Prayer is not the privilege of a few. It is a reality easily accessible, for tiny children as for old men. It finds expression in innumerable ways. (Brother Roger of Taize)
Prayer takes centre stage in our spiritual life, along with Bible study, meditation and worship. All worship is a form of prayer and all prayer is a form of worship. The very act of praying acknowledges our need of God and our absolute trust in his power to bring healing and peace (see Matthew 6.5-15, 7.7-11; John 14.27).
In prayer we encounter God. This should be done daily, ideally morning and evening. There are few rules beyond the need to pray daily and to remember that all our prayers are said in the name of Christ who is our only mediator. No one comes to the Father except through Christ (John 14.6; 1 Timothy 2.1-5). Our prayers should be spontaneous and heartfelt, placing before God our concerns and those of others – prayers of petition and intercession. We must also confess our sins and ask for forgiveness and the power to amend our behaviour. Praise God and thank him for his love and all the benefits he has bestowed upon us.
Do not use too many ‘props’ in an attempt to aid your prayer times. A candle is good because it symbolises the Holy Spirit. Nothing is required beyond a quiet place, a candle and a simple cross or crucifix. Aside from a prayer book (if you use one), your Bible should be close at hand. Some Christians like to make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of their prayer time. Remember, your focus is on God, not on objects that may serve to distract you rather than assist you.
When you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6.6).
Avoid spirituality that is influenced by non-Christian religions or New Age paganism. ‘There is one body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.’ (Ephesians 4.5-6).
It can be helpful to have a prayer partner, a like-minded friend with whom you can join in prayer and share ideas. You may feel inspired to start a small prayer group. I suggest you keep it small rather than run the risk of it growing into a larger and more unwieldy group that would be less cohesive.
Get to know the psalms, their different purposes and voices and their various categories. Make full use of them, incorporate them into your prayer times and don’t skip over them if they form part of a cycle in a prayer book. The psalms are ancient hymns covering many different needs and situations. They are admirably suited to adaptation as powerful prayers to enhance our spiritual life and vocalise our various concerns before God, as well as giving him praise.
Some psalms lend themselves well to meditation, for example: 4, 23, 39, 71, 90, 103, 116.
Some Christians find it helpful to use a prayer book or breviary. The set format anchors their prayer life, giving it a structure and framework as they follow the annual liturgical cycle. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the format allows sufficient space for personal prayers. I would not recommend a prayer book that is too wordy. Remember what Jesus said about babbling, praying unceasingly and with many words (Matthew 6.7). We can too easily become locked into a prayer regime that is more a duty to perform than a fresh encounter with God. We honour God as much with our own words as with a prayer book, but it is our own input that conveys the intimate and changing pattern of our lives and the specific needs that arise as we encounter difficulties and crises. Our personal relationship with God is of paramount importance in daily prayer.
Personal prayer must be viewed alongside communal worship in which liturgical formalities are necessary to guard against the intrusion of misguided novelties and erroneous doctrines. In church worship everyone should be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet,’ so to speak! Unless you observe a formal prayer regime, either alone or in a religious community, personal prayer can be shaped within whatever framework a person wishes to devise, provided it is based on sound Christian principles. I suggest that once decided upon, that framework should be adhered to as a form of self-discipline to ensure continuity of purpose.
God knows every detail of our lives and our ever-changing circumstances. He loves us and wants us to demonstrate our dependence on him through personal prayer that places implicit trust in him to listen and to respond. He will always find a way to meet our needs but will do so in his own time, and his response will sometimes surprise us. He is infinitely powerful and creative, as well as infinitely loving and forgiving.
The rewards we obtain in this world are as nothing compared to those we shall receive in the next.
We cannot know the mind of God beyond the vital truths he has chosen to reveal to us. God is the creator and sustainer of the world, evidence of which we can see all around us in nature and supremely in human beings who are made in his image. From Scripture we learn of God’s mighty acts in salvation history, culminating in the incarnation, Jesus Christ, our redeemer and saviour. He wants these profound truths to be mediated through us to bring enlightenment and joy to others.
God is love and that love should be reflected in our lives, our motivations, our actions and our relationships. Therefore we must love God and our neighbour, proclaiming the kingdom of God in the name of Christ. (Mark 12.28-34).
God desires that all kinds of good things stem from our faith in him. Jesus Christ came to redeem sinful human beings and restore them to their rightful relationship with the Father, to regain their true humanity according to God’s original plan, a plan that was marred by the Fall. God has granted us spiritual gifts and we employ these gifts in good works, acts of charity and mercy that should flow naturally from us as servants of Christ. (Romans 12.3-13; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; Ephesians 4.11-13; 1 Peter 4.7-11).
In all of this it is vital to keep ourselves free of the corruption rife in the world so that we can be authentic witnesses of the kingdom. We live in the world but we must not be of the world (John 17.16-19; 1 John 2.15-17). We minister in the name of Christ to convey God’s love and compassion, bringing healing and peace to troubled souls and difficult situations. Our lives, sustained by faith, prayer and Scripture, should exemplify the teachings of Christ.
Why is it that even with persistence some prayers apparently remain unanswered? There are four possible explanations.
