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"Lord, teach us to pray"  (8)

 

PRACTICAL GUIDELINES  

 

Before we begin this final session in the present series - a session that will major on some practical suggestions for our prayer life - it would be valuable to again underline the centrality that prayer should increasingly have in our lives. The two quotes below emphasise that truth .....  

 

"...prayer is the central avenue God uses to change us. If we are unwilling to change we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.... in real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves. Progressively we are taught to see things from His point of view. Many of us are discouraged rather than challenged by the 'giants of faith' who seem so far beyond anything that we have experienced that we are tempted to despair....we should remember that God always meets us where we are and slowly moves us along into deeper things. Occasional joggers do not suddenly enter an Olympic Marathon...."   (Richard Foster: "Celebration of Discipline")  

 

"The Journey of our lives is a double Journey. There is an outward journey into external confrontations, discoveries and relationships and there is an inner journey into self-knowledge and the discovery of what for me as an individual constitutes self-expression, self-fulfilment, freedom and contentment within. In the hustling, bustling West today, life has become radically unbalanced with education, business interests, the media, the knowledge explosion and our go-getting community ethos all uniting to send folk off on the outward Journey as fast as they can go and with that to distract them from ever bothering about its inward counterpart. In Western Christianity the story is the same so that most of us without realising it are nowadays unbalanced activists, conforming most unhappily in this respect to the world around us. Perhaps there are no truths about the Spirit that Christian people more urgently need to learn today than those that relate to the inner life of fellowship with God." (J. I. Packer: "Keep in Step with the Spirit")  

 

SOME PRACTICAL IDEAS FOR PRAYER GROWTH.  

 

1. HAVE AN APPOINTED TIME.

The fact that Jesus got up very early in the morning and prayed (Mark 1/35) may indicate more than a one-off situation. It is more likely that this was part of His lifestyle & 'prayer-style'. Setting aside a particular time will encourage us to be disciplined in prayer and, if prayer is not to be at the mercy of our feelings, it will need to be a discipline. CAUTION: There is a place for discipline in our lives but not ritual. Have an appointed time but don't let that degenerate into a law - a legalism in your life. Remember that we have the same amount of time as everybody else; it is a question of time management & discipline. Someone has defined discipline as a case of mind over mattress!  

 

2. HAVE AN APPOINTED PLACE.

As noted above, Jesus went off to a solitary place to pray. He obviously recognised the need of a place conducive to prayer. If possible, set aside a room as free from interruption as possible and a place that increasingly becomes associated with encounters with God. CAUTION: However, don't treat that room like the O.T. temple, as though that's the only place you can pray. Be able to pray in all places and at all times about all things but don't ignore or despise that 'special place' of prayer.  

 

3. ALLOW FOR 'DOWN TIME'!

"Down time' are those periods of 'low tides' in our spiritual journey when weariness drains our motivation and concentration and our focus becomes somewhat hazy.   Because God knows our 'frame that we are dust', He also knows our emotional frame and therefore we can relax with those down times because they are part of the rhythm of life. At such times prayer can be plain hard work. In fact, at such times we can just sit quietly before God without "having to" pray i.e. use words!   NB. Hudson Taylor, apostle and missionary to China, was once asked if he always prayed with a consciousness of joy. He acknowledged that generally his heart felt like wood when he prayed. He reported that most of his major victories came from "emotionless prayer".   In other words, don't let yourself be taken on a quilt trip by the enemy over such feelings. Recognise them as authentic and real and just rest with that. As the Psalmist said, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I shall yet praise Him!" That's being real, honest and open with oneself.  

 

4. KEEP A JOURNAL OR PRAYER DIARY .

Just like so many of the psalmists obviously did. This is a pilgrimage diary in which you can record the highlights (and low spots) of your journey with the Lord. Jot down insights gained in prayer & Bible reading. Write one sentence prayers to God. Anything that captures something of your growing love relationship with Jesus. Remember that a diary doesn't have immediate value; its value comes as it helps us to reflect on the past. Such reflection often stirs confidence for the future.  

 

5. USE A PRAYER BOOK OR CARDS.

Most of us need help to be ordered without becoming inflexible. Note the things for which you want to pray each day....then the things which you need to pray over once a week etc. CAUTION: Don't let any system you may use become the end in itself. The system is to serve you not the other way around!  

 

6. LIMIT YOUR PRAYING.

Limit it in the sense of not praying for too much. If the devil can't keep you off your knees he will overload you with prayer and drive home the guilt for not praying enough. Pray within your God-given ability. Remember that praying is something that we learn to do and is therefore a maturing process. Don't promise to others what you can't or won't deliver. Simply assure them that you will pray for them as God lays them on your heart. Let the Holy Spirit set your prayer agenda.  

 

7. PRAY OUT LOUD.

Although initially you may feel uncomfortable with the sound of your own voice. Such vocal prayer is not necessary but it can be helpful to focus our prayer at times and to make us more aware of the presence of another...the Lord Jesus.  

 

8. WANDERING THOUGHTS.

These will always be a problem, especially to an active mind. They happen in every area of life and will therefore happen in prayer. It requires practiced discipline to bring them into captivity.  

a) Pray out loud - this is a good way to stay tuned to the one theme

b) Use prayer guide - the cards or book mentioned above

c) Pray for those areas/people/situations where those wandering thoughts take you!  

 

9. VARY YOUR PRAYER POSTURE.

Sitting comfortably is probably the most common...but you can kneel, stand or even lay prostrate on the floor. Sometimes physical gestures can be significant eg. hands upraised.  

 

10. DON'T EQUATE QUANTITY WITH QUALITY

Matt. 6/7 says that 'many words' have little if anything to do with the quality of prayer. Aim for quality time with the Lord which may be short or long. The example and teaching of the N.T. emphasises the depth of prayer, not the length!  

 

11. GIVE SILENCE & LISTENING TIME A SIGNIFICANT PLACE

This can include meditation on a verse of the Bible or a truth re God's person & purpose. Silence is valuable when we don't know what to pray.  

 

12. USE A HYMN BOOK OR CHORUS BOOK OR PRAISE MUSIC.

You can read praise to God - even sing His praises! So what does it matter about the voice? If it pleases the Father's heart, who cares what others think?!!    

 

GROUP EXERCISE:   Read Ephesians 1/15-19 and list at least four things that Paul wants for the believers there...four things he wants them to "Know"  

a) _______________________________       b) _____________________  

c) _______________________________       d) _______________________    

Read Ephesians 3/14-19 and list at least three things Paul prays for in this section  

a)_____________________________  b)_____________________________  

c)________________________________________________________________    

 

Finally … Take time to pray around the group as you did last week. You can put that chair in the middle again…you need only pray one sentence…. But try and use the word "I" rather than "we". If you prefer not to pray, simply say "pass" when it comes to your turn. Begin with the leader and pray around the group.  

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