Advice about Prayer from Great Men and Women of the Past

Recently, a simple brochure fell out from the pages of a book I wrote many years ago on church membership. This little brochure was intended to help ministers I was mentoring in their practices of prayer.

I had begun and ended my recommendations by quoting some things great Christian leaders of earlier times have said about prayer. I offer some of them here because they may encourage you, too. 

We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties. Oswald Chambers

Prayer is where the action is. John Wesley

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work. Oswald Chambers.

A golden thread of heart-prayer must run through the web of the whole Christian life; we must be frequently addressing ourselves to God in short and sudden utterances, by which we must keep our communion with him… Matthew Henry

 Accustom yourself gradually to carry prayer into all your daily occupation. Speak, move, work in peace, as if you were in prayer. Fenelon

Prayer is for Jesus not nearly so much connected with resignation as it is with rebellion… Practically all that is said in the New Testament about prayer is said not in the interest of being reconciled to things as they are but in the interest of getting things changed. John Baillie

Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. [Christians] are powerful on their knees. Corrie Ten Boom

Prayer is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings. Chrysostom

You may find among these promptings one or two that especially strengthen your resolve to pray more regularly and intentionally in the days ahead. If so, consider writing one or more of them on the fly leaf of your Bible to encourage you!

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How to Make Our Prayers Seem More Real

Several times I have heard fellow Christians say: I pray, but my prayers seem to lack a sense of reality.

They say: I start with good intentions, but my thoughts are interrupted by something I have to do or they just wander off subject.

Having had the same experience myself, I have a strategy that helps greatly. It is biblical and is in fact taught to us by Jesus, our Lord. I begin by taking time to reflect on who God is.

This is what Jesus intended when he said to his disciples, “This is how you should pray: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name’” (Matthew 6:9). It’s a very short prayer but it begins by sharpening our awareness that God is our Father. And this is how our prayers are to begin.

The Gospel of John uses this title for God at least 111 times. It is often used by Jesus in address to his Father, and is to be used by us, although in a different way, when in prayer we address God as our Heavenly Father (John 20:17).

Even if your earthly father has not set before you a good model (an all too common complaint), don’t let that rob you of the reality that God is in every respect an unflawed Almighty Father and he can be fully trusted. Jesus is our authority on that.

After Jesus establishes that God is our Father, he adds, our Father in heaven. This means the God we address dwells in the unseen world that has a reality as great or greater than the world we experience with our human senses.

Our Father is above us as our Sovereign at the same time as he is a caring Father right with us, although unseen. When we give time to this exercise of focusing on God as our Father in heaven, we will experience God’s Holy Spirit intensifying a sense of who God is to us.

Jesus also teaches us to attribute to God, “Hallowed be your name.” John Wesley comments on this, May you be truly honored, loved, feared by all in heaven and in earth, by all angels and all men.” It matters that we take the time to address our Heavenly Father as holy, pure, loving and majestic.

We too easily skip over reflection on the holiness of our God. As a result, we rush into prayer with only a vague sense of God’s holy Fatherhood; thus we fail to identify ourselves as profoundly loved by him. So in reflecting on our God’s holiness and majestic rule we thus see our creaturehood as we should.

You may say: It takes time for such thoughts to sink in. True. So that is why it’s good at the outset of our daily prayers to get in mind the greatness, grandeur and goodness of God, our Father, and to consciously address him as such.

This title for God focuses our attention, clarifies our perspective, and the earthly plane on which we live becomes quiet. It was Jesus Christ, our Messiah, who said, When you pray, first say “Our Father.” That is advice from the highest source, and if we take time to follow it, rewards will be abundant.

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Why Do Christians Pray in Jesus’ Name?

13712688913_80b64ee497_mHave you noticed that Christians regularly close their prayers with such expressions as, “we ask these mercies in Jesus’ name?”

You’ll hear it in church services when pastors offer the pastoral prayer, or in an informal prayer group during the midweek.

It is commonly heard during Christian telecasts. It seems to be a universal feature of Christian prayer.

To understand why, remember first that in John’s Gospel Jesus says of himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6.)

Thus, we already see why Christians might approach the Father “in Jesus’ name.”  We come to God through Christ.

An even more direct explanation comes to us from the account of Jesus’ meeting with his disciples on the night of his betrayal by Judas, just before our Lord’s crucifixion.

How they are to pray is a big part of his instruction that night. He emphasizes that they are to pray: in my name.

In fact, when we read John 14-16 slowly and carefully we hear the throb of that phrase — in my name, in my name, in my name … Six times!

Here’s an example: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13.)

Here’s another: “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16b.) There are other examples in John 15:7; John 16:23b; John 16:24; and John 16:26.

Obviously, Jesus makes clear to them that prayer is accessible to the Father only when offered in Jesus’ name. He is the Mediator.