- We are not using prayer legitimately. We are praying for the wrong things, such as ‘Please God, can I win the lottery and be a millionaire?’ This is misuse of prayer. It is pointless to pray for something that is against God’s will. Prayer used for selfish or trivial ends is invalidated by our base motives and we dishonour God in the process.
- Sometimes a solution to a problem is close at hand but we are blind to it. This could involve a change of attitude (towards a person, a situation, an addiction) or a change of direction to steer us away from something that is a serious distraction, threatening to undermine our faith and our well-being. God gave us an intellect to work these situations out for ourselves, common sense to avoid occasions of sin. However, sometimes we are faced with an intractable problem beyond our human capacity to overcome. Then we ask God to grant us healing and the strength to master it. (1 Corinthians 10.13; 1 Peter 5.6-11).
- God always finds a way but his solution might not be manifested as quickly as we would like or in the way that we are expecting. Situations may have to be worked through gradually, resulting in a blessed outcome but involving a lot of pain in the process. When this happens we must not lose hope but endure in the sure knowledge that divine light will always overcome the darkness of evil. (John 1.5, 8.12, cf Psalms 27.1-4, 13-14; 36.5-9; 121).
- We may be praying for someone whose faith is weak or for an unbeliever. Will our prayers be effective? We may be praying for someone who has a progressive illness that has defeated medical science. There is also the Christian rite of Anointing of the Sick. Healing in the Spirit often brings results, but why are some people healed and others not? This is a mystery. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55.6-9). All we can ask is that he will shine the light of his love where there are trials and sufferings (cf James 5.14-16).
A life in crisis
At a time of crisis our heightened emotions tend to colour our thoughts, leading to a distorted picture. We cannot know the outcome of a painful episode in our lives or the long-term effects. Our anxieties cloud reality and disrupt our judgement. But God is all-seeing and all-knowing. He knows us better than we know ourselves (Psalm 139.1-18). He can see into our hearts, determining truth from fanciful notions. In quietness and stillness place your cares and needs into God’s hands. His immense power will bring about change and healing. Distressed and exhausted, you cannot find the words to pray. The Holy Spirit will pray on your behalf, for the Spirit is always in accordance with the mind of God. He will find a way to help you and bring you peace.
‘The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our pleas in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.’ (Romans 8.26-27).
Healing of memories
We pray for those who are in need of healing, mind and body. For depression and long-standing emotional dysphoria it may be necessary to seek the help of an experienced healer, someone endowed with a gift of the Spirit to mediate the healing power of Christ. The combination of prayer and laying on of hands will bring blessed peace and release from mental turmoil (cf Psalms 34.18; 40.1-2; 143.1-8).
The use of silence
It is important that a period of silence forms part of your daily prayer times. In this oasis of calm and peace we listen for the leading of the Spirit, the voice of God. ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46.10, cf Psalms 42.1-2; 63.1-2; 131).
Beginning and ending
We can begin our prayers by saying simply ‘Dear Lord’ or ‘Father.’ End each prayer with ‘in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.’ Close the prayer time with the Lord’s Prayer and a doxology, such as that found in Numbers 6.24-26 or 2 Corinthians 13.13 (substituting ‘us’ for ‘you’)….or use your own words.
The booklet Quiet Time (IVP, 1947) contains useful pointers to carving out time to spend with the Father in prayer.
For a practical handbook that gives a comprehensive overview of prayer in all its dimensions, How to Pray by John Pritchard (SPCK, 3rd edition, 2011) is hard to beat. The author, the former Bishop of Oxford, takes us on a journey into prayer, describing how to pray, when to pray, how to pray with the Bible, how to slow down enough to hear God, how to pray with the imagination, how to pray with others and when the going gets tough. The author’s Beginning Again on the Christian Journey (SPCK, new edition, 2005) is a book of practical help and encouragement for anyone looking for a new start in their spiritual journey or wanting to take that journey further for the first time.
I would also recommend Bert Ghezzi’s Adventures in Daily Prayer: Experiencing the Power of God’s Love (Brazos, 2010).
Two books that treat the subject from a more reflective and mystical viewpoint are:
John Dalrymple Simple Prayer. Darton, Longman & Todd, 2010 .
Douglas V. Steere Dimensions of Prayer. Upper Room, revised edition, 1997.
On healing I recommend the following:
Jim McManus Healing in the Spirit. Redemptorist, revised edition, 2002.
Francis MacNutt The Prayer That Heals You. Ave Maria Press, revised edition, 2005.
True happiness is not to be found in materialism. Christians should lead by example in pursuing a modest lifestyle. Needless acquisitions are to be discouraged.
We should pay heed to Christ’s teaching on Providence in Matthew 6.24-34 – ‘Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well.’ (v.33), and ‘You cannot be the slave of both God and of money.’ (v.24). Paul has something to say on this subject – see 1 Timothy 6.6-10, 17-19.
A mind preoccupied with material gain and the accumulation of luxuries is too distracted to dwell on the things of God or hear the cries of those less fortunate in this world. Simplicity and restraint in daily living lead to a healthier lifestyle and more time and space for spirituality, as well as producing a surplus for charitable giving.