I have always struggled with a consistent prayer life. I found the book “Prayer” by Timothy Keller to be extremely helpful in getting this part of my spiritual life on track. Specifically the two chapters I have outlined below. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a guide has really kept me from just using my prayer time as a “Santa Claus” list of wants. Also, dedicating myself to prayer time in the morning and a shorter prayer time as I go to bed (that includes a Psalm) has helped me to start and end my day well.
Two other things that have been helpful to me (and may or may not be to anyone else)…. The first is that when I am particularly tired, unfocused or have something heavy on my heart, I type out my prayers in a journal. It keeps me from becoming distracted or falling asleep and also I find that in the writing of the prayers I become aware of things I didn’t even know I was thinking. And the other goes back to C.S. Lewis (I know, imagine that). This is a quote from Screwtape Letters (whom was a senior demon telling a junior demon how to keep his human from grower closer to the Lord), “At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.” I have found that kneeling during my prayer time puts me and the Lord in our proper places. And in doing so with my body, helps me also get my mind to the proper place.
Chapter 8: The Prayer of Prayers
- Augustine, Luther and Calvin all developed their instruction on how to pray mainly out of their understanding of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This chapter goes into these three men’s insights line by line of the Lord’s prayer and how we can use the Lord’s prayer as a mode that will have all of the components that should always be a part of our prayer time with the Lord.
- We must keep the Lord’s prayer from just becoming a ritual, by not simply just praying the words, but by understanding each part and praying each part’s truths through our our thoughts and what is actually going on in our lives.
- “Our Father Who Art in Heaven”
- This should cause us to be blown away by the fact that the God who could have justly judged us all severely, instead implants a comforting trust in our hearts through His fatherly love.
- “Hallowed Be Thy Name”
- This is a call that God’s Holy name be glorified among all nations. It is our time to praise God for who He is and thank him for his goodness in our life
- “Thy Kingdom Come”
- We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy. And we yearn for the day when God’s kingdom comes in full to make all things right.
- “Thy Will be Done”
- We ask God to grant us the grace to bear whatever it takes that we fully lie down our own will for our lives and take up the Lord’s will; acknowledging that the Lord knows best and we must trust him even when we don’t understand or like how he is bringing about his will in our lives. We echo Jesus’ words from the Garden of Gethsemane. It is an opportunity to give those things over to the Lord that we know we are hanging onto, that we are trying to accomplish on our own and our keeping us from falling submitting to God’s will.
- “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
- This is when we pray for the needs of ourself and others. We must be careful not to turn this into a list of wants. Augustine suggested we pray that God give us neither poverty or riches (Proverbs 30:8). It is also a time not to pray just for individuals, but for needs throughout the world; that the poor would have their daily bread, that those being exploited would be treated justly, etc.
- “Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”
- This is the time when we search our hearts and lives in order to confess honestly before the Lord. Luther said this should not be a demeaning experience, but that if regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not truly understand salvation by grace. In addition, this is also a time to make sure there is no one we need to forgive, for it is hypocritical to seek the radical forgiveness of God, yet be unable to forgive those who have wronged us.
- “Lead Us Not into Temptation”
- This is not praying against being tempted, as this is inevitable and brings about spiritual growth. Instead, it is praying against “entering into temptation” (Matt 26:41), which means to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin. Take time to pray against those things that you know are common temptations to you. While also considering those that might not be so obvious, like the temptation to be judgemental of co-workers or of the feeling self sufficiency in your wealth.
- “Deliver Us from Evil” (or the evil one)
- Luther said this is to pray against specific evils that come from the devil’s kingdom, while Augustine felt it was praying for deliverance against the remaining evils outside of us (as opposed to, “lead us not into temptation” being evils inside of us).
Chapter 15: Practice: Daily Prayer
A Pattern for Daily Prayer (This comes from Selwyn Hughes’ contribution to a book entitled My Path of Prayer, which contains short essays by Christian leaders on their main pattern of prayer)
- Praying as soon as possible after waking
- Read a passage of scripture to meditate on, including a Psalm
- Take a moment to “still your mind” and remind yourself of God’s presence
- Begin to pray
- Start with adoration, praise and thanksgiving
- Then, self-examination, confession and repentance
- Lastly, Petitionary prayer for self, those he knew, the church and the world
- End by stilling the mind again to be sure you have had heard from God what especially he wanted you to learn that morning
Praying the Psalms
- There is more than one way to pray the Psalms
- Verbatim prayer – pray the words of the Psalm back to the Lord as written
- Paraphrase and personalize
- “Deliver me from my enemies” turns into a prayer for the Lord to help you with temptations or spiritual traps you might fall into.
- Responsive Praying – Take themes and statements to stimulate adoration, confession and supplication
- Psalm 116:7 – Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you — So, you pray, “O Lord, my heart does not rest in your goodness, it is never consoled as deeply as it should be by your grace. It is too restless. Help me to know you – – let your goodness be so real to my heart that it is completely at rest.