Tag: Prayer

Insights on Prayer

In his new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (if that subtitle doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will!), Tim Keller outlines a pattern for prayer. He suggests five elements to form a framework for prayer: evocation, meditation, Word prayer, free prayer, contemplation (240-262).

Keller is not saying this framework should be written in stone or practiced woodenly, but that does bring together necessary elements for a thriving relationship with God. If you’re a church leader, it would be wise to assess which of these elements need attention, not only in your own life but also in general in your own community.

I thought I’d share a few reflections on prayer that were triggered by this framework.

Prayers That Go for a Walk

A few years ago, I began praying the Lord’s Prayer every morning, personalizing each phrase. It has been wonderfully instructive. For instance, opening with “Our Father” has helped me ground prayer in relationship and not request. When my opening address to God is as “Father,” I am immediately reminded that I am “son,” his son. I haven’t earned my way into this relationship, nor can I disqualify myself from being heard by him.

However, I noticed over time, despite this rich sonship, I began to feel badly if I didn’t get all the way through Jesus’ pattern prayer. This would make me want to pray longer or, more likely, pray quicker. Keller reminds us that contemplation  is a time to sense God. Drawing on Luther, he notes that Luther described it as a time to “let his thoughts go for a walk” (251). When one thought stood out, Luther felt free to follow the Holy Spirit into it, and that here

the Holy Spirit himself is preaching and one word of his sermon is better than thousands of our own prayers…

This insight has brought me greater freedom when praying the Lord’s Prayer, but more importantly, encouraged me to follow the Holy Spirit more, to participate with him in prayer, and in freedom follow his leading in prayer. When our prayer is “on the clock,” it can be very difficult to get lost in God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. Allow yourself the freedom and joy of prayers that go for a walk.

Pray the Text

Before moving to free form prayer, Luther often found something in the biblical text as a basis for praising repenting, or resolving. People often struggle to know what to pray or what God’s will is. When we are moved to prayer with God’s word, we can have full confidence that we are praying his will (properly interpreted). Textual prayers are answered prayers. God loves to keep his word. When we “pray the text,” we not only gain confidence but also power. The Spirit works through God’s revealed word to accomplish his will in and through us.

Not too long ago I spent some time discussing public prayer with a group of elder candidates. Among other things, I encouraged them to pray the Word. It is important that our prayers are shaped by God’s word, and that God’s word shapes our church. I encouraged them to pray the Word into our church. If small groups and discipleship groups grasped this, it would unleash greater power in prayer. Why? Because God keeps his word, and delights to reveal his will through it. We are, after all, a Word-shaped people.

Experience What You Have

In Christ, we all have things–blessings–that we don’t experience (166-67). Prayer affords us the opportunity to experience those blessings, to encounter our theology so to speak. Keller points out that Paul frequently prays for churches to experience things they already have: “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” or “to know the love that surpasses knowledge” (see Eph. 3:14-19). There is knowing, and there is knowing. Prayer brings us into an intimate knowledge of God. Keller writes:

It is possible for Christians to live their lives with a high degree of phoniness, hollowness, and inauthenticity. The reason is because they have failed to move that truth into their hearts and therefore it has not actually changed who they are and how they live.

Prayer bridges the gap between knowledge and knowing. When we humbly seek God, and ask that we would experience what we already have, we begin to change, to encounter, to see the unseeable beauties of God and be floored. There are tremendous truths that need to be experienced such as: “fully loved, fully accepted” or “forgiven and free.” Ask God to allow you to experience what you already have in Christ Jesus.

For a brief time you can get Prayer at Westminster Bookstore cheaper than Amazon, plus your purchase supports a kingdom ministry instead of the Amazon behemoth. They also have one of my favorite books on sanctification on sale for 3.99.

When Prayer Becomes Easy

This a guest blog by Acts 29 pastor, Robert Livingston, who pastors Source Church. Check out how they post corporate prayers and answers to prayer here.

