What is Prayer?

While working our way through different devotions and topics one of my students expressed a sentiment that you may be familiar with—“I hear all the time that prayer is important and an essential part of a healthy devotional life, but what is prayer really? How come no one ever taught me how to pray?”

It occurred to me that some of you might feel the same way so we are going to spend some time in this resource talking about prayer and various forms of it.

I was taught, as a little girl, that prayer is simply talking to God. Life got confusing and pretty messed up when I was about 14. I started to have some serious conversations with God. And it never occurred to me during those years that only I was speaking! Throughout this project I am going to explore different forms and ideas about prayer with you; forms that have been helpful to me over the years. I hope they give you as much joy as they have given me!

Think of a time you had a really satisfying conversation with someone who loves and affirms you. How did you feel during and after the conversation? For me, the words that come to mind are: respected, cherished, accepted, safe, able to share my inmost thoughts and feelings. I wanted to listen to their thoughts; there was laughter, and tears, no embarrassment; I felt refreshed, renewed, when we were done.

Do you think of your conversations with God like this? Is this kind of conversation with God a possibility?

So often I put prayer in a box. I praise God; I thank Him for the good stuff in my life; I pray about my sick friends and my neighbour’s cancer, about the project at work that’s due next week. But it’s essentially a one-way conversation. Blah, blah, blah, on my part.

Ever been part of a conversation where it was only going one way? As the listener, I feel bored and slightly used; but I don’t feel any better when I am the talker!

True prayer is a two-way conversation. God speaks, I listen; I speak, God listens. In the silence it's sometimes hard to believe that God speaks or listens. I’ve found that part of what makes me wonder whether God is speaking or not is the rush to my praying. And so I’ve learned that, for me, a key step in praying is to prepare my heart. 

We don’t need to go on a hunt to find God. God has found us and is waiting for us to realize He is listening and ready to respond. Jeremiah 29:11-14a (NKJ) says: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord." God doesn’t simply listen to us—He thinks about how He can give us a future and a hope that we could never imagine! We never need to worry whether God is listening. He promised that when we search for Him, He will be found.

Just who am I praying to?

John 5: 17 tells us that “my Father is always at His work.” It’s not God’s lack of presence causing stress in my life, it's my forgetting who God is. As I prepare my heart, I like to think of some of the characteristics of God reflected in some of the names He is called in the Bible:

Jacob called God Jehovah-raah meaning: a caring shepherd (Genesis 48:15).

Abraham named God Jehovah-jireh meaning: provider (Genesis 22:14)

Gideon named God Jehovah-shalom meaning: The Lord is peace (Judges 6:24)

Moses named God Jehovah-rophe meaning: I am the Lord who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)

Moses named God Jehovah-nissi as well, meaning: the Lord is my banner (Exodus 17: 15). In the heat of battle, soldiers feared getting separated from their army. They carried banners into war so warriors who found themselves alone could see the raised flag; it signaled safety.)

The Hebrew word Elohim means "strong one" or "creator" and it appears multiple times in the first chapter of Genesis.

Each of these names represents a story when God was able to meet the needs of His people.

And look at the stories. Time after time the stories in the Bible tell us about a God who is able to do impossible things; things we cannot do. And each of those stories (like the names) reminds me that I am praying to someone who is so much more able than I am to answer life’s problems and challenges. And when I remind myself that is who I’m having the conversation with I re-affirm what I know—God loves me, cares about me, and He’s listening, prepared to continue to do good things in my life when I ask Him for help. Why wouldn’t I want to have a conversation with Him? 

As I write this, I’ve had a pain in my neck (literally, not figuratively!!!) for the past week. It's caused sleeplessness and a great deal of pain. And yes, I’ve been to the chiropractor and acupuncturist many times these past days. Whenever I leave an appointment and I’m still hurting I’m aware of the fact that, even though my acupuncturist and chiropractor are really great people and very capable at what they do—they can’t do impossible things. And I realize that God can. So while I get treatment for this I will continue to pray, knowing God can heal better than anybody else can! This week I pray to  God as I remember this name for Him—Jehovah-rophe. And I remember as I pray that God is the one who loved Moses and the people of Israel, fixed the water when it was undrinkable and told them, “I am the Lord, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26b NIV)!

