March 01, 2020 | Prayer Guides by Various Authors
How to pray
DAY 1 – What is Prayer
Pray then like this; “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
Prayer is simply talking to God. It is personal communication with God. Yet, prayer doesn’t always seem so simple—or easy. Perhaps this could be due to our misunderstanding of what prayer is and why we pray.
To be sure, prayer (along with Bible study) are vital to cultivating a relationship with God. Nothing is more important in our daily walk with God than these two disciplines. And yet many are negligent in both. More than a few of us are subsisting on silence from God and with God. R.C. Sproul rightly remarked, “If Christ could make a complaint it would be my bride never talks to me.” Why is that?
It may be that we need to remind ourselves to whom we are talking, what we are doing, and why. God is our Father. Isn’t that how Jesus tells us to pray in Matthew 6:9? Jesus’ Father is our Father. Moreover, we know God our Father is all powerful and all knowing. What an astonishing position we have with Him! By calling Him Father, we declare we are His child and, therefore, in relationship with Him. Can you fathom that we are in relationship with the one true God who is all powerful and all knowing?! But what relationship can survive without communication?
Undoubtedly, no relationship can withstand silence. Moreover, whether we realize it or not, we need God. In prayer, we make known that we are needy and He is generous; we are creature and He is creator; we are sinful and He is Holy. Yet, sometimes our lives go well enough that we mistakenly believe in our own self-sufficiency. Consequently, we see no need to pray. And herein lies the problem: prayer is not merely a means whereby we get things from God. He is not some cosmic celestial being we go to only when the bottom drops out. Prayer then is not solely getting things from God, but rather we get God Himself. Friend, your heavenly Father desires genuine, intimate relationship with you.
With a corrected perspective, prayer becomes delight, not drudgery. We are putting before Him our praises, confessions, thanksgivings, and needs. Indeed, the aim of prayer is to seek God’s glory over and above God’s gifts. That is our chief aim: to glorify God forever. But without recognizing who God is and why we pray, we are left to play with prayer like some bored toddler who’s grown tired of yesterday’s toy.
So, what is prayer? Prayer is talking to God, remembering who God is—our almighty Father.
- Pray through Psalm 86 paying special attention to verses 1-10.
Day 2 - Pray Like Jesus
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
The Bible records Jesus praying twenty-five different times during His earthly ministry. Undoubtedly, Jesus prayed much more than that. Jesus was a man of prayer. Yes, of course, Jesus is God but even so—having taken on humanity, being made in the likeness of men—Jesus very much believed in, embraced, modeled and espoused prayer. Shouldn’t we also? Isn’t Jesus the one whom we follow and obey? If yes, then it is clear we should do what He did.
Jesus prayed alone. Jesus was a busy person. In the Gospels we see Him moving from place to place, preaching, teaching, healing, confronting, and discipling. He was so busy He couldn’t even put down roots. Luke 9:58, And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Yet, time and time again we see Jesus slipping away from crowds, apostles and the ministry of people to go pray. In other words, Jesus prayed alone (Mark 1:35; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 6:46; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18). Why does Jesus do this? Let’s face it—life is a constant onslaught of responsibilities and distractions always competing for our attention. Constant. It’s hard to concentrate with the drumbeat of life pounding away hour after hour. Getting away from the distractions and busyness of life was a practical and wise choice for Jesus, as it should be for us.
Jesus prayed often. Jesus prayed at the start of His ministry (baptism), the end of His ministry (on the cross), and every place in between. Prayer is not just a required activity—it is God’s appointed means of working in and through His people for His purposes. Moreover, prayer builds relationship with God. Knowing about God through His Word should drive us to knowing God in prayer.
Jesus prays continually. Would it surprise you to know Jesus is still interceding for us today? Hebrews 7:25, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Intercession means praying on behalf of someone else. Jesus is still praying on our behalf! Prayer was not a check list for Jesus—it was part and parcel to who He is as the Son of God. As children of God, adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:14-15; Ephesians 1:5), we need to follow the example of Jesus.
