It is amazing how few Christians truly know how to pray. If the heart of Christianity is an active relationship with the living God, then prayer is the bloodstream which feeds it. Learning how to pray, then, is essential to a vibrant spiritual life. Yet, far too often, prayer becomes reduced to a laundry list of requests and petitions, with the occasional praise tossed in for good measure.
As I read the Gospels, I find in Jesus such a rich life of prayer that “laundry lists” become trite and unsatisfying puddles before the great sea in which Jesus seemed to swim. As I look back through history, I see the same trend, that same yearning desire, through the lives of numerous spiritual titans.
Andrew Murray said that, “Some people pray just to pray, and some people pray to know God.”
Fredrik Wisloff echoed that sentiment when he declared that, “You may pray for an hour and still not pray. You may meet God for a moment and then be in touch with Him all day.”
The great Christian reformer John Wesley confessed, “I have so much to do that I spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it.”
Francois Fenelon, that great 17th century theologian and archbishop, cut right to the heart of it when he observed that “Of all the duties enjoined by Christianity none is more essential and yet more neglected than prayer.”
Prayer feeds the soul. It is the conversational connection between us and the Father, through which our faith moves from mere intellectual assent to vibrant, living, moving, transforming, active, relational reality. While it is certainly true that prayer is one of the most vital of the spiritual disciplines, it is equally true that in prayer, the disciplines converge into something momentous. So, it should come as no surprise that the disciples, after observing Jesus in prayer, bore the same request many of us harbor today: “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
How To Pray: Five Secrets To Powerful Prayer
Seek God’s Presence.
Prayer is born out of a relationship. Eugene Peterson describes it as a river flowing out of the heart of God and returning back to Him. Prayer is how we step into this river. This is a powerful analogy, because it discretely reveals one of the most powerful concepts in learning how to pray: prayer begins with God, not with us. (How worship cultivates the sense of God’s presence)
Learn To Listen.
Soren Kierkegaard once remarked that, “A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer was listening.” If we want to learn how to pray, then we must remember that prayer is communication in the context of a divine-human relationship. That is, it needs to be a two way street. So often we become so fixated on what we want to say, that we fail to quiet ourselves and allow the space for God to speak. (How to cultivate stillness)
Discover His Voice.
I firmly believe that God still speaks to His people. Often, however, we have become so disconnected from His voice that, even when we have quieted our inner being, we still fail to recognize Him. Rediscovering the sound of His whisper is beautiful, if often overlooked, aspect of learning how to pray powerfully. The good news for many of us is that we still have access to His voice as it has reverberated down the hallways of history, recorded in the pages of Scripture. The more time we spend with Him, the more we get to know that voice, and the greater our discernment in recognizing Him.
Yield Your Will.
So much of popular prayer seems focused on how we convince God to acquiesce to our will, yet this is not the model Christ gave us in demonstrating how to pray. I am reminded of Jesus in Gethsemane, and the titanic clash of his humanly will and His divine will. Sweating drops of blood, we find the anguish of this inner turmoil contained in one small phrase. “Father, if it be Your will, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will but Yours be done.” Submission is, itself, a discipline. When we have come into the presence of God, quieted our inner being, sought His voice, we still have to be willing to surrender our own will to that which He has now made known. This is, perhaps, the most difficult stage in deep prayer, but it is also the most powerful. It is in this stage where we enter into the will of God.
Participate With God’s Desire.
Here, settled into river flowing from God’s heart, aware of His will, we now make petition. At this stage, prayer becomes a manner of participating with what God is already doing, or desiring to do. Prayer in accordance with (and immersed within) the will of God cannot help but leave its indelible mark on one’s heart. This is the type of prayer that will change you. This is also the type of prayer that will change the world.