“Be prayerful—full of prayer. Cultivate the spirit of prayer. Beware not to quench it. When you feel God wooing you into his presence, and calling you to secret prayer, go! He has a blessing for you…” —Samuel Logan Brengle
Prayer is the most universally practised spiritual discipline. It is open to all, including those who are in the earliest stages of exploring a relationship with God, such as children learning to say bedtime prayers. Children express trust when they commit themselves and “Mommy, Daddy and Sam the goldfish” to God’s care. The faith that he will answer reflects deep truths about the mystery of prayer. God wants to hear our prayers and is waiting to respond to them.
Prayer is God’s idea. From the earliest chapters of Genesis, God engages in conversation with us. Throughout the Bible we find prayers expressing praise, thanksgiving, penitence, lament, trust, intercession, anger and the desire for justice—no subject is forbidden. Its pages also describe God’s responses. The pattern we see is that God speaks first, invites our participation in the conversation and then responds. Paul reminds us of God’s interest in our concerns when he encourages us to “present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Yet it is helpful to remember that as much as God wants to hear our requests, there is something more to be accomplished.
When we pray, we open ourselves to God at the deepest level. We may begin to pray because we want God to change something in our world, but we will soon find that God has a different, potentially disturbing, purpose for prayer. It is not simply about people submitting requests for God to fill. Through prayer, we open ourselves to God and he graciously reveals something of the divine will and shows us ways we can co-operate with that will as we live out our faith. The purpose of this divine-human dialogue is to align us with God’s perspective rather than aligning God with ours. Like children who commit themselves to God’s care for the night, we are called to trust God for the transformation that comes through the encounter of prayer.
How do we develop the discipline of prayer? These elements provide a starting point:
- Set aside a specific time for prayer. The prophet Daniel prayed three times a day (see Daniel 6:10). Jesus, Peter and others followed the traditional Jewish practice of praying at specific times of day. Many Christians continue to benefit from the practice of “fixed hour” prayer, setting aside specific times to pray to keep attentive to God and receptive to his work within their hearts throughout the day.
- Prayer begins with God’s invitation (see Jeremiah 33:3). When you pray, start by acknowledging God’s presence. This is a two-way conversation and you need to be attentive to his response as you pray.
- Seek the Spirit’s assistance (see Romans 8:26).
- Prayers do not have to be long and complex. The content and intent of your prayer are more important than the length. Remember, the Lord’s Prayer (see Matthew 6:9-13) contains only 53 words.
- Sometimes we need help to focus our thoughts and articulate our concerns. The Scriptures and Christian devotional literature are full of beautiful prayers written by God’s people that can help us express what is on our hearts.
- Persevere in your practice of prayer (see Luke 18:1).
Major Gail Winsor ministers through the leadership development department at Canada and Bermuda’s territorial headquarters. She is also a trained spiritual director.
- Choose a prayer from the Psalms that reflects your present experience (praise—Psalm 8 or 100; penitence—Psalm 32, 51:1-17 or 130; lament—Psalm 6 or 13; trust—Psalm 91). Pray this psalm for several days then, using it as a pattern, write your own psalm-prayer to the Lord.
- Incorporate one of the following Scripture prayers into your conversation with God every day for a week: Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Isaiah 6:3, Matthew 6:7-15, Luke 18:13, Hebrews 13:20-21 or Revelation 7:12. How has this prayer affected the way you think about God? How has it affected the way you pray?
- Discover new ways you can incorporate prayer into your daily schedule. For example, while watching the news, pray about the events that are being reported.
- Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard J. Foster
- Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
- Other Voices: Exploring the Contemplative in Salvationist Spirituality (Chapters 4-6) by Christine Faragher