- Meditate and pray about Jesus’ example of prayer in Matthew 14:23 and Mark 1:35.
Day 3 - Organizing Prayer: Chaos or Calendar
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
We are busy people. Work and sleep account for most of our day and with the evolution of a digital society, technology is owning more and more of our time. We know we are commanded to pray. We may even want to pray. Yet many of us struggle to make the best use of our time when we actually get down to the business of praying.
How can we make the most of the time we spend in prayer? Truth be told, with the chaotic life we lead many of us go into prayer with no less than half a dozen concerns, petitions, and confessions on our mind. And given our limited time to actually be in prayer, our prayer time can, and often does, feel like, well—chaos.
Perhaps it is time to consider using a calendar. By using a calendar our prayers can be divided up into categories, which, can then be designated for certain days of the week. For example, you could pray for your immediate family on Monday, your work and co-workers on Tuesday, prayer requests on Wednesday, church family and pastors on Thursday and missions/lost people on Friday. By dividing up the people and things we pray for on a regular basis, we enable ourselves to spend more time praying for each category than if we prayed for everyone and everything in the limited time we have when we pray.
Many who adopt the use of a calendar testify to the transformative effect it has on their prayer life. For starters, using a prayer calendar will allow you to spend more time in prayer on whatever or for whomever you’re praying. This in turn allows you to pray with more focus, depth and vision. Now with ten or more minutes to spend on your family or work or prayer requests you are able to go beyond the immediate needs and concerns and think about not only the here and now earthly life but the eternal spiritual life as well.
Why not try this calendar idea out and see how it can enrich your prayer life? Begin by making a list of all the prayers you pray on a regular basis. Then, assign these regular prayer requests to a day of the week. With all your prayers organized, the fun part begins: learning how to fill your prayers with rich, eternal impacting prayers. Read on as we continue our discussion of learning to pray.
- Separate your prayers into categories and assign them a day of the week. Then begin praying for each category. What is today’s category? Pray for that today. Begin carving out time during the week to pray undistracted from the demands of life.
Day 4 - Parts of Prayer: Method or Madness
1 Timothy 2:1
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men.
We’re making great progress in learning to pray! We have learned a simple definition of prayer and we see the perfect model of prayer in Jesus. Yesterday, we discovered organizing our prayers by topic over the course of a week affords us more time to pray about any given person or concern. Now let’s talk about the kinds of prayers we can offer up to God when we pray.
Pastor Matt Carter states, “The Bible lists at least nine main types of prayer: prayer of faith (James 5:15), prayer of agreement (also known as corporate prayer in Acts 2:42), prayer of request (also known as petition or supplication) (Philippians 4:6), prayer of thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2-3), prayer of worship (Acts 13:2-3), prayer of consecration (also known as dedication) (Matt. 26:39), prayer of intercession (1 Tim. 2:1), prayer of imprecation (Psalms 69), and praying in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:14-15).”
With all those types of prayers how are we to know what to pray on a regular basis? Consider ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. This acrostic has been a helpful method in training believers how to order their prayer. While we can and should make use of other kinds of prayers, these four—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—should be a regular part of our consistent prayer life.
First and foremost, we need to regularly offer up prayers of adoration to God. The Psalmist declares, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6). Adoration simply means to pay honor and reverence to God. God is worthy and due our praises even if circumstances in our lives are unfavorable.
Next, if we’re honest, we need to confess daily sin to God. While our all our sins have been dealt with by Christ’s death and resurrection, we still need to confess and repent of sins we commit on a daily basis (Psalm 51; 1 John 1:8-10). Since we are recipients of constant grace and kindness from God, we always have much to be thankful for. Therefore, we need to remember to tell God about our gratefulness for salvation, daily mercies, provisions and so much more (Colossians 3:15, 17; Philippians 4:6-7). Lastly, since we are dependent creatures, we need to pray prayers of supplication or petition (Psalm 55:1; Matthew 6:11). By adopting this method of prayer, we incorporate vital elements of prayer when we talk to God. More on ACTS tomorrow.