This whole chapter in Exodus is a great chapter to look at when you’re in an impossible situation and need to remember that we worship a God who does impossible things!! Just before the chapter begins the Israelites have broken free of the Egyptians who had captured them and forced them to be slaves for 400 years. Moses and the people prayed and God rescued them from disease. Just prior to this psalm He had divided the water of the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk across the sea on dry land and when the waters of the sea came down again they washed away the Egyptian army!

Read parts of this song (Exodus 15): (TNIV) 
 1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
   “I will sing to the Lord,
   for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
   He has hurled into the sea.
 2 “The Lord is my strength and my defense[a];
   He has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise Him,
   my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
3 The Lord is a warrior;
   the Lord is His name.
4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
   He has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
   are drowned in the Red Sea.
5 The deep waters have covered them;
   they sank to the depths like a stone.
6 Your right hand, Lord,
   was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
   shattered the enemy....
 
11 Who among the gods
   is like You, Lord?
Who is like You—
   majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
   working wonders?
 12 “You stretch out Your right hand,
   and the earth swallows Your enemies.
13 In Your unfailing love You will lead
   the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
   to Your holy dwelling....
.
 18 “The Lord reigns
   for ever and ever.”...
 21 Miriam sang to them:
   “Sing to the Lord,
   for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
   He has hurled into the sea.”

Praising God

Psalm 42: 1-2 NIV

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."

When I think of all of the characteristics of God and His great love for us I am led naturally to giving Him glory for who He is. 

In the busyness of our lives we often skip this part of our prayers. We don’t stop to praise God for who He is.

When you get stuck, a good beginning to praising God is to simply tell Him how much you love Him. When I praise God I often use Scripture to do so. I’m not much of a poet, but David was and so I often read his songs to God.

Look at these verses and how David goes about praising God: (Psalm 146 NIV)

1 Praise the Lord.
   Praise the Lord, my soul.
 2 I will praise the Lord all my life;                                a commitment to praise God  
 I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.             even when he doesn’t feel like it!
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
   in human beings, who cannot save.             He is trustworthy!
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
   on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,     He helps and offers hope!
   whose hope is in the Lord their God.
 6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
   the sea, and everything in them—                 He is mighty—He created everything
   He remains faithful forever.                 He is faithful to us!
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed             He takes care of us when mistreated
   and gives food to the hungry.                 He feeds us!
The Lord sets prisoners free,                     He sets us free!
 8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,                 He gives me sight!
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
   the Lord loves the righteous.                 He loves me!
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
   and sustains the fatherless and the widow,         He doesn’t let evil win!
   but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Now you try with Psalm 108. NIV

1 My heart, O God, is steadfast;
   I will sing and make music with all my soul.
2 Awake, harp and lyre!
   I will awaken the dawn.
3 I will praise You, Lord, among the nations;
   I will sing of You among the peoples.
4 For great is Your love, higher than the heavens;
   Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
   let Your glory be over all the earth.
 

Try adding praise to your day. Bring your worship music home on Sunday. Buy Christian music. Sing along with worship songs to worship God. Or try reading: Psalms 8, 19, 23, 46, 95, 100, and 148!!

During praise is when we truly relinquish the problems of our lives to God. We cannot really praise the Lord of all and keep control of all our stuff at the same time. If we really believe that God is capable of things we are not capable of then we are preparing ourselves to surrender to His will.

The Art of Confession

After spending time with God in praise it became so clear to me that He is good—and I’m not so good.  He is perfect and I’m a little embarrassed about my track record. After praise is a good time to come clean with myself and God—to admit how my "bad" has hurt and maimed others. It's a good time for confession.

