All humans pray in one way or another but most of us Christians admit we would like to pray better than we do. Our efforts are often disjointed, lacking an orderly sequence. Or they may become perfunctory and lack vitality.
Even Jesus’ disciples, who had opportunity to observe him at prayer, said to the Master, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
I often follow a five point guide for prayer, first thing in the morning, or sometimes on my walk, or even when asked to offer a public prayer. The outline below has been passed down to us from centuries past, so I claim no credit for it. But it may help you, as it does me.
ADORATION. When we pray we do not address a cosmic clerk awaiting our orders; it is the Lord of the universe we address. So at the beginning of our prayers it is good to spend the first bit of time concentrating our minds in adoration.
Jesus said, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). A few moments of pondering the meaning of that address and expressing adoration can prepare the heart for humble communion with God.
There are other titles of approach. A prayer might begin with Billy Graham’s memorable words: “Our Father and our God.” Or you may prefer such words of address as simply, “ Dear Lord,” or “Almighty God.” All should excite adoration.
My favorite title of address is “Eternal God, Our Heavenly Father.” It joins together my awareness of God’s majesty with the intimacy he invites. Whatever the title, we simply must take a few moments to set before ourselves and revere who it is we address.
CONFESSION. Even if we claim the assurance of Romans 6:2 that we have died to sin, or that we are living a Spirit filled life (Ephesians 5:16) or have discovered the victorious life in Christ (Galatians 5:1) there should nevertheless be moments in our private prayers for self examination and confession as needed: For example, are all of my relationships right? Am I sharing my life and resources freely as God wants me to? It’s the little unconfessed sins that build a nest in the heart to diminish our joy and block our answers to prayer (Psalm 19:12,13).
PETITION. This is a very personal element in prayer. If our confessions have turned up matters needing repentance, this is the place to entreat for grace to be strong in facing those matters. If the day ahead faces us with a special interpersonal challenge we petition our God for wisdom. Both the need and the possibilities for petition are numerous, and the Father invites us to ask for his help (James 1:5).
INTERCESSION. At this point our prayers range beyond ourselves. To intercede means to stand between the Almighty God and human need and entreat him to meet that need. Here we pour out our prayers for family members near and far, unsaved friends, pastors and other workers in our church, national concerns, civic leaders, the work of missionaries of our acquaintance. When we cultivate this element in our prayers we become interveners between a God who invites and a world where needs are enormous.
THANKSGIVING. When I was a boy, during the winter my mother sometimes gave me a pail with a small amount of hot water in it and sent me a couple of blocks away to a community pump in a vacant lot. She knew the pump handle would be frozen in a fixed position, and the hot water was to melt the ice that held it.
But when the handle began to move it would was still not able to lift the column of water from the well below. The leathers around the piston had dried and the suction necessary to expel the air in the line and lift water to the surface was not there. I would stand and pump until the leathers swelled and abundant water would then flow from the spout. The pump had been primed.
Sometimes we have to patiently prime the pump of prayer, and thanksgiving is the best way to do that. We start by giving thanks for blessings large and small as they come to mind. Soon a connection is made and the prayers of thanksgiving begin to flow.
Prayers following this pattern are effectual. They bless us and they bless others when we pray in each of the above categories in Jesus’ name. Then we move into the day knowing we have begun the day by experiencing the Presence of God and the privileges of communing with him.