That truth has lodged itself deeply in the Christian consciousness through the ages. All of this is why we regularly hear prayers that close like this:

These mercies we ask in Jesus’ name.

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Re-post: An Exercise in Prayer

Photo credit: khrawlings (via flickr.com)A minister was counseling a parishioner on how to restore meaning to his dry and discouraged prayers. He told the parishioner that for one month in his daily prayers he was not to offer a single request for himself, or his family, or to bring any of his affairs before God.

Dumbfounded, the parishioner asked, “What then shall I pray for?” The minister was unyielding, “Ask for anything that is in your heart only not once for yourself.”

At first, the man could find nothing to pray for. He would begin a familiar petition, but would then have to drop it because it was asking something for himself.

It was a serious but enlightening month for him and he learned a great lesson. He could see that in praying only for himself and his needs he was praying selfishly, and that kind of self-preoccupied prayer doesn’t awaken in us the larger concerns for God’s kingdom. Before the month was over passion was coming back into his prayers.

The man’s state had been sad because prayer is not only for the satisfaction of our own needs. It also aligns us with God’s will, and then moves us to entreat his favor on the lives of others, even at a distance, who have a pressing need for our prayers.

Such further-reaching prayers can bring joy back into our prayer times. Archbishop Trench wrote, “Lord, what a change within us one short hour / Spent in thy presence will avail to make!”

And the late Ruth Graham had this bigger picture. She wrote. “We cannot pray and remain the same. We cannot pray and have our homes remain the same. We cannot pray and have the world about us remain the same. God has decreed to act in response to prayer. ‘Ask,’ he commands us. And Satan trembles for fear….”

To be a follower of Jesus and to have a prayer life that is dry or even non-existent is very sad because, as George Buttrick wrote. “… if God is in some deep and eternal sense like Jesus, friendship with him is our first concern, worthiest art, best resource, and sublimest joy. Such prayer could brood over our modern disorders, as the Spirit once brooded over the void, to summon a new world.”

The pastor suggested for his parishioner a simple adjustment in prayer but one that refreshed the daily experience of prayer for him — and could work for us too. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s personal. But ahead of that he taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.” That kind of petition extends prayer’s range and increases its joy.

George Buttrick gives us a good tip about prayer: such praying could become our “sublimest joy”.

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John Calvin’s Pastoral Words About Prayer

13712688913_80b64ee497_mJohn Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, offers some strong pastoral counsel to keep our prayers from becoming flat and tedious. He makes six points.

Calvin’s sentences, reflecting the writing style of his time, are complex. I take the liberty of presenting his ideas about revitalizing prayer both in summary and in simpler English.

He introduces the subject with the assurance that God watches over us even when our awareness of Him is dim.

After this, he makes his first point: that even though we have not yet learned as a matter of habit to come to Him with every need, we should as a conscious decision pray with a burning desire to seek, love, and serve Him until that custom of reflexively coming to Him in every circumstance has formed.

Second, we should pray that nothing we would be ashamed of, if seen by Him, should enter our minds or hearts. This calls for dependence on the Holy Spirit and his aid in our discipline.

Third, our prayers will include a review of the benefits that come from his hand and we should receive them with deep gratitude. Gratitude is a practiced element in prayer, easier for some than others.

Fourth, when we perceive that God has answered a prayer, we should consciously meditate on his kindness. We can do this not only in the prayer chamber but on our way to work.

Fifth, at the same time, we should embrace with greater delight those things we acknowledge we have obtained by prayer.

Last, may we settle in our minds that God promises never to fail us, that he invites us to call upon him, and that he is actively extending his help to us right now.

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Learning to Pray Flash Prayers – III

DEAR GRANDSON:

Whatever could the Apostle Paul have meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing?” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That his readers should do nothing else but pray? Not likely.

Yet, the Jerusalem Bible has his words, “Pray constantly,” And J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “Never stop praying.”

How about this: “Always keep conversation with the Lord at the ready in your heart; and in the unfolding of the day, be quick to turn any blessing or need into a prayer.”

Think of Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes of Persia. He learned that the few occupants back in the Jerusalem he loved were desolate and the city itself in ruins and he sat down and wept. The king saw sadness on Nehemiah’s face and asked what it meant.

In the moment, Nehemiah, “… prayed to the God of heaven,” and then he answered the king …” (Nehemiah 2:4,5)

The king’s question, Nehemiah’s prayer and the king’s answer to Nehemiah, all three, seem to have happened at the same moment. Such praying was instant to him.

We know for Nehemiah the normal course of his life made prayer habitual. Look, for example, at how extensive and impassioned his prayer was otherwise in the previous chapter (Nehemiah 1:4-11)

Or consider the case of the evangelist, Stephen, who died as a martyr. The Scriptures say, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this against them.’ When he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59). Stephen died praying.