Confession is something that makes most people uncomfortable. None of us finds it easy to admit that we’ve messed up, that we’ve hurt others, that we’ve failed. It seems easier to live in denial.

Bill Hybels wrote a really helpful book about prayer called Too Busy Not to Pray. He tells a great story about confession: 

Many years ago I had an interesting conversation with a man—I'll call him Harry—who regularly attended my church. I had given a message on our sinfulness and our need for a Saviour. Harry came to my office and said, "All this talk about sin is making me feel really bad. I for one don't consider myself a sinner."

Harry was a guy I could shoot straight with, and so I said, "Well, maybe you're not. Let me ask you a few questions. You've been married twenty-five years. Have you been absolutely one hundred percent faithful to your wife the whole time?"

He chuckled and said, "Well, you know, I'm in sales. I travel a lot…." We both knew what he was admitting to.

"Okay," I said, "when you fill out your expense account, do you ever add something that wasn't strictly business?"

"Everybody does that," he replied.

"And when you are out there selling your product, do you ever exaggerate—say it will do something it won't, or promise to ship it tomorrow when you know it won't go out until next Tuesday?"

"That's the industry standard," he said.

I looked straight at him and said, "You have just told me that you are an adulterer, a cheater and a liar. Repeat those words after me—I am an adulterer, a cheater and a liar. "

He looked as if his eyes were going to pop out. "Don't use those awful words!" he said. "I only said there was a little something on the side, a little this and a little that. . .

"No," I said. "Just say it like it is. You're an adulterer, a cheater and a liar. To me, that means you're a sinner in desperate need of a Saviour."

I love this example. We all either deny or minimize the things we’ve done wrong. We blame things on other people (I wouldn’t have punched you if you hadn’t punched me first; I grew up in a really crappy home, that’s why I’m a crappy husband, father, etc.); we make excuses (I was really tired or I was busy doing God’s work!). 

The sin in your life may not look the same as the man in Bill Hybels' office, but consider how these things show up in your life:

  • Pride – How have you hurt others by insisting that you know better?
  • Self-love – Honestly now—do you love others more than you love yourself?
  • People-pleasing – Are you more eager to please people than to please God?
  • Loving stuff – Ever used (or agreed with) “whoever dies with the most toys, wins?”

What do you want more than you want God?

When was the last time you used your tongue as a weapon?

Peacemaker Ministries is an organization dedicated to teaching people biblical peacemaking principles.   They teach, on their Internet site (www.hispeace.org/), the following to think about as you make a confession:

“As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, He simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: "I'm sorry if I hurt you." "Let's just forget the past." "I suppose I could have done a better job." "I guess it's not all your fault." These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A's.”

  • Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  • Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  • Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  • Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  • Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  • Alter your behaviour (Change your attitudes and actions)
  • Ask for forgiveness

See Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13

Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God, Bill Hybels, Ivp Books, 2008; www.hispeace.org>home>Resources>The Seven A’s of Confession

Confession is good. But remember, confession is the part where I speak. In prayer, like conversation, it's time to listen to God. When I’ve confessed, that’s when God tells me He forgives my sin; that He sent Jesus to die on the cross and to rise again so I would not have to pay the price for my "bad." Confession is a good thing—not because I like to be reminded of what a slime-ball I can be, but because it’s an opportunity to be free of the guilt I feel, to be reminded that I’m redeemed. And that God is still at work in me.

Confession should always be followed by Absolution and Forgiveness !

When you work all day outside doing manual labour you are stinky and need to have a bath when you get home. And when you are greeted by someone you love—who is fresh and clean and smells good—as much as you love them, you just want to get cleaned up before you give them a big hug and greet them! 

This is kind of what it's like once we praise God. Once we have had a chance to be reminded of how wonderful God is, if we’re honest, we also are reminded that we are not so wonderful! My sin—my wanting what I want, my not sharing, my not caring—are all so different than His love. And so, when I spend some time with Him, I start to feel a little uncomfortable in His presence. I start to feel like I’m smelling up the air; I’m getting dirt on the chairs, etc.

