If reading your bible is like breathing in, praying is like breathing out; or, to take it out of a picture into reality, if the bible is God speaking to us, prayer is our speech back to him.
But, as we all know, the easiest way to give a Christian the guilties is to ask how their prayer life is. And although it’s true of every Christian, that’s doubly, if not triply true of a Christian leader. We know that we have been set aside for prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4), but all too often the second of those runs our diary and the first gets squeezed.
One of the horrifying moments in a Christian leader’s life (and I really hope that this is not just me), is to get up to lead in prayer at the opening of a meeting or service, and to realise that that is the first time I’ve talked to God that day. You then know what it’s like when the inner reality of what you’re thinking/praying doesn’t quite match the outer reality of what you’re speaking/praying, and it is indescribably wretched.
So we all know that we need to develop our prayer lives, and to do so continually. Here, again, are nine lessons I’ve learnt (although even more than usual, the usual caveat applies – if I’m better than you at this, we’re in worse trouble than I thought!):
1. Drop the guilt. This is a fundamental lesson, and it is about the importance of standing in, or on, grace. How is you prayer life, right now, today? I’ll tell you – if you are a Christian, it couldn’t be better. Seriously, it could not be improved. Why? Because you have a great High priest, whose sole concern for you is to intercede on your personal half, before the Father, 24/7 (Heb. 7:25).
So, when you have that wretched moment of public prayer versus private prayerlessness, remind yourself of the Lord Jesus’ grace towards you. Don’t presume upon it, but do rely on it.
2. Update the idea of a prayer list. Not so long ago, the only tool we had was a piece of paper tucked in the back of a bible, with maybe a prayer list from a particular missionary as well. Now we have so many more options, and I have found three really helpful. First, I took the time to set up for myself a series of recurring monthly diary events, which I can access on my phone, tablet or computer. So I have an easy way too make sure I remember to pray daily for some people or issues, and weekly or monthly for others. It doesn’t clutter up my normal diary (they pop up at 3am, when I am soundly asleep!), but I can access them each morning when I need. Second, we did the same for whole church, on a Google calendar which we shared. We themed the days of the week, and then gave a different flavour teach one. So, 366 calendar events which feed, one at a time, into people’s diaries. And third, I recommend the free app PrayerMate, which allows you to subscribe to a huge number of feeds from different agencies and churches. Our church feeds into PrayerMate from that Google calendar, so it’s all synchronised, and we also put the prayer topics on the weekly bulletin for those who are still paper based.
3. Regularly schedule Quiet Mornings or mini-retreats, when you head somewhere offline, with your bible, and maybe a songbook and a pad of paper for company. Give yourself an extended quiet time, and in my experience they work well on Mondays. To make sure I don’t forget, these are now automated in my calendar as well.
4. Annually, schedule a proper Quiet Day. A proper retreat. Pay some money for it if necessary so you can’t get out of it. But get to the top of the mountain and feed your soul.
5. Write some prayers. I’m an Anglican, so written formal prayers don’t bother me, but if your find them hard, try the Puritan collection called The Valley of Vision. These are deep, heart-stretching prayers, and they will then inspire you to write your own, linger over what you want to say, and put your thoughts together properly. Pray it as you’re writing, of course, but it helps me to be clearer.
6. Store the biblical prayers. To fuel your thinking, keep a list of those biblical prayers you stumble over, so that you can pray your way through them. It’s not hard to find books which do that for you, of course, and you can invest in some very good reading material, but the point here is to do it yourself, as an exercise. Take the Lord’s Prayer, and write it out with space between the clauses. Pray Matthew 9:38, which is the other Lord’s prayer Jesus told us to pray. And then add your own.
7. Buy a nice notebook. As I’ve said, I don’t formally journal, but I do find it helpful to have a place to store verses, ideas, prayers. Because it’s blank and undated, and I don’t have any expectation that I will use it on any given day, it’s an easy and pleasurable tool.
8. I have another notebook too – for prayer requests. I decided a while back I needed to work on a couple of aspects of praying: I needed to become more specific, and also more ambitious. So I started to write down some things I was praying for – so specific, that I could see whether they’d been answered or not. Our church had a projected budget shortfall, we needed some new staff members – that kind of thing. It’s really encouraging to look back on that list, and to stretch myself next time. The big scary one at the moment is one from the Australian evangelist, John Chapman: ‘Lord, give me evangelistic opportunities, and don’t be subtle!’
9. And change your rhythm. What works when you’re single, won’t work when you’re married. Or a new parent. Or a parent of teens. Or suddenly unemployed. Or at weekends. So be willing to manoeuvre, think freshly, and flex.
Disclosure: these are all links to the UK supplier, 10ofthose.com. This is not a sponsored link, and I am not affiliate on any scheme: they’re just good resources at good prices!
- Do you need to revisit your prayer diary?
- Do you need to schedule some quiet mornings?
- Do you need to change your rhythm?
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