Lord, Teach Us To Pray

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We are discussing prayer and meditation this week on the blog. Check out this week’s 23 Things here. Who better person to learn prayer from than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

Matt. 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Matt. 6:5-9 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.

Matt. 21:22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer

Mark 11:25  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Luke 11:2-13

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.

John 11:41-42 Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me

Christian Life Hacker Recommends – d365.org, One Word, Praying In Color

I have recently come across three resources that I thought fit well with the Christian Life Hacker philosophy that more is not always better and that spiritual practices should fit our personality.

1. d365.org – This is a daily devotional site that is so simple in its approach but at the same time very powerful. First, the devotional text is broken into five sections – Pause, Listen, Think, Pray, Go. Each section is short and light on text. The Listen and Go sections include scriptures while the Think section has a brief devotional. To get to each section, you click on the next button. Just the fact that you cannot scroll through the devotional prevents our scan and click urges and allows your mind to dwell on each section a little bit longer so that it can make more of an impact. The best part is that every time you visit the devotional a musical selection will begin. The selections are pretty and reflective and help the reader awaken their more spiritual side. This resource is great for those who prefer limited reading, music, and more participatory activities.

2. Word For The Year – Dan Britton, executive vice president of ministry programs at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has for years asked God for a word to bring focus and development for each upcoming year. Through much prayer, fasting, and scripture searching, he takes the word that God has given him and lets God show him how to live that word out over the next year. Britton, in an essay on the exercise, gives two big cautions. One, you have to let God choose the word. Two, be careful, “This exercise is not for people who want to pick a nice, comfortable word that will have no significant impact on their lives,” Britton says. “It truly is a discipline for those who want to press in and see God do great things in and through them.”

As you might have guessed, my word for 2012 is “Word”, as I attempt to live out the word that is scripture and the word that is Jesus. I like this exercise because it brings focus and intention to the entire year. I know that 2012 will be a journey through and about the Bible and I look forward to that journey. Hear more about the “One Word” exercise in the video below.

3. Praying in Color –  The biggest myth in Christian living is that we all experience God in the same way. Thankfully, God doesn’t abide by this myth as he has demonstrated through scripture that he handles most people individually. This is why Praying in Color is so welcomed. Instead of our prayers being simple words and thoughts that so often hinder us, Praying in Color lets you put your prayers into visual form. Sybil Macbeth explains,

If you are word-weary, stillness-challenged, easily distracted, or just in need of a new way to pray, give “praying in color” a try. Men do it, women do it; teenagers do it; and children do it. All you need: paper, a black pen, colored markers or colored pencils, and Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God.

Individuals commit their prayers to images and drawings that bring life to prayers and allow your spirit to work through the process of praying instead of the highly linear approach to prayer common among so many Christians. If you are more visually oriented and like to make your spirituality a little more participatory, this approach is for you.

Teaching A Twelve Year Old How To Pray

My twelve-year-old daughter recently expressed difficulty in praying. You never prepare yourself for what you are going to say in these situations, so I told her to keep it real simple and short. I told her to try the following:

Father, we love you and thank you for being our God. Please help me with __________ .

I wanted her to focus on who God is (Father) and that we need to start our prayers with gratitude and recognition. Then, I wanted her to focus on a specific request and ask God to help her with it. Her problem, and mine often times, is that her prayers are too generic. Discovering how God answers our prayers is much easier when you have a specific situation you are needing help with. Asking God to give me a good day tomorrow is harder to track than something specific such as, “Help me approach my role as parent with graciousness and love.” Those were the only two guidelines that I gave her. Address God properly, praise him, and make a request.

What do you think? Do I have my theology mixed up? Am I giving my daughter false ideas of who God is? Or, have I given her a decent starting point to a more effective prayer life. Maybe I should try this for myself.

Father, you have answered so many of my prayers and I thank you. Please help me to have a more consistent and meaningful prayer life. Amen

I will let you know how this prayer turned out.

Starter Prayers

I have been thinking recently about prayers that God has answered in my life. In the past week, I can think of two that he answered. I need to pay more attention to these answered prayers. Our pastor told of how George Mueller recorded all of his answered prayers and it totaled 300,000.

For those of you who are new to prayer or can’t get over the prayers that God has not answered or answered in a way that we didn’t like, let me give you a way to begin this prayer process. First, we need to start small. If I want to run a 5K but have never run more than one mile, I should start with that one mile and then try to increase my distance from there. I shouldn’t expect to achieve a 5K on my first try. I have to build up to it. It is the same way with prayer, especially if I am wanting to record my results. I shouldn’t put all of my emphasis on one big prayer without noticing all of the little prayers that God has answered.

Second, find a daily prayer and track the results. I would suggest something like the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Begin your day saying this prayer and say it throughout your day. Start to notice the ways God has answered this prayer. Maybe a stressful situation at work gets resolved, you respond more appropriately to your fighting children because you recognize the mercy that has been portioned to you, or you are reminded of Christ’s great sacrifice in taking on death when we were the ones who deserved it.