This is a natural and healthy way to feel about our sin. God set standards for how we are to act. When we know we have failed to keep those standards, God uses our conscience to make us feel guilt—not because He wants us to live in guilt and shame, but because He wants our guilt to lead us to repent of our sins and confess to Him. Once we confess He frees us from our sin; He takes away the guilt!

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV) says, "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from  their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." This verse reminds us that God wants us to come to Him—humbly—not trying to cover anything up—and turn to Him for help. When we turn away from the things we know are wrong then we allow God to heal us. And note the powerful effect of sin and forgiveness. Our sin can show up in our "land" and God promises us that He can fix our land, too!

One day you recognize that you are the centre of your own attention—you’re more excited about your own plans and projects than you are about asking God what His plans are. And you feel a twinge of guilt. But you don’t let the guilt overtake you. Instead you turn to God. You say you’re sorry for putting yourself first—before Him and everybody else. Then you claim the forgiveness He offers; the promise that through the death and resurrection of Jesus you are no longer required to "fix" things. You recognize that Jesus paid the price for you—you are right with God—and nothing you do to make things right is necessary. You may choose to do the stuff He wants you to do—love people, serve them, be nice, don’t bully, don’t make people feel nasty. But these things aren’t brownie points that somehow get you into heaven, or things that earn you God’s favour. You don’t need brownie points. God already loves you so much He put His Son’s life on the line. If we choose to serve God, it's not because we are trying to earn anything. That service is simply a way to say thank you for a  gift that is so huge it's a little hard to take in. We don’t feel guilty because that suggests that something other than thank you is still required. And feeling guilty distracts us from what God really wants for us.

Confession and Absolution remind us we are loved, forgiven and accepted by God. But confession also is God telling us we’re the method He’s chosen to get His work done. He forgives us, yes, but then He entrusts His work into our hands! How amazing is that? His forgiveness is not conditional: “I’ll forgive you and see if you deserve it; I’ll forgive you and then perhaps if you can keep being good I’ll actually use you.” His forgiveness is all the way—you’re forgiven—and if you are willing, I would like to use your gifts and abilities to get My work done!   

That’s the most amazing, most empowering statement I’ve ever heard! I confess I’m an ego-maniac and God forgives me and promises me His power to stop. And then tells me that if I want a job—He wants me! 

Forgiveness

It’s good to confess things—to get them off our chest. And while our own sin is a huge part of the conflict we live with, the other part is that we are often sinned against. In fact, a whole industry has arisen trying to help people with these issues. 

Unfortunately, the message we get is not always one of forgiveness. It's one of blame which leads us to want to vent anger and sue people instead of forgiving. 

If any man had a right to play "poor me" or make a list of other’s wrongs, or to try to blame others, it was Joseph (from the Bible). You can watch the story of Joseph in the istop film called Joseph (found by going here:  add link). Joseph is in conflict with his brothers. He is his papa’s favourite child and his brothers are jealous, so they kidnap him, sell him to slave-traders and then go home and tell their dad he’s been eaten by a wild beast. They allow their poor old dad to mourn for years and then, by God’s design, they catch up with their baby brother in Egypt where he was sold as a slave. Joseph has done really well in slavery and finds himself as the Pharoah’s right-hand man. When he meets his brothers again this is what he says: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:19-20 NIV).

Today there would be advisors who would say to Joseph—you would be healthier if you got angry and got even. But the Bible proposes a different way—to renounce the hold of our feelings through forgiveness and mercy-giving; to understand that whatever forgiveness we have to give to others comes by understanding how great a gift we have been given when God forgives us. God doesn’t forgive us ‘cause we earn it, or ‘cause we’re not so bad, or 'cause we’re cute! And He doesn’t forgive us because of something He’ll get back from us. He forgives us because He loves us—and because He has mercy on us.