- Pray through Psalm 146. Also look at Psalm 51 and consider King David’s grief over his sin.
Day 5 - Parts & Priorities: ACTS
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
As we saw yesterday, there are four kinds of prayers—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. This acrostic—when followed in order—is particularly helpful in reminding us of the parts and priorities of prayer. ACTS is no mere formula, for prayer is not formulaic. Prayer isn’t powerful because of formulas or methods. The letters ACTS remind us what to pray and how to prioritize prayer lest we pray like SCAT. SCAT is simply mis-prioritized parts—starting with supplication and ending with adoration and thanksgiving. Friends, we must be careful to approach God rightly with awe, reverence, and humility. Let’s take a look at each part and discover how to incorporate these into our communication with God.
Adoration: praise, worship, and glorifying God. Hebrews 13:15, Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Frankly, every time we come to Scripture describing God’s attributes or demonstrating God’s love, mercy, and faithfulness to us, we can offer up praise. In fact, the Psalms are filled with praise for our God. For example, read Psalms 145-150. We can even sing songs and hymns to God in our prayer life. Many cherished hymns have praise built into them. Sing!
Confession: agreeing with God that we have sinned in thought, word, motivation and deed. The word confess means “to agree with.” 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Read Psalm 51 or Ezra 9:5-15 for wonderful examples of heartfelt confession and repentance before the Lord.
Thanksgiving: grateful acknowledgment of unmerited favor (grace). By God’s grace and mercy, we will not be given what we deserve; we will be given what we don’t deserve: salvation. Friends, we have much to be thankful for—even when the circumstances of life say otherwise (1 Thess. 5:18). Consider incorporating some thoughts from Psalm 136 in your prayers.
Supplication: a request or petition. We are bringing our needs for ourselves and others before our Father. Indeed, Jesus tells us to pray for our needs. But take to heart James’ instruction in James 4:3, You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. When our priorities are shaped by God’s agenda, we will be praying powerfully and purposefully.
- Pray through Psalm 100:4-5 and give thanks to the Lord. Meditate on what James is teaching in James 4:3.
Day 6 - Praying the Scriptures
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
Author Don Whitney has a marvelous little book called Praying The Bible. He begins his book with the following words, “Since prayer is talking with God, why don’t people pray more? Why don’t the people of God enjoy prayer more? I maintain that people—truly born-again, genuinely Christian people—often do not pray simply because they do not feel like it. And the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things.”
Sound familiar? Can you relate?
In truth, praying about the same things is not the problem. The rhythm of our prayer lives tends to be fairly consistent: jobs, finances, spouses, children, friends, loved ones, prayer requests and kingdom-related prayers. These categories remain steadfast for most of us. The problem, according to Whitney, is not that we “pray about the same old things; rather it’s that we say the same old things…”
What are we to do? How can we revitalize our prayer life? Who can help us breathe new life and words into our prayers? Consider the Scriptures. We have at our finger tips a vast treasury of truth, wisdom, prayers and instruction. Indeed, what we have before us are the very words of God. What if we learn how to pray through a passage of Scripture?
By taking Scripture into our prayers we are using the words and thoughts inspired by God, transforming them into prayer, and then offering them back up to God where they originated. In this way we will never be “saying the same old thing” nor will we run out of things to say.
A few words of caution as we embark on praying the Scriptures. First, realize we are not turning isolated verses into a prayer. Rather, we are praying the meaning of the verse in context. Why? The meaning of individual verses is controlled by the verses that come before and after. In other words, context is crucial. Context helps the reader understand what a verse means. We want to be praying through the meaning of the text, not just repeating words. Also, we need to investigate the meanings of words to fully understand what the passage is saying. Words don’t have meanings, they have ranges of meanings and we need to do the work of learning what those meanings are.
