This is part two of our blog series “New Year’s Resolutions Worth Making”. Here’s part 1 about Bible Intake
In our hyperactive culture the ability to spend time in prayer is becoming increasingly hard. We always have something else to do that keeps us from praying, or something else on our mind that distracts us while we are praying. Prayer is hard. Yet, prayer is vital to our spiritual health, because our faith is not merely intellectual agreement with various doctrines. Our faith is the spiritual experience of being in a relationship with the living God. And, like any relationship, communication is key to experiencing the richness of that relationship and prayer is how we communicate with God.
This is why Scripture is clear on our need to pray.
- And when you pray, (Mat 6:5 ESV)
- But when you pray, (Mat 6:6 ESV)
- And when you pray (Mat 6:7 ESV)
- they ought always to pray (Luk 18:1 ESV)
- continue steadfastly in prayer, (Col 4:2 ESV)
- pray without ceasing, (1Th 5:17 ESV)
If we want to grow in our relationship with God, then we need consistent times of speaking to God in prayer.
So how can we grow in spending meaningful time in prayer when it is so hard to focus and so easy to be distracted? I think there are two things that can help us immensely.
First, follow the structure that Jesus gives us in his teaching on prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. I like to summarize it with this acronym to help me remember: P.A.C.T.
Praise “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by Your name.”- Praising God for who He is.
Align- “Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be done” Asking God to align our hearts with His.
Confession- “Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us all our trespesses and lead us not into temptation.” Confessing our practical and spiritual needs for God.
Thanksgiving- “whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” Thanking God for how He answers prayers
Second, fill in this structure with content that comes from mediating on God’s word. The word “meditation” in the Bible is the same word that is used for “muttering.” It’s the idea of repeating things to yourself and dwelling on them over and over again, so that their truth goes deep into your heart. In his excellent book on prayer, Pastor Tim Keller writes this,
It is no accident that the first two Psalms in the Psalter are not prayers per se, but rather meditations. In fact the very first Psalm, the doorway into the prayer book of the Bible, is a meditation on meditation. Why? We are being taught that while it is certainly possible for deep experiences of the presence and power of God to happen in innumerable ways, the ordinary way for “going deeper” spiritually is through meditation. It is in meditation that we get into deeper self-surrender, then into higher, clearer faith-sights of his beauty, and finally into powerful, dynamic prayer for the world.- TIm Keller
Similarly if you read the Puritans (who had incredibly rich prayer lives), you’ll see this same practice being taught.
The word feedeth mediation and meditation feedeth prayer- John Owen
Though a man’s heart be much indisposed to prayer, yet, if he can but fall into mediation of God, and the things of God, his heart will soon come off to prayer- William Bridge
The key to experiencing a rich prayer life comes through learning how to prayerfully meditate on God’s word. This is why part 1 of this series was about how to read and study the Bible. Through our study of the Bible we are given the words of God which we can then meditate on and turn into prayer to God.
So here is how this could look practically. Take time every morning and evening to read through one passage of scripture and then pray through it meditatively using the structure given in the Lord’s prayer. You can do this by asking: “What does this passage tell me about God that can lead me to Praise God?” What does this passage tell me about how I should Align my heart to God?” “How does this passage lead me to Confess my need for God?” “How does this passage assure me that I have reason to give Thanks to God?”
Here’s an example.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psa 23:1 ESV)
God, I praise you that you are my Shepherd. You watch over me. You lead me. You provide for me. You care for me. You protect me. I am known by you as your own sheep. Jesus, you said that you were the Good Shepherd who lays down your life for your sheep (John 10:11). I praise you that you have become my Shepherd, because you gave your life to make me your sheep.
Help me to align my heart to follow your lead. Help me to want to want you. Your ways are best. Your word is true, Your Spirit is life.
I confess that I often want to go my own way. I confess that I can often think I know best and want to lead myself. I confess that I can question your right to lead me and try to take back control of my life.
Thank you that you do not let me go. Thank you that even though I am a sheep who can be so prone to wander, you lead me back to Yourself continually. Thank You that in You I have no wants. You are all I need and You have given yourself to me. Thank you for being my Shepherd.
Do you see how rich prayer can become when it is focused by meditation God’s word? I find it really helpful to have a time of focused prayer in the morning and the evening, and if possible, around midday.
The more we learn to talk with God, the more we will experience the sweetness of our relationship with God. And growing closer to God is definitely a New Year’s Resolution worth making!