When I understand that mercy, then I can pray for God to give me the strength to give that mercy to others. I can forgive them, not because they deserve it; not because I’m better than they are; not because they’ll pay me back. I can forgive them because God forgave me. As followers of Jesus we are enabled to go beyond what is humanly possible in forgiving others. 2 Corinthians 5: 14 (Phi) says: “The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ.” Which means our faith gives us trampoline springs under all of our actions. Our ability to seek peace and forgiveness has all the resources of God’s love and grace at its disposal.

Check out Psalm103: 8-10 (NIV): "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities."

God’s deep love for us shows us a fresh way to approach others.

Have you thanked God lately?

When I look at God’s grace and mercy—when I see the power of His love in not only setting me free, but in trusting me with the work He has said is more important than anything else—His work—then I am overcome with gratitude.

I remember once breaking an antique vase my mother had. It was broken out of deliberate carelessness on my part. And the consequence of that one action seemed to last forever. My allowance was taken away for years—and it was the reminder that came up every time my mother wanted me to feel guilty about being careless! In contrast, Isaiah 43:25 (NIV) says: "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and remembers your sins no more."

Even though the cost to forgive us was the death of His own Son, God tells us He completely forgives us. He blots out the sin and tells us He won’t remember the sin anymore. That’s almost unfathomable to me.

2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV) tells us: "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"

We have received everything: it was all given to us, but  the desire to take credit—grab the glory—is our human nature. Sin is basically ingratitude. It causes us to  love  things and use people as if they belonged to us and were created to make our lives easy. When we become grateful people—when we do what Deuteronomy 26:11b (NIV) says—then “you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you…”

When we rejoice in what we have, our attitude changes and how we think about what God has given us is radically transformed. When I think of the people around me I am in awe of the gifts they have and I’m grateful for the things they invest in my life. When I think of all the resources I have and give thanks instead of just longing for more, I see all the riches I live with and I find a generosity of spirit that I’m not otherwise capable of. 

And when my attitude has been transformed by gratitude then, when I think of all my difficulties, I can thank God for the difficulties I don’t struggle with. Yes, I have a pain in my neck but my neck moves and so does the rest of me; yes, I have to wear these stupid glasses to see anything, but I can see; yes, I’m getting old but I have a healthcare plan that helps me to be better than I otherwise would be.

It's when I’m grateful that I know I can trust God with all my life—that He has better uses for it than I will ever find. And once I start being grateful, I keep thinking of more things I can be grateful for. It's like that—you can spend forever making a list of all the things you can be grumpy about—and then you will be defined by that grumpiness. Or you can spend forever making a list of the things you are thankful for—and live with a grateful heart that is generous in affirmation and love.

Encouragement is a side-effect of being grateful

When we learn to be thankful I think we also learn to be encouraging. One of the biggest blessings of love God has placed in my life is the people around me. I receive so many blessings through the love and friendship people give me. 

Hebrews 3:12NIV says: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  It’s easy for all of us to get lost in the self-centredness of our own thinking. When I get lost there I start to feel that since I’m the centre of the universe, everything should happen the way I think it should. I should get the things I want and life should be about me. But then I bump into other people and if they’re thinking self-centredly, too, then we’re on a collision course. But, when I live instead with a grateful heart I realize that a life focused on God also becomes a life focused on others. We’re told to love the Lord our God with all our heart and our soul and our mind—and secondly to love others like ourselves.   See also Matthew 22: 37-39

And a good place to start when loving others is to think about how I can daily encourage them. What does a word of encouragement look like to my neighbour today? Is it to say something encouraging? Is it to encourage them to do their best? Is it to walk alongside them for a few moments? Is it to pray for them? Is it to pause for a moment to listen to a child?