I have never had a difficult time talking with my wife.  I think one of the first things I found attractive about her was how easy it was to talk for hours upon hours and never get bored.  And because of God’s goodness, even after almost 12 years of marriage we still spend most mornings together drinking coffee and talking.  Conversation with her is just so easy.  Talking keeps us close to each other.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes our talks are difficult as we work through struggles or bicker with each other – but we do talk.

What about talking with God?  It’s called prayer and if you ask most Christians about their prayers you will usually get a garbled, apologetic response that concludes with, “I need to work harder at making time to pray.”  For some reason talking with God is hard for most of us to do.

But there is a time when prayer becomes easy.  For example: when my wife and I lost track of our 5 year old daughter in a sea of people at Disney World late one evening; or the time we got news that a family member had been struck in a head-on collision and was barely hanging on to life.  Prayer was instinctive.  Prayer was the easiest thing in the world in the moments surrounding those events.

Genesis 4 describes the first time in the bible when people begin to pray.  A man had a son named “Enosh” which literally means “frailty”.  I suspect that his son was born premature, or undersized and in light of the violent world he was born into, his dad began to pray.  When frailty or weakness becomes obvious, prayer becomes easy.

I have one of those jobs that exposes my frailty on a regular basis – I am a church planter/pastor.  Daily I am faced with tasks and conversations that require more than my education, charm, experience, or limited money can accommodate.  I am simply outmatched, and I think God is behind it all.  The good news of God is that I can talk with Him and share these burdens and find strength.  By talking with God I find so much more than help – I find the joy of truly knowing Him.  The bad news is that I forget that or stubbornly refuse to go to Him for help.

Prayer becomes easy, enjoyable, necessary, & satisfying when we become aware of our frailty and emptiness.

Sovereignty of God & Prayer

This Monday we discussed the Sovereignty of God & Prayer at City Seminary. We defined the sovereignty of God as: “The pleasure of the triune God in ruling over all things.” We then applied this doctrine to anxiety in our lives, which is often manifested in: controlling fear, constant busyness, or distracting habits.

Detecting Anxiety Idolatry

How do you discern where anxiety is festering in your life? Try to find where your feelings are out of control, and you’ll find your idol (paraphrase of TK). For instance, controlling fear may paralyze you in parenting, air travel, or solitude. Our feelings can mislead us. As Thom Yorke says, “Just because you feel it doesn’t mean its there.” Just because you fear failure doesn’t mean its there or to be trusted. Anxiety offers us a false promise: “Be anxious and you’ll have control or peace.”

Moving Beyond Anxiety into Sovereignty

In order to move beyond anxiety, we need a true promise to rely on. Phillipians 4:6-7 promises us “peace that surpasses comprehension” if we will bring our anxieties to God in prayer. Now, this promise can only be true and trustworthy if God is sovereign. If he isn’t, he can’t promise incomprehensible peace in all circumstances. However, there’s a condition on this promise. We must give up self-sovereignty before we can trust in God’s sovereignty. Where are your emotions out of control? What is sovereign in your life? God or fear or busyness?

Prayer Works with a Sovereign God

The way forward from paralyzing anxiety is to trust in God’s sovereignty. This doesn’t happen through mental resignation; it requires genuine prayer and trust in God. Repentance from trusting in false promises and new faith in true promises. This gift of prayer brings us into sweet communion with God.

But if God is sovereign, doesn’t he already know what I will ask? Yes, he does (Matt 6:8) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray. He’s ordained our prayers to sovereignly accomplish our good and keep his promises of peace. Tim Chester puts it well:

God offers us prayer as a possibility and commands us to pray because he is a relational God who purposes to have a relationship with his people. It is not that God receives new data through our prayers, but that through our prayers information is clothed in love making it communication. God has ordained that he will be affected by our loving communication to him.

In prayer, anxious humans meet a joyfully sovereign God. He calls us to deep dependence on him and promises to replace our anxiety with peace.

Books on Prayer