- Consider Psalm 119:17-18 and Proverbs 2:1. Pray God’s Word back to Him praising the very Words of God.
Day 7 - Understanding What We Pray: Words
Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes.
A well-known Bible teacher, Jen Wilkin, recounted the conversation between herself and her teenage son. She prefaced the story by letting the audience know about the rather prevalent drug and alcohol problem in her son’s public school. She said, “My son came home one day from school, looked at me and said, ‘Mom, um, Stephen got stoned today.’ He had this really serious look on his face. I turned to him and said, ‘Honey, who is this Stephen and do his parents know what’s going on with him? How well do you know him? Are you spending a lot of time around him?’ And my son’s face got more and more confused and finally he said, ‘Mom what are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘Mom, in my quiet time I’m studying Acts and Stephen got stoned.’”
Words matter—as does context. Words have more than one meaning. If we really want to know what is being communicated in Scripture, we’ll have to put some time into understanding what certain words mean and how they are used in the context of the sentence. Many times, readers will come across words and think they already know what the meanings are. Yet, more times than not, when we look up words we gain a deeper understanding of what the word means—particularly Biblical words. This simple act of defining words will bring greater clarity to the meaning of the Scripture.
If you have a Bible dictionary, by all means use this to look up key words. Invest in a gently used dictionary. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is a great resource. You can also access it at:
Holman Bible Dictionary: http://classic.studylight.org/dic/hbd/
What words should you look up? Places, structures, repeated words, words you don’t know or cannot say, verbs, Biblical characters, people groups such as Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans, and Gentiles. Titles: Apostles, prophets, priests, bishops, deacons, elders, servants, minister, and tax collector. Key words such as love, peace, faith, hope, joy, grace, fear, patience, sin, holy, adoption, blessing, covenant, temple, tithe, submission, clean and unclean, righteous, exile, elect, remnant, atonement, defilement, and any other word you think is important.
Once we understand the words we are reading in context, we will begin to see a greater understanding of God’s Word.
- Pray Psalm 119:18, 73, and 125. Consider adding this to your daily prayers of petition.
Day 8 - Garlands of Prayer: Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition
Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.
In additions to ACTS, to guide your prayer life, consider another method of prayer as a garland of four twisted strands. These four strands are instruction, confession, thanksgiving and petition. While this is very similar to ACTS, it does have one different part: instruction.
Let’s take a closer look to understand how it works. First, we have instruction. As we are studying Scripture (remember to look up words and read verses in context of one another), we must ask ourselves what is the main point of the verse? In other words, what is the author trying to tell us in this verse—given its context? The instruction part of this garland method asks, “What is Scripture telling me to do?”
Once we know what the instruction of the verse or passage is, we can ask, “How does the instruction of this verse lead us to offer up thanksgiving, confession and petition to God?”
What this method forces us to do is think about what we’re reading and to consider how to apply it to our lives. Rather than read the Word hurriedly like a water skier zooming across the lake, we want to slow down—like a scuba diver who leisurely looks around—and discover the text patiently and carefully.
We want to fill our minds with His Word and ponder it. Reflect on it. Give it weight and value. Thinking and pondering Scripture is letting the Bible “brew in the brain.” When we do this (reading carefully and looking up words) we can know God rightly, be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), and develop a rich prayer life stemming from God’s rich Word.
Friend, all this teaching on prayer may be new to you. Be encouraged—what seems overwhelming can be accomplished gradually, by making little changes over time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?
To pray Scripture, we want to understand it rightly. We are not just learning how to pray; we are learning to pray well—in line with God’s will and Word. To do that we must understand what Scripture says and means. Bible intake and prayer are the foundational spiritual disciplines that mature us into Christ-likeness. We want to give them top priority in our lives. By doing this we are valuing and prioritizing God in our lives.
- Meditate and pray through James 1:22-25. What is Scripture commanding you to do? Pray to be faithful in obeying God’s Word.