Hebrew’s 10 is this great chapter where the author gives us some great practical advice about how we should live—and be encouragers. His point in verses 19 -21 is that, because we are God’s children, we have this enormous blessing of feeling confident in going to the Lord, in entering His presence. We get to come as children to talk with our Father! And, since we can be confident in this relationship, we can always be fully assured of our faith (Hebrews 10: 22); and we can always be assured of God’s faithfulness to us. (v 23)  When we live in that confidence we can "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (v 24 KJV). I’ve always found this passage to be interesting. He doesn’t say you should do good stuff—He says you should encourage others to do good stuff!! And note the word He uses—stimulate—this is not passive encouragement (GO, BOB, GO!!) but its an action word: rouse to action, spur someone on, excite or invigorate!! You can’t stimulate someone unless you’re active in doing it yourself. When this happens we act together as a community. We multiply the good deeds that are done. 

Chuck Swindoll says that “the family of God—the church—is not the place for verbal put-downs, sarcasm, criticism, judgment. We get enough of those things from the world around us. The church is where we need to assemble to be encouraged—and then we are able to be what He calls us to be in the world.”

So my challenge to you today—are your  personal spaces (your emails; your blog;  your Facebook; your office; your room) a place where encouraging words are spoken? What could make it more so?

Remember: "anxious hearts are very heavy, but a word of encouragement works wonders!" (Proverbs 12:25, TLB).

Keep silence before me....

Isaiah 41:1 (NKJV) says it—not me: "Keep silence before me, O coastlands, And let the people renew their strength! Let them come near; then let them speak."

Because most of us will fill any awkward silence with words, I think we need to think about prayer that includes a step for listening—called silence!! We talk a great deal during prayer, but if this is a conversation then at least 50% of the time we should be listening!

Henri Nouwen wrote, “One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness, and nervousness. Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow.”

Let me remind us of a few passages about this:

James 1:5 (KJV): “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him.” We ask; then we are supposed to listen!

Psalm 27:14 (KJV): “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” Don’t fill the silence with talking—WAIT!!!

Usually my mind is filled with all the requests I want to make. And they’re not necessarily bad requests—some of them are about you (for you to get well, for you to do well on your first university exam, etc.).

But silence is hard. Really hard.

Try it now if you can take the time. Start with a minute. Try to simply listen to God.

Read a Bible verse and then sit in silence—and ask God what He wants you to do with that verse...

Praying for Others

The best thing we can do for the people we love is to pray for them. God loves them so much He knows how many hairs are on their heads. He cares about the tiny details of their lives just like He cares for you. And notice how prayer changes your relationships with others—there no way of saying, “I care about you” quite like the power of saying, I’m praying for you!

Some things to think about as you pray for others:

  • God loves it when we pray for others.
  • The biggest concern we should have for others is for them to know the saving love of Jesus Christ.
  • Listen to what people say, hear the concerns beneath their words. You don’t have to imagine what most people need—they’ll be happy to tell you if you ask them!
  • Pray constantly—any time during the day; whenever someone’s needs come before you.
  • Prayer is a significant way you can love and care for people.

Journalling is a great habit in our prayers for others. You list people and their needs—but then you also leave space so you can write down what results you see after prayer. And do watch for results. I love to see how God is answering prayers all the time.

We have a prayer chain at our church. We pray for people’s needs. In the past month we have prayed for someone who needed employment—and he received it; we have prayed for someone who needed healing—and she received it; we have prayed for someone who needed encouragement—and he received it. 

In the past year we have also prayed with people through times of loss and sorrow. And sometimes our prayers were not answered the way we wanted. We prayed for healing several times last year—and, despite those prayers, people have died. But we continued to pray with people during loss and, while our prayers couldn’t bring their loved ones back, they did help. Those prayers said "we love you," "we care for you," "we want what’s best for you," "we will do what we can to help," "we will be here to cry with you: to listen to stories, to share memories and to just listen and offer a shoulder."

Praying for others is a great blessing to them.

Praying for others—especially others we don’t like...