What if you find yourself in a terrible situation even after praying this prayer all day? Instead of thinking that God has not answered your prayer, see how God gets you through the situation and how that might have been different if you hadn’t cried out for mercy and direction.

The Jesus prayer, or one of my favorite prayers – “Come, Lord Jesus”, are our base mile, our starting point that we then build on. We need to start a habit of paying attention to our prayers and their results before we truly can pass judgement on God’s willingness to answer our prayers. These starter prayers can be our warm up.

The Day I Prayed For A-Rod

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Jesus tell us to love our enemies and pray for those who curse us (Matthew 5:44). I have prayed for terrorists in the past and even voiced a prayer that those who hate Christians will be exposed to the light of Jesus Christ. But one of the hardest people for me to pray for was not a terrorist or a natural enemy to the United States but a multi-millionaire third baseman for the New York Yankees baseball team.

I have never liked Alex Rodriguez, even when he played for my beloved Texas Rangers. I tried, but there just wasn’t anything about him that was appealing other than the fact that he could hit home runs in situations that made no difference to the outcome of a game. He seems incredibly self absorbed and someone who thinks all eyes are on him all the time and that people are just as obsessed with him as he is with himself. Towards the end of his tenure with the Rangers, he talked about how difficult it was for him to lead a “bunch of kids” in reference to the rest of the Texas team. He was a joke in my eyes and I wasn’t sad to see him go and thought him making it to the Yankees was rather appropriate given his inability to create a legacy of his own and that he was wimping out in order to ride the coattails of a famous organization and better winners such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

But then his play went south within a year of joining the Yankees. ARod became the butt of New York City jokes and late night talk show hosts. He was being booed nightly, not by fans in road contest, but by his own fans. They called him a “bum” and “sorry” and much worse. His family was falling apart and endless rumors were flying around about him. That was when I became convicted. I understand that sports hate is not the same as real hate and that sports enemies are not the same as real enemies but for forever I had been secure in my rationale for hating ARod and wishing him poor performance and failure. But in the midst of his lowest point as a Yankee I actually felt sorry for the guy and while I was mowing my grass, I lifted up a prayer for him and prayed that he would be better received by New York fans and that God would give him the ability to do his best in his next game. There I did it, I prayed for ARod. I felt better about myself, even like a burden had been lifted. I felt free in a sense. I guess anger and contempt really enslaves your soul and that forgiveness and genuine love breaks those barriers so we can experience love and peace.

I know this sounds silly but this incident was a sign of spiritual maturity for me. If faith is going to impact one part of my life, why can’t it impact all of it? How I thought about Alex Rodriguez and the hatred and anger I had towards him was really affecting my spiritual life and I needed to have a change of heart. Who knows, maybe I will pray for Kobe Bryant someday? Maybe.

Have you grown comfortable with your hatred of a public figure? A politician? A member of the media or Hollywood? Is it time for you to pray for your enemies?

3 Ways To Concentrate During Prayer

I try to pray every day. I also try to have some moments of silence where I am just thinking about God. But, inevitably these exercises will be made more difficult because of the flood of random thoughts that cross my mind and often take control of my mind to where I end up thinking about something that has no relation to anything. I suspect that this problem is one that most Christian’s experience in some form or the other. So, how can we overcome these distracting thoughts so that our prayers and our meditation on God can be more meaningful? Let me offer three suggestions. Choose whichever one works best for you.

Walking Dog – In most cases we are not able to shut off our random thought process but we can learn to dismiss them quickly. We can begin to treat these thoughts like a dog on the street. The thought surfaces but instead of dwelling on the thought, we simply let it pass on by “down the street” and out of our thinking.

Chalkboard – Here is another instance where we don’t force ourselves to stop the thoughts, we simply acknowledge it and remove it from our thinking. In this method, we envision the thought as if it is written on a chalkboard but as soon as we see the thought on the board we take an eraser and erase the thought. This allows us to return to our prayer or refocus on God.

Breathe In, Breathe Out –  This one is simple. First, we focus on our breathing. Then, we take our next breath and as we are breathing we let our minds be filled with thoughts of God. As we exhale, we let go of any thought that will be a distraction to our time with God. Simply put, breathe God in, breathe distractions out.

Pick one of these methods or try all three today as you say your prayers or spend time with God. See if it helps you overcome some of your more persistent distracting thoughts.

Kick Starting Your Prayer Life

I once heard of a lady who began training for a marathon. Her initial training included the simplest of goals. “Can I run to the next lightpost?” Her approach was to start at the most basic level and work from there. Just a year later she ran in her first marathon.

What if we took her approach and applied it to our prayer life or other spiritual activities that often frustrate us? Besides starting at the most basic point, another principle that can be applied here is Parkinson’s Law. This law states that an activity will increase in complexity based on the time allotted to completing it. In other words, tighter deadlines force us to focus and our attention does not sway to non-essential distractions.

So how can we use the basic approach and Parkinson’s Law to help kick start our prayer life:

1. Start with this basic question, “Can I pray about my love of God?” If the answer is yes, then do it and then ask yourself this, “Can I pray about my devotion to God?” If the answer is yes, then do it and move to a question about your family, then your work, then your church, and then your world. If at any point, you feel distracted or do not know what to pray then stop and try the exercise the next day.

