Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Refreshing your personal prayer life

Continuing in the series on refreshing your spiritual life. (For the other parts of the series, see "Refreshing your personal Bible study practices, part 1 and part 2.)


Prayer, like devotional Bible reading, can often fall prey to neglect or disengaged routine. Without repeating much of what was covered in the previous section, there is still work to be done in urging and challenging you to give attention to this vital area of spiritual formation. I offer here encouragement to pray, and how you might pray.

Ways to Refresh Your Prayer Life
Pay less attention to length, eloquence, and orderliness. Remember that prayer mustn’t be long to be effective. Sometimes a prayer may take the form of hours-long conversation with the Lord. At other times, an utterance as brief as, “oh, God!” may suffice. Likewise, how precise your language or articulation in prayer can become a distraction if you let it; remember how Paul encourages us that, when we lack words for precision, the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf.2 Order in prayer— working through a particular list or making priorities— may also hinder you from praying freely.3 In heart-felt and effective prayer, length, eloquence, and orderliness matter far less than honesty, fervency, and earnestness.
Soak yourself in the Psalms. It is easy to forget that God has provided us with a prayer book: the 150 prayers of the Psalms are themselves a rich resource for both learning to pray and for regaining a renewed vigor in prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The Psalter is the great school of prayer.”4 The Psalms contain every emotion that you will encounter, and they engage that emotion prayerfully in a manner that is biblically- consistent— after all, they are Scripture! Learn to pray the Psalms as a tool for prayer.5
Make use of good prayer resources. In addition to the Psalms, we have the blessing of generations of prayers offered before us— many of which have been recorded and offered as both models and aids for our own prayers. You may find collections like The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett to be a goldmine of worthy prayers. You might make use of a Book of Common Prayer or something like the Daily Offices. There are many of these available, and almost every tradition has one or more that are both consistent with the tradition’s theology and helpful to work it out in prayer.

Get quiet. It is a challenge today to get away from noise and distraction. Most of us have constant access to music, the internet, and/or television. Few settings and contexts are free of other people to speak with or, at least, to watch. Our schedules are full, and our minds are engaged. You must therefore be deliberate to find times and ways to get quiet for prayer. This may mean setting aside time in your day for undistracted prayer, be it 10 minutes in the morning before you get dressed, some moments before you go to bed, or scheduled in the middle of your day. It might be as elaborate as some hours or a whole day when you will retreat to a quiet, private place for extended prayer. Or it may be one day a week when you commit to leaving your car radio off and spending all of your commuting time praying as you drive.

Meet with others. Committing yourself to an occasional or regular time to gather with one or several others for prayer can be both an intense opportunity for fellow- ship and excellent accountability to pray. There have been seasons in my life when such scheduled meetings were the only consistent time of prayer that I had. (There have also been times when I longed for the fellowship of prayer that these represented, and that was absent from my regular practice.) For two semesters of my time in seminary, I met every week with a classmate to pray for each other in our candidacy and placement; these semesters were, for me, a rich time of fellowship and a season of great spiritual growth in learning to pray for myself and for others.

2 Romans 8:26-27.
3 Don’t get me wrong here: often, making a list of needs for prayer, items of praise, and reasons for thanksgiving can facilitate focused prayer, and may allow you to pray more and longer than just praying off the top of your head. It may also protect you from meaningless repetition and babbling. But these tools, when held too highly, may also keep you from the intimate fellowship with God and means of grace that prayer is.
4 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 47.

Adapted from From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry by J.E. Eubanks, Jr. (Oakland, TN: Doulos Resources, 2011).

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