Note that we’re not just to pray for the people we know and love—although we certainly want to be doing that. We are also told in Scripture to pray for our political leaders, our teachers, our bosses, our enemies or those who give us a hard time, etc. 

A good rule of thumb I try to adopt when I’m dealing with people whom I don’t like or love the way I should is this: Have I spent as much time talking to God about this person as I have spent talking to others about them? Sadly, for me, so often the answer is “no.” Which then convicts me that I want to blab about them more than I really want to resolve the conflict. Argh...

But thankfully I’ve discovered I can learn to love people more when I commit to praying for them.

I once worked with a man who was truly annoying. I found everything about his personality annoying. But I was challenged to pray about this man and this situation. And as I prayed God kept poking me. He would give me twinges of honesty like: recognizing that some people find me truly annoying, too—ouch!, recognizing that I was not living integrally—I told everyone I was a Jesus follower but I wasn’t all that concerned about acting like He would have—pretender—ugh!, and finally, that I truly thought God loved me and had made me better than this other gentleman—how prideful!

God kept nudging me to see this man as He saw him—a gifted and loved child of God. Over the course of six months my prayers transformed my thinking and helped me to learn to love someone I had previously thought of as unlovable.

Try it!

Jeremiah 33:3 (KJV): "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and wonderful things, which you do not know" (like how to love people!).

Supplication—better known as prayers for me!

Okay—the title is a bit deceiving. You may think that prayers of supplication are where we get to tell God all our wants and desires. 

Not quite. In supplication we put ourselves into God's hands. We take the jumbled mass of anxieties we all feel most of the time. We take them out one by one and talk to the Father about them. Many of us live in a state of fear because we don't have any trouble imagining the worst in any situation.

So in supplication God invites us to tell Him about our troubles and our fears. Note what I said—He invites us to tell Him what they are—He does not invite us to tell Him what He should do about them!!

God asks us to tell Him our troubles and then to trust Him enough to thank Him in advance for the outcome! That’s the only way we get any satisfaction from praying about ourselves.

So often we come to God and we hand our concerns and fears to Him one by one. Then we say amen and take back all our cares and concerns. God wants us to relinquish them to Him; to trust that no matter what happens God’s will is done. If we don’t relinquish those concerns then we are always second-guessing God, trying to keep control of everything ourselves.

But we only get the "peace that passes understanding" when we allow God to be God.

One of the greatest blessings in my life is that I don’t settle for my own prayers of supplication. I ask other people to pray for me all the time. I have so much joy because I know there are at least five people who pray for me every day!! I have a group of about eight or nine people with whom I share my concerns so they can pray for me. Many of them are also on my prayer list. They pray for the ministry I do each day; they pray for my health; they pray for my needs; they pray for me to have wisdom; they pray for me to be humble and to listen to God. “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6: 19 NIV).

When I go on mission trips I usually ask between 25-50 people to pray—that God would do mighty things in and through us.

And every day I see the answers to prayer in my life—a sudden ability to resist temptation, peace when I felt conflict before, sleep when no sleep has been my norm, initiative to finish these devotions, prayers that these devotions will be used by Him for His honour and glory.

Listening to God

God guides us mostly through Scripture. When we saturate our minds with daily readings from the Bible so many questions are answered before we ask  them. The Lord does not change what He has said to meet our desires; He changes our desires so we want to do what He wants. Remember God always leads in ways which are consistent with Scripture.

Next He guides us through godly people who advise us. If I have a decision to make and I’m having trouble knowing what God says I will ask godly advisors to help me. These people are not necessarily my best friends. They aren’t people who will tell me what I want to hear. They are people who will tell me what God says in His word. These people are not afraid to confront sin and ugliness in me.