2. Set a tight deadline for your prayer time. If you only have two minutes to pray then you will stay more focused and those pesky thoughts that derail prayer times will seem less important. Of course, I don’t suggest putting huge time constraints on time with God and I realize that God deserves more than two minutes but if the alternative is a non-existent prayer life or an aimless 15 minutes full of drowsiness and daydreaming then do what works best and steadily increase your time.

Why don’t you start now? Push your keyboard away and for the next two minutes go through your basic prayer questions. At the end of two minutes stop and evaluate how it went. Do the same thing tomorrow and increase to three minutes. Try to get up to five – 10 minutes.

When To Have Your Spiritual Enrichment Workout

Now that we have established what should be included in your Spiritual Enrichment Workout we now have to discuss when we should do it.  Most preachers will tell you that you should pray and read scripture very first thing in the morning. They have turned this into some kind of modern day legalism – “by not taking the time early in the morning things will not go right for you the rest of the day.” Don’t we all feel guilty enough by our limited prayer life and intolerance to Bible reading? Do we really need another aspect to make us feel guilty and why should a 24 hour period be reduced to such a short time window?

Some practice evening prayers just before bed as a precursor to the next day’s activities and a good night’s sleep. Others spend time during the day to ward off apathy and depression and some do it early in the morning when there is no one up and their home is quiet. The point is to find the time to do it. What I have described as a Spiritual Enrichment Workout takes me anywhere between 12-17 minutes. Just small enough time to practice while you wait to pick up your kids from an activity, or during a scheduled break at work, or even in the bathtub. The point is to practice Spiritual Enrichment not to fulfill some rigid prescription as to what counts and what doesn’t.

So quit beating yourself up about missing your morning quiet time and find a time that works better for you.

Single Best Habit For Spiritual Growth

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I am an information addict, I like to know a little about everything. I also am a big fan of music and enjoy a large variety of different styles of music. So, what I am about to suggest is very hard for me but when I do it I never regret it. The single best habit for spiritual growth is turning off you car stereo.

Think about the reasons we flip on our radio or cd player as soon as we enter the car. For some, it could be to hear the latest news information, for others it is in hopes of hearing music they like, for others it is to be entertained by humor and schtick. In each one of these cases, we are essentially demanding this electronic device in our car to distract us and we commonly punch around stations and song tracks in hopes of a quick “hit” of a feeling we may be after at the time. We can often be insatiable with this mentality of “give me what I want” and do it now. In our cars, we demonstrate some of our worst addictive behaviors toward technology.

The solution is to take a leg of our commute or a drive to a particular destination and intentionally remove this addiction. I often make my return home from work as my “radio dark” time. It is amazing how many thoughts get suppressed by the simple noise of a car stereo. But, if we want to have an effective prayer life and environment for growth, we need to be honest with our thoughts and worries and then take those to the Lord in prayer. It is not just the bad thoughts that can surface in silence but good thoughts of God’s blessings and our protection under him. All of these thoughts can easily be turned into prayers and praises when there is not something else vying for our attention.

If you are a stay at home Mom or Dad and are never in your car without a child in the car with you it may be a little harder to maintain silence but you can still turn off the car stereo. I have found that my kids are usually more quiet when I have the radio off plus you are teaching your kids that electronic devices to not always have to be on. This lesson could be invaluable to them as they mature and figure out how God interacts with his people.  For those that only listen to religious programming, you are not off the hook on this one. Though the message of the song or sermon may be a message of the Gospel, we still need to be willing to practice silence sometimes so that God can more fully speak to us in our current context.

Try it  for one week. Pick a 15 minute or longer drive and go dark. Listen for God’s voice and be honest with your thoughts and prayers.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Recap

So we have the four elements to our workout:

1. Warm-up – Fixed-Hour Prayer (3 minutes)

2. Core – Scripture reading (4-5 minutes)

3. Strength – Prayer (3-5 minutes)

4. Cardio – Devotional reading (1-2 minutes)

I have placed the estimated time it takes to go through each element in parenthesis. On most days this takes me around 15 minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less and we certainly don’t want to be rigid about this as we need to be responsive to the Holy Spirit. If you have never tried an organized devotional time or have tried it in the past and are returning to it let me give you a few words of caution.

Reject the temptation to do more. This is what dooms most exercise programs, we try to do too much and are not realistic with our time, ability to be consistent, and attention span. Thus, once the newness wears off we cannot sustain our lengthy and involved program. Personally, when starting out, I would choose two of the elements above and do those for a week and then evaluate how it went.

Don’t worry if some days are dry. God seems to operate in a slow manner when it comes to our growth and pursuit of Christlikeness. Sure, we will have days where the words of scripture seem to warm our heart and fill us with inspiration and power but there will be others where are prayers are mechanical or we have to read things over and over because we can’t pay attention. Know that even on the dry days the Holy Spirit is working on you and guiding you along. No time spent concentrating on God is wasted.