Early in my marriage, my wife used to ask me to “whisper a prayer” whenever a situation would arise. I thought her expression was quaint, maybe even lacking a degree of seriousness. However, it was not like her to take prayer lightly. In those early years of our marriage, prayer was a struggle for me, but my wife was steadfast and committed to “whisper” a prayer that always seemed effectual.
My track record with prayer has been somewhat spotty. My reputation could have been summed up as “when all was said and done, more was said than done!” In seminary I took a class on prayer with a requirement to write a final paper. I didn't get the paper in, but the professor gave me the grade anyway. He retired at the end of the semester. When I confessed the paper fail to his successor, he told me to write the paper and get it to him sometime. That was more than 35 years ago!
Stay awake and pray!
I'm not saying I didn't pray. I did, probably not as consistently as someone in ministry should have, but I prayed. And it always felt like a burden to pray for everyone I should pray for. It took a lot of energy to tell God how those prayers should be answered. I am being a little facetious, but pastors, at least this one, are good at framing prayers to either instruct the listeners or give coaching hints to God on how everything should come down.
I dabbled in all kinds of prayer techniques and programs—“Change the World School of Prayer,” praying for the “10-40 Window,” “Freedom in Christ” prayers, “Concerts of Prayer,” 24-7 prayer, prayer retreats—all good in and of themselves, but after a while I would have to move on to something else as I would lose interest or motivation.
Over the years, and especially in the last five, I have learned that the key components to prayer are: making time for prayer, committing to pray for specific people, needs and causes, and making a commitment to spend time with Jesus as I read and study the Bible. A growing conviction in my life has been the challenge from Jesus himself, “…So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).
Practical advice for prayer
For me it started by incorporating a daily prayer guide into my devotional time. I started with Phyllis Tickle's multi-volume Divine Hours. From there I moved on to the Book of Common Prayer. And on my journey into the Catholic Church I made the Divine Office: Liturgy of the Hours my daily companion. Now I couple that with the Saint Paul Daily Missal that incorporates the readings and prayers of the Mass.
All that is great! But how do I pray effectively for the concerns that I have, the people who ask me for prayer, and the burdens I sense from the world around me? Over time I have developed a long list of prayers and prayer concerns. There are prayers that I pray every day and concerns and requests that I offer up on specific days of the week. I incorporate well-known prayers from the Church that great men and women of the faith have prayed as they faced specific concerns regarding obedience, Christian life, marriage, illnesses, and world affairs.
Daily I incorporate the prayer of Mother Teresa of Calcutta into my prayer life:
Dear Lord, the great healer, I kneel before you, since every perfect gift must come from you. I pray: give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind, kindness and meekness to my heart. Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift up a part of the burden of my suffering fellow man and a true realization of the privilege that is mine. Take from my heart all guile and worldliness, that, with the simple faith of a child, I may rely on you. Amen.
“God, I’m here”
I wouldn’t be honest if I failed to say that even now some days are harder than others when it comes to praying. A friend once told me that occasionally he comes to his time of prayer and says to God, “I’m here.” What can we do when the going gets tough? Tiredness, illness, distractions, problems, you name it? I have found three key helps in three short verses in 1 Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:16-18). Praying because it is important doesn’t make it easy. Praying because Scripture tells me to and knowing that it is God’s will for me gives me the stamina and desire to pull through those difficult, even dry times.
We all need some help to push forward, to give us focus and purpose. You might use the ACTS acrostic: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication to direct your prayers. Another acrostic is PRAY: Praise, Repent, Ask and Yield. In my own life and tradition, I pray the Rosary, which guides me through periods of meditation on the life of Christ interspersed with prayer and intercession. Find something that will help you.
Now, I love to pray! I haven't written that paper yet, but Jesus has been writing it on my heart. So, “I'll say a little prayer for you!”
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