Day 9 - Watch Me: I’ll Show You
You shall have no other gods before Me.
In days 11-20 we will walk through a passage examining six verses together, yet praying through them individually. Let’s look at one verse today and pray our way through it.
Consider the first commandment. Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before Me. By way of reminder, we can’t overemphasize the need to read Scripture in context. When studying Scripture, start at the beginning of a book and make your way continuously through the book from start to finish. That way you follow the flow of thought.
To start, we could look up “gods” and “before.” “gods” (little g) mean man-made concepts of God; idols—physical or material images or things considered divine and worthy of worship. Basically, paying divine honor to any created thing. “Before” means above, beyond, over.
Given that understanding of the words, what is the instruction God gives us in Exodus 20:3? Clearly, we are not to recognize, trust, obey or worship (prize, value, love) anything or anyone above God. That is what God calls us to do.
Given that instruction, what can we give thanks for? Perhaps we can offer up thanksgiving that He has not only revealed Himself to us, but also offered Himself to be our God apart from any merit or request on our part (Ephesians 2:8-9). Moreover, God has brought us into His family, adopted us as His child and cares for, comforts, guards and strengthens us all the days of our life. Thank you, Father, for bringing us into your family and being our God.
Let’s keep going. How does this text lead us to confession? Well, sadly, the truth is we have committed countless acts of idolatry by loving, prioritizing, valuing, and esteeming many things and people above God. We have broken this command more than we have kept it. God, please forgive us. We repent and seek your mercy once more.
Lastly, how does this verse lead us to petition? What can we ask of God given what we have learned so far? We can and should ask for an undivided heart. We need God to preserve our faithfulness to Him so that we never hold anything in higher regard or love than God.
Scripture can supply us with deep, vivid, powerful, purposeful prayers if we will only take the time to learn and understand what God’s Word is saying to us.
- Father, help me to cling solely to You and to… Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways. Psalm 119:37
Day 10 - Let’s Do It Together
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
We’ve been learning a lot these last ten days! We’ve learned what prayer is, how to organize it, what kinds of prayers to pray and in what order, the value of looking up words, and how to pray Scripture. Be patient as you adopt bits and pieces of this over time. Change takes time.
Look at Psalm 23:1. Let’s consider the first half of that verse. What words would you look up?
Shepherd is a key word in the Bible. In fact, just reading the word “Shepherd” might recall to your mind the parable in the New Testament of the lost sheep (Matthew 18) or Jesus’ words “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). What would help us understand all of these Scripture references is learning more about the word shepherd. Even if we don’t recall the parable or the “I am” statement, the Lord is being called something. We should look that up.
When we look up shepherd we learn this person is a keeper of sheep. A shepherd cared for the flock—feeding, protecting, and leading them. He was responsible for every sheep, guarding it with his very life. We learn Jesus compared Himself to a shepherd in John 10:11. The shepherd/sheep relationship in the New Testament is speaking of Christ and His followers. And considering all that a shepherd does for his flock, we can begin to get a deeper understanding of how Christ cares for us.
How about the word “Lord”? Try looking that word up and see what you find.
Once we have looked up key words, how can we pray this verse? Well, let’s start with the instruction of the verse. It is telling us the Lord is our shepherd. Since we know what that word means, we should rest and trust in His good care of us. In fact, the rest of the Psalm speaks to this idea of resting and trusting in the good Shepherd. Well then, how can we offer up thanksgiving from this verse? We could say, “Thank you Lord for being my shepherd, caring for me and laying down your life to save mine.” What about this verse prompts us to confession? Have there been times when we didn’t rest and trust in His care of us? Sadly, yes. We need to confess this to our good Shepherd. Lastly, let us go to God in prayer and humbly ask God for help in living a life of a trust and obedience to Him.
- Choose Scripture you are studying and pray through one or more verses using ACTS or the Garland model of prayer as your guide. (Refer back to Day 5 and Day 8).