “God, thank you for saving me, for giving me life, for my job, etc.”) S is for supplication, which is a fancy word for ‘asking.’  In these prayers, we ask God for whatever we need.  Praying through the ACTS acrostic is a helpful way to keep our prayer life from being one-dimensional, merely a list of things we want. 

Some resources on prayer for more learning and discovery:

The Book of Common Prayer (1979) - Particularly the prayers for family devotions (pp. 136-140), and the daily office prayers (pp. 75-135). You can access online for free.
The Prayer of Jesus by Hank Hanegraaf - Hanegraaf is a bit snarky, but this book on the Lord’s Prayer offers some great correctives to our culture’s obsession with prayer as a means to get what I want.

Prayer by Richard Foster - While I can’t endorse this book whole-heartedly (Foster’s hyper-individualistic framework makes his view of spiritual disciplines a bit off), he is an expert on many many ways of praying. His book is helpful.

The Valley of Vision - This is collection of Puritan prayers that model the depths that prayers can have. 

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