It seems appropriate to assume when the Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing,” he meant both kinds of prayer — first the habitual, daily, ordered prayer that frames our lives, and then the numerous, instantaneous flash prayers launched daily for the thoughts, encounters, interactions, and issues of any moment.

Jesus assured his distraught disciples they always would have access to him. He told them, “I will not leave you orphaned…” (John 14:18). In other words, through the Holy Spirit and by prayer, the resurrected Jesus would be accessible to them all the time.

And he assured them that his Father would make his home with believers. (John 14:23) How could our God offer us greater intimacy than that for our flash prayers? So here are the kind of prayers we can practice:

Flash prayers of affirmation: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad.” Let such rise at any moment.

Flash prayers of petition: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “May my associates see the joy of the Lord in me today.” “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” Strengthen me to be honest in all my dealings. May I be as light to my fellow workers today. Keep me faithful in the hour of temptation. Always appropriate.

Flash prayers for others: Bless my family near and far. Remember my acquaintances in the hospital or nursing home today. Give heed to my unanswered prayers as I repeat them. Give strength and wisdom to my pastor. May those I touch see your grace in me today. Remember leaders of both church and nation. May they seek your wisdom in all things.

Examples: we might entreat for mercy when driving past the site of an accident on the way to work; when an unbelieving neighbor greets us over the back fence; when we note a student’s sad expression in the classroom; when the little children seem unconsolable; before and during a hard exam; or upon receipt of great good news.

We may not be put on the spot like Nehemiah or called to die for our faith like Stephen, but there are many issues each day that invite flash prayers. They can become a style of life.

If we cultivate this habit the depth and richness of our faith and our adequacy for life will be enhanced.

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Teaching A Grandson About Daily Prayer — II

2706269640_2081136b7c_mDEAR GRANDSON:

I hope during the past week your life has been enriched by daily prayer. I now look back with you to ancient writings where prayer was often divided into five elements.

1. ADORATION. Jesus said to his disciples, “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Hallowed means sacred or consecrated. This calls our hearts out to adoration.

Adoration is prayer at its best. We praise God because he is God. God does not need our adorations but we need them because in pouring them forth we affirm a reality about life.

It’s good to take time in our morning prayers to ponder what we know about God, — he is merciful, loving, all-powerful. This prompts us to adore him, and adoration is like the porch by which we enter the grand cathedral of prayer.

2. CONFESSION. When we are converted to Jesus Christ, he delivers us from the life of habituated sinning. Paul said, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2). And John writes, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). We dare not excuse known sin in our lives.

At the same time, Jesus recognized that in our frailty, carelessness or willfulness we transgress. That is why he said, “When you pray say: … forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:2). James also reminds Christians, “We all stumble in many ways,” referring primarily to sins of the tongue.

That is why we rejoice in the salvation that delivers us from the life of sin. We are acceptable before a holy God because of the offering of Christ’s shed blood on our behalf. But at the same time we make a place in our prayers to confess sins we may have knowingly or unknowingly committed – sinful thoughts, hurtful or deceptive words or shameful deeds.

3. PETITION. Our petitions bring personal needs before the Lord. Nothing is too insignificant to include in our prayers. God sees the sparrow fall. He promises, “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8)

Yet there will be perplexities for us in pray. Sometimes the Lord’s answers amaze us. At other times, divine delays test our faith. Sometimes we don’t get the answers we want, and we may even be tempted at times to believe God doesn’t even hear our prayers.

Jesus taught us an important lesson on this matter. Praying in Gethsemane, he cried out for deliverance from a cruel, anguishing death. But he added, “Nevertheless, Not my will but thine be done.” Even in his great anguish he confessed that the Father rules over all.

Therefore, because we don’t know all that God is doing, we pray with fervor but add to our petitions these words, “thy will be done”. The Hebrew letter exhorts, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:27)

4. INTERCESSION. This word means to plead with God for the needs of others. Ezekiel wrote of a time when the walls of the city were broken down and the dwellers were in grave peril. God looked for someone who would build up the walls and stand before him in the gap (Ezekiel 22:30). That’s the picture of an intercessor.

We make intercession a regular part of our prayers, praying for our nation, our community, our church, for family needs and the salvation of loved ones and associates. Daily intercession keeps our prayers looking outward and upward.

5. THANKSGIVING. If adoration is the worship of God for who he is, thanksgiving is an acknowledgment of the blessings he bestows. Here’s my secret: I sometimes find that when my prayers seem to drag if I turn them into thanksgiving this restores the energy of prayer. It’s amazing what forgotten mercies the Lord brings to mind when we turn our thoughts to thanksgiving.

Well, Dear Grandson, I leave you with a thought from Frank Laubach: “Prayer is likely to be undervalued by all but wise people because it is so silent and so secret. We are often deceived into thinking that noise is more important than silence. War sounds far more important than the noiseless growing of a crop of wheat, yet the silent wheat feeds millions while war destroys them.”

Your Loving Grandfather

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