With our emphasis on knowing God’s Word in 2018, we’re excited for this new series on spiritual disciplines. Each month, we’ll unpack a different spiritual discipline, defining it as well as offering some ideas for practical application!
Do you remember playing tag as a child? Before the game began we’d designate boundaries and a home base, and then the chaos of the chase ensued. I have vivid memories of running as quickly as I could while being chased – doing everything in my power to reach home base before someone tagged me. I knew at home base, nobody could touch me and I could rest for a bit without fear of threat. I remember the feeling of safety – even if I just barely made it to home base, I knew nothing could get me there.
I think of prayer in a similar way (though thankfully involving less physical exertion). Here’s what I mean – I believe that God wants us to think of intimate prayer time with Him as a safe place, a respite away from the craziness that may surround us throughout the day, a place where we can catch our breath and trust that God will handle the heavy lifting. Even if we just barely make it to Him, when we get to Him, we’re safe.
Looking at the spiritual discipline of prayer, here are a few handholds to consider as we walk forward in our practice of prayer:
Let God be your refuge.
Scripture resounds with God’s ringing affirmations of kindness and encouragement. He tells us to “trust in Him at all times … pour out your hearts before him. God is our refuge” (Ps. 62:8), and God clues us in on the secret that our souls can really only rest in Him (Psalm 62:5-8). I believe here, God is basically saying that He wants us to come to Him with everything in our hearts and minds. He wants us to tell Him the good and the bad. He will never tire of hearing. And, more than that, this God that instructs us to pour our hearts out to Him holds all power and wisdom. Nothing happens outside of His view. Not only is He sovereign, but He’s near. As Psalm 68:19 says, “day after day he bears our burdens.” That’s unbelievable to me. God not only asks us to come to Him with our hearts desires and needs, but He carries them with us. The God of the universe stoops down to walk life every day with us, to bear the hard things with us, to celebrate the joys with us.
Some may read this article with a twinge of pain. Perhaps you’ve brought an important issue before the Lord in prayer for years and have yet to see a concrete answer. Maybe it sometimes feels like God doesn’t hear or care. I in no way want to minimize your pain, and I realize there are no easy answers to what God may be doing. But, please, resist the urge to disengage from your relationship with God. Though His actions may not be visible now, He is working on your behalf. He loves you. Keep on coming to Him. Keep exerting faith to trust Him. He will prove faithful.
Let God realign your heart, mind, and priorities.
As children of God, we have access to His refining sanctification as He makes us look more like Himself. We have the opportunity to cooperate with Him as He redeems and reshapes us. When we pour our hearts to Him, it honors God if we then say to Him – here’s what I want and here’s what I think that I need. But, please take these desires, thoughts, and loves. Make them pleasing to you. Please make them line up with Your will. Jesus models this surrendered obedience in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39), and we see many godly believers walk in His footsteps.
Listen to the prayer of missionary Betty Scott Stam:
Lord, I give up my own plans and purposes, all my own desires, hopes and ambitions, and I accept Thy will for my life. I give up myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever. I hand over to Thy keeping all of my friendships; all the people whom I love are to take second place in my heart. Fill me now and seal me with Thy Spirit. Work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, for to me to live is Christ. Amen.
We may not be ready to pray a prayer like Betty’s. But we can all ask God to move our hearts toward greater trust in Him. A posture of surrender may be difficult at times, but ultimately we know that submitting to God’s will is the best route. Why? Because God knows what we need more than we do. When we surrender our wills to His, we swing wide the door for Him to work through us and bless us in ways we could never have imagined before. Tim Keller says it so well, “If we knew what God knows, we would ask exactly for what He gives.”
Let God remind you of who He is.
As we place our preferences and priorities on the altar, we need to be reminded of God’s character. If we don’t see God rightly, we’re more likely to cling to our own desires and perceived needs and less likely to trust Him with everything.
In the Old Testament, before God creates a covenant with His people, He always reminds them of who He is and what He has done for them. It’s as if He says, remember, we have a relationship, I love you and take care of You? Because I love and take care of you, I’m telling you how you to live, how to honor me, and how to flourish. Instructions are never separate from a loving relationship. That’s how He is with us now too. He wants us to keep in step with His will out of the safety of a relationship with Him. Prayer keeps our hearts tender and attentive to Him.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Maybe you’ve tried to pray and found it difficult. If that’s where you are, here are a few tips to try:
- Pray through a passage of Scripture.
The psalms work really well for this exercise (though it can be replicated with any passage of Scripture); as you read through the psalm, take each verse one by one. Read the verse aloud, and then pray whatever comes to mind in light of what you’ve just read. Then repeat the process until you’re done with the passage.
- Journal your prayers.
I sometimes struggle to sit in silence for any length of time, so journaling my prayers to God is really helpful for me. When you journal your prayers, you enjoy the added benefit of reflection – you can always come back to your journal to trace what God has done in your life.
- Follow the ACTS acronym for prayer.
This acronym serves as a helpful reminder of areas to include in your prayer time. A stands for Adoration – spend a few minutes praising God for who is He. C stands for Confession – ask God to convict you of sin. Be quick to repent/confess it to the Lord. T stands for Thanksgiving – thank God for what He has done in your life. S stands for Supplication – bring your needs and the needs of those in your life to God.
Above all, God is calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. It’s not about a perfect way of praying or special turn of phrase. He wants us to know Him more. As pastor Ray Ortlund says, “God is really great at listening to imperfect prayers. He fixes them on the way up.”
Let’s take Him up on His offer and come to Him with all of our lives.
Sarah Doss is a Content & Production Editor with Lifeway.