Sometimes He guides us by leadings, but we always have to test those leadings to make sure they are consistent with Scripture. I wrote down this quote years ago, and I don’t recall the source, but it’s been very helpful to me in learning to distinguish between God’s voice and Satan’s: “God speaks and acts in truth. Satan plays on fears; God wins us by His love. Satan is determined to destroy; God is committed to building and creating. Satan likes secrecy; God chooses openness. Satan rules by dividing; God stoops to conquer by serving. Satan pulls people apart; God gathers people together."  This essential contrast between "the god of this world" and the God "who so loved the world" can act as an instructive litmus test in all church life: "neither Satan nor God can act out of character and the footprints of each are normally recognizable.”

When I’ve prayed about something and feel like I have an answer, it's pretty easy to see the footprints in it. Does it give peace? Does it love people? Does it keep God at the centre of my attention? 

In Jesus name, Amen!

"Why do we say "In Jesus name" at the end of our prayers? Is it like, "I'm signing off...over and out"? or   "In Jesus name....I'll catch ya tomorrow." Why do we say those words? Here's why. Because when we pray, we're saying we believe in our hearts that everything we just asked for is the very thing Jesus would be asking for if He were doing the asking. Knowing this should alter the way we pray. We will be more careful about making a list of selfish demands and ending the prayer by muttering, "In Jesus' name." (source unknown) Hebrews 4:14-16 reminds us that  everything God wants and wishes for us is accessible in and through Jesus who's been here....gone through everything we go through. He is our go-between/mediator

Jesus' name means authority and power. We pray in His authority and power. We don’t pray about things without the means to do anything—we pray knowing we have the power of the God of the universe behind us. We put all our requests in God’s hands—reminding us He is far more able to do things than we are! He is the God of the impossible! So we commit all of our prayers to Him—asking Him for guidance to do what He says when He answers our prayers; when He leads us.

"For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever" is another way we commonly end our prayers. It’s called a doxology. A doxology is a song of praise. We praise God because He is King—all good things come from Him; we praise Him because He is the all-powerful Lord. And we praise Him because He can answer our prayers.

AMEN means: Yes, it shall be so. We say amen because we are certain, when we pray in Jesus' name, our prayers are pleasing to God and they are heard by Him. Amen is also the promise that prayer is a conversation that is never truly over. 

A final thought about how we end our prayers

Another thought from Bill Hybels in Too Busy Not to Pray:

“How do you pray a prayer so filled with faith that it can move a mountain? By shifting the focus from the size of your mountain to the sufficiency of the mountain mover, and by stepping forward in obedience. As you walk with God, your faith will grow, your confidence will increase and your prayer will have power.

"While the children of Israel are perched on the edge of the Promised Land, twelve spies go out to survey it. Ten come back saying, 'You wouldn't believe the size of the cities, the  armies, the giants. We'd better look somewhere else.' Two come back saying, 'The God who is faithful promised He would give us the land, so let's go in His strength.' Ten looked at the size of the mountain and fell back; only two looked at the sufficiency of the mountain mover and wanted to move forward. (Read the story in Numbers 13.)

"Israel's warriors are standing on a hill overlooking a battlefield, and the Philistine champion, Goliath, swaggers out to frighten them. The warriors say, 'We're not going down there to fight him, he's nine feet tall. Look at his armour! Look at his spear! I don't want that thing in my ribs.' The adolescent  shepherd, David, comes out, surveys the field, and says, 'Look at the size of our God. Let me go!' (Read the story in 1 Samuel 17.)

"Probably every human being alive is standing in the shadow of at least one mountain that just will not move: a destructive habit, a character flaw, an impossible marriage or work situation, a financial problem, a physical disability. What is your immovable mountain? Have you stood in its shadow for so long that you've grown accustomed to the darkness? Do you end your prayers by thinking, what's the use?

I challenge you to shift the focus of your prayer. Don't spend a lot of time describing your mountain to the Lord. He knows what it is. Instead, focus your attention on the mountain mover—His glory, power and faithfulness. Then start walking in faith, following His leading, and watch that mountain step aside.”

(Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God, Bill Hybels, IVP Books, 2008)