“Prayer,” says C.S. Lewis, “is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person.” At times prayer seems like a one-sided conversation, and yet the experience of those who regularly converse with God is otherwise. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” says James (4:8). “Pray without ceasing,” says Paul (I Thess. 5:17). Yet maybe in the exercise of prayer, we need some help. Here are seven such helps:
Pray the Psalms. Reading and using the psalms you hear the honesty of the psalmist, the sorrow, the complaints, the joys, the requests — you hear it all. And sometimes it’s as simple as putting yourself in the place of the psalmist, using your name.
Pray walking. Peter Kreeft says a good walking prayer is one that remembers where we are going. Walking is a good metaphor of our progress toward heaven. It’s also difficult to fall asleep in your prayers while walking! Genesis says that God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He walks with us too.
Pray remembering. The admonition to remember is a repeated refrain in scripture. The Hebrew people recited how God led them out of Egypt, or Babylon. Paul remembered his conversion. These are testimonies of God’s faithfulness and provision, and we have our own, the ones from our personal histories. When we remember well, when we ask God to help us remember with hearts of thanks, we see God’s unexpected providences, His ordering of our lives toward a good end.
Pray interstitially. Pray the gaps (interstices). When you have down time - waiting for a traffic light to change, the nurse to call your name in the doctor’s office, your lunch date to show - pray. Don’t pull out the smartphone. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God," says Paul (1 Cor. 10:31), and that means the interstices of our day as well.
Pray visually. Let prayer engage your imagination. It sharpens our awareness of what we ask when we pray if we envision the end result of our prayer. If praying for someone’s salvation, envision them worshipping or testifying to their faith. If sick, envision them healed. There’s no magic at work here, just prayers heightened by letting our imagination shape a vision of that for which we petition God.
Pray immediately. Be honest. Have you ever said “I’ll pray for you,” and meant it, but then didn’t follow through? One antidote to this is to pray immediately. Do it on the phone, in public places, wherever - but just do it. It may be awkward, but it will matter. God will hear. Few people object to being prayed for, and most appreciate your care.
Pray persistently. Sally Lloyd-Jones gives a wonderful picture of this in her children’s devotional, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. A father is at his desk with work to do, and we see an open door and a young child with a troubled face standing at the door, perhaps wondering if she should bother him again or what his reaction might be. But her father is smiling and his arms are outstretched, bidding her to come in. She says, “Some people think God doesn’t like to be troubled with us asking him things all the time. But do you know the way to trouble him? By not coming at all.” The message: He is never too busy, never bothered, and never unwilling to listen. Even if it’s the same story over and over again. Ask and you shall receive - again and again.
Prayer is part of the good fight of faith. For a Christ-follower, it is our greatest weapon. “Prayer,” says John Piper, “is the walkie-talkie on the battlefield of the world.” With it we call upon the King and the Armies of Heaven. And all of us, from the smallest child to the most powerful person have the same access.
Ken Gire reports the story of a 24-year old prostitute in White Pine County, Nevada, as told to Life Magazine in March, 1994:
I don’t talk about my feelings a lot. Instead I lie in my bed and think unto Him. I meditate because sometimes my words don’t come out right. But He can find me. He can find what’s inside me by just listening to my thoughts.
Think unto Him. Do it now. Do it often. But just do it.
Steve West is a Ruling Elder at Peace Church. This is an adaptation of a longer sermon he preached at the Women’s Retreat in the fall of 2017. If you’d like the full text of the sermon, let Steve know. For more on prayer, he recommends A Praying Life, by Paul Miller.