How can Christians be helped to grow in their praying? This article lays out some suggestions. We first need to understand the gospel aspect of our praying, that Christ is our mediator and is interceding for us in heaven. We may also be helped in making use of the Psalms, in ordering our prayers, in concentrating on God first, and in reading works that contain the prayers of saints.

Source: Australian Presbyterian, 2011. 2 pages.

Powerful Prayer Five tools to help devotion blossom

Of all the practices in the Christian life, prayer is surely one of the most difficult. If one has 30 minutes at one's disposal, it is far easier to preach than to pray.

John "Rabbi" Duncan was asked on one occasion to lead family worship, and prayed at very great length. Rather sheepishly he confessed at the end: "I fear I have been very long today, but when one thinks he has got in, it is very difficult to get out again."

One can empathise both ways. Hence we derive some comfort, which is not altogether without a measure of perversity, from the fact that one of Jesus' disciples pleaded with Him: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1). The apostle Paul too confesses: "For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). The we is almost as wonderfully consoling as the promise of the Spirit's help. Then we have Peter, James and John, in the great drama that was Gethsemane, falling asleep three times when they were commanded to watch and pray (Mt. 26:36-46).

What could be worse than hearing a recording of all our prayers over the past week? And what if they were posted on the internet? Yet God hears and knows all our prayers, even before we utter them! No wonder we feel ashamed. There is no magic technique, but some suggestions might help and encourage us.

First, prayer is a gospel activity. We need to remember that "through Christ we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph. 2:18). We are seeking the Father who dwells in light inaccessible, but Christ is our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). He alone has provided access for us in His death to pay the penalty for sin and His resurrection to defeat death. Indeed, even now He is interceding for those who rest on His person and work (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).

The news gets better — we have the Son of God interceding for us in heaven, and the Spirit of God interceding for us on earth (Rom. 8:26). It is good to remember this in prayer. We are not trying to climb the ladder to heaven, but responding to the grace of the triune God in reaching down to earth to save sinners.

Second, we ought to make much use of the Psalms. In all his trials, Athanasius looked to the Psalms for comfort and wisdom, as he saw in them "the emotions of the soul". There is a place for the penitent (e.g. Psalms 32, 51, 130), the depressed (Psalms 42-43, 77, 88), the grateful (Psalms 103-106), the fearful (Psalms 27, 91, 121), the one in danger (Psalms 3, 57), the worshipper (Psalms 145-150), and the seeker after God's will (Psalm 119). We are taken into the depths of the human soul and raised to the heights of the glories of God. Those who pray are helped thus to understand themselves, and also taken out of themselves, to draw near to God.

Third, we ought to take some time to order our prayers. Dale Ralph Davis writes on this: "I do not want to advocate eloquence in prayer, but I want to reject thoughtlessness in prayer." It is too easy for us to resort to set phrases or fill-in words that do not mean much. The ACTS acronym is a help in prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The prayers in the Psalms have an order to them. Too many of our prayers, I suspect, are rushed and rather mindless efforts.

Fourth, concentrate on God first. C. S. Lewis once commented: "Don't you find that, if you keep your mind fixed upon God, you will automatically think of the person you are praying for; but that there is no tendency for it to work the other way round." All the powerful prayers of the Bible start with God (e.g. 2 Sam. 2:1-10; 1 Chron. 29:10-12; 2 Chron.6:14, 18). The Lord's Prayer begins with God: "Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". By that far into the prayer, most of us would have been deep into all our trials and ills, and looking for help, but Christ has simply reminded us of who God is.

Fifth, develop a better prayer life by reading works such as Arthur Bennett's The Valley of Vision or Matthew Henry's A Way to Pray. We pray extemporaneously, and rightly so, but we can be helped by reading the prayers or suggestions of others. These two works are not meant to be read in a few sittings, as with other books, but slowly and repeatedly, as if we were cows chewing on grass. A page or two a day might be sufficient.

All this might help us, like Rabbi Duncan, "get in" more often.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.