“Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer” (Matthew 11:25, MSG).
Prayer is a way of life in which we converse with God, at his initiative, so that we are “co-laboring” with him in all that we do to accomplish the good things that advance his Kingdom. For prayer to become a way of living intimately with the Lord it must first be a spiritual discipline.
Why Do We Struggle with Prayer?
The standard spiritual growth advice in most churches is, “Read the Bible and pray.” It works for very few people. They end up feeling burdened. Many give up. Dallas Willard explains that to flourish in prayer, to develop an energetic praying life, we need to practice other disciplines like solitude and fasting.
We need to “take heart” from Jesus! He learned to live a praying life and he shows us how to pray. We need to draw close to him through reading the Gospels.
Jesus Calls us to Pray with Him
It’s important that we think of prayer, not as mustering up energies and words, but as joining in with God’s activity.
Jesus shows us this. The love of the Father and the movement of the Holy Spirit called him into listening to God and praying for people. Repeatedly in the Gospels we read statements like, “While it was still dark Jesus went out to pray” (Mark 1:35, paraphrased), “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray” (Luke 6:12), “Jesus was praying in private” (Luke 9:18), or “Jesus went out to his usual place of prayer.” (Luke 11:1, paraphrased). Jesus didn’t just have a “prayer life” — he had a praying life in which he continually invoked God’s presence in all that he did. Prayer lived in him, even in his unconscious demeanor.
Jesus still calls to us as he did to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray with me” (Matthew 26:41, paraphrased). He’s calling us into the conversation and activity of heaven! He is in the middle of the Trinitarian community, shining in glory and love, surrounded by angels and saints, inviting us to participate with them in the Kingdom of the Heavens. He is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (each of us and those around us). His Spirit lives in us who bear his name and is also interceding for us. What a place to be! Jesus and the Father above us and the Holy Spirit within us!
It was seeing up close the way Jesus prayed and the powerful effects that came from his praying life that prompted his disciples to cry out to him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1). It was then that he taught us the Lord’s Prayer, which was his own way of praying, distilled from the patterns of prayer in the Psalms, his Prayer Book.
Drawing close to Jesus is the only way to grow in prayer.
Key Prayers in the Bible
There are many prayers in the Bible. Here are a few that examples to help us to pray effectively:
- Pray the Lord’s Prayer, using each phrase to spin off personalized prayers, including prayers of intercession for others, themed on each type of prayer in Jesus’ model prayer (which he distilled from the Psalms): worship, submission, petition, confession and forgiveness, and overcoming trials. (See “A Pocket Lighter to Ignite your Heart.”)
- Ask Jesus what he’s praying for a loved one and pray that. Perhaps part of his prayer in John 17 will help you discern how he is interceding.
- Offer Paul’s great prayer of intercession in Ephesians 3:14-21 for specific people that the Lord puts on your mind.
- Practice the rhythm of the Psalmist. End your day with the Evening Psalms (Psalm 3 and 4) and Begin your day with the Morning Psalm (Psalm 5).
- Give five minutes or more to abide in the Jesus Prayer and then use it to Practice God’s Presence all day. (The Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”, based on Luke 18:13 and 38.)
Other Disciplines Related to Prayer
Prayer is a main discipline for engagement with God and others in the Body of Christ. Prayer, in it’s broadest sense of being conscious of God and relying upon the Holy Spirit, is related to all of the disciplines for the spiritual life. There are many subdisciplines of prayer, including these:
- Intercession: Joining the prayers of the Holy Spirit for other people, including our work and ministry that involves other people.
- Praying the Psalms: Joining the prayers of the Psalmist to worship the Lord, submit yourself to God’s Kingdom, intercede for others, seek God’s mercy and extend it to others, and put your trust in God to help you overcome trials. (See, Psalm Prayers.)
- Listening Prayer (Discernment): Listening for and learning to recognize God’s voice in order to grow in an intimate, conversational relationship with him and to receive his guidance and strength for life.
- Prayer Walks: Taking a walk (or a hike or jog) with Jesus to converse with him, ideally in a beautiful nature setting. (Moving physically helps you to stay alert and energetic in your praying!)
- Prayer Partners: Praying with a partner or a group empowers our connection to the immediacy of the Spirit of Christ with us, helping us to pray and responding to our prayers.
- Breath Prayers: Engaging your mind and heart with God by using the rhythm of your breathing to help you deeply pray short phrases or paraphrases from the Bible.
- Contemplative Prayer (Prayer of Recollection): Entering into a deep, quiet stillness of body and mind before God in which you simply behold the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart, using few or no words or thoughts, to just “be with” the One you love. (The best way to enter into this intimate prayer of contemplation is to meditate on a Bible story, image, or phrase.)
- Praying the Hours: Stopping your work or other activity to pray at set times (e.g., morning, noon, and night) usually with the help of a liturgical prayer book.
- Practicing God’s Presence: Being open to and appreciating God’s wonderful presence moment-by-moment, as you do all that you do.
- Praying Scripture: There are many ways that Scripture can help us to pray. (See Bible Reading for some additional examples.)
Additional Resources on Prayer
Here are some key Soul Shepherding resources to support your praying life with Jesus:
- Psalm Prayers: Index of meditations and prayer poems inspired by particular Psalms.
- “Praying a Psalm in its Nature Setting“: Offers a number of examples of Psalms and relates them to common nature settings. (This is an inspiring and engaging way to pray!)
- “No Notes? Sing a Psalm Anyway!“: Inspiration and guidance on singing Psalms as a devotional practice.
- “Breath Prayers from the Bible“: Favorite Bible phrases connected with helpful breathing rhythms.
- “Praying the Psalms Morning, Noon, and Night Every Two Months“: A fixed hour prayer schedule that I developed and used for a number of years.