22 July 2009

Becoming an efficient prayer

This was inspired by Stuff Christians Like.

Over the past several weeks, I have considered how to make my prayer life more efficient. You see, I am pretty good about getting up and reading my Bible and other edifying Christian books. My prayer life, however, I feel leaves something to be desired.

So, I set my brain to work on solving the problem of becoming a better pray-er (I don't really know how to spell it when I need to say "one who prays"--is it "prayer" or "pray-er").

Here are some tried and true techniques:
Popcorn prayers (or shout outs to God)-The theory behind this is that whenever something comes to mind, you toss it up to God--perhaps in a sentence or so. This can happen anytime throughout your day. For example, you are walking down the street and find your eyes wandering and give a shout out, "God, I just looked at a woman lustfully. Forgive me." Once done, you move on--simple as that. We even make use of group "popcorn prayer" at church. The leader will say something to the effect of, "let's pray together. We'll do popcorn prayers."
Member 1: "God, be with our church. Guide the leadership."
Member 2: "Remember our country, God. Guide the leadership."
Member 3: "Help me to be a good husband, Father. Guide my leadership."
Member 4: "Lord, I really want a new I-phone, but only if it is in Your will."

Lord's Prayer Pray-er: We all know that Jesus taught us to pray (Luke 11:2-4), "Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." My line of thinking goes something like this--Jesus taught us how to pray, so if I pray the Lord's prayer, I need not say anything else. The Lord's prayer covers it and in fact, perhaps if I say anything else, I may be like one of the hypocrites.

He knows what we need: As a variant on the theme of the Lord's prayer and popcorn prayers, one of the quicker prayers we can use is something of this sort: "God, you know what I need. Amen."

Worship Music as prayer: If you listen carefully, certain worship songs are prayers...kind of. If I just sing the right songs, I am praying. "Take my heart, and form it. Take my mind, transform it. Take my will, conform it. To Yours, to Yours, O Lord!" See how easy that was? If you ever see me driving down the highway belting out "Jesus take the wheel!" You will know I am just praying.

Using the A-C-T-S method: You've certainly heard of this structured approach: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It goes a little something like this. "God you are awesome! You are great and holy (How did David make this look so easy?!?). God I ate too much...again. Help me to turn away from this sin (is eating really sinful, God?). God I am a worldly man, drawn to the things of this world. Lord forgive me. OK, God, you already know all the bad stuff I did. Sorry. God thanks for sending your son. Thank you for my wife and my kids and my church. Thanks for the food that I binged on. (OK, what is the "S" again? supplication? what the heck is supplication? Oh yeah, this is the part where I get to ask for stuff!)." This is usually the longest part. "Dear God, please bless our church. Please provide us with a new refrigerator, Lord, as ours is getting too small and you know that we will need one if we are to bring home more children which you call a blessing. Make my kids beautiful, smart and compliant. But only if it is your will Lord. Amen." Importantly, I have heard that you should be careful not to mess up the order on this one. It is A-C-T-S, not S-C-A-T. or some other variant. If you don't get it right, your prayers may be hindered.

Praying in the car (shower, bed, movie theater): You can pray while you are doing other stuff. Capture your commute for Jesus. Jon talked a lot about this in his post "Teaching Yourself to Breathe Underwater". I have attempted this method and I suck at it. I start driving, turn off my radio and start praying away. (One of the true beauties of cell phones is that you can talk to yourself in your car and no one thinks you are crazy). About 5 minutes later, I get bored and I begin to wonder what is playing on the radio. Perhaps it is one of those worship song/prayer combos.

Clearly, I haven't figured out how to pray yet. As I read the Bible, I look for clues about how to strengthen my prayer life. I think it really comes down to a matter of the heart. David was a man after God's own heart who sought Him earnestly and had a passion for praising and talking with his heavenly father. He did not do it out of a sense of obligation, or an item to check off of his to do list. He did it because he wanted to spend time with the father and knew that he was worthy of all praise.

Thoughts? Ideas?

1 comment:

Jon said...

I struggle with wondering how to be a better pray-er some times too. I think it tends to be a combination of some of these. I tend to combine 'popcorn prayers' throughout the day (including in the shower, car, etc.) as things come to mind as well as a longer ACTS-style prayer at the end of the day. I find that by ending my day with a longer prayer (as opposed to starting the day with one, not saying you couldn't/shouldn't do both) tends to help me focus on thankfulness for what has happened as opposed to just asking for good things for the day ahead.

I have a big problem with people using the Lord's Prayer as their own prayer verbatim. The thing is, to me, the Lord's Prayer is more of a template for prayer than it is an actual prayer. Most translations say that Jesus said "When you pray, say...", but the NLT says He said "This is how you should pray" (emphasis added). I think the word 'how' gets more to the meaning of that prayer than does the word 'say'. You should follow the style but not necessarily the words. Later in that chapter Jesus says “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for." I believe that means to ask for specifics, not the generalities that are the words of the Lord's Prayer. Take the topics He generalized and apply them to you at that current point in time. If you do that, you get an ACTS-style prayer where you honor Him, ask for your needs (needs, not wants. you need your 'daily bread'), ask for forgiveness for your sins, and ask for help in living more like Him. So I guess it doesn't really follow the ACTS prayer exactly.

As for some of the others. 'He knows what we need' is just a cop-out. Jesus said to ask and it will be given. He also said that so many don't have because they don't ask. Not asking because He already knows is just the lazy way out and defeats the purpose of prayer. It's a privilege to be able to talk to the creator of our life and the world around us, not a chore! Treat it like a privilege and make the most of it!

As far as worship music as a prayer, I think that a lot of it can be a prayer, but it shouldn't replace your own prayers. God wants to hear from you, not the words you repeat from someone else. Use worship music to supplement your prayers, but not to be your only prayer.

The most important thing to probably keep in mind is what you said last: "[David] did not [pray] out of a sense of obligation, or an item to check off of his to do list. He did it because he wanted to spend time with the father and knew that he was worthy of all praise." Like I said above, it's a real privilege to be able to talk to our Heavenly Father; use it (but don't abuse it).