I am currently enjoying a free trial of The Banner of Truth magazine. In my first free issue there was a particularly helpful article with respect to prayer by Peter Barnes. This brief post is inspired by that article.
Prayer is a constant struggle for the Christian. Our lives are so busy, our minds so preoccupied, and our world so noisy. To find time, energy, and (if we are honest) the desire is difficult. Here are four ways to pray better:
Pray in light of the gospel
As alluded to above, motivation is the key to our prayer life. One way to ensure we are motivated correctly is to pray in light of the gospel. As Peter Barnes writes: “We are not trying to climb the ladder to heaven, but responding to the grace of the triune God in reaching down to earth to save sinners.” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5). Prayer is not something we have to do, it is something we get to do because of Jesus and the cross. Prayer is not a demand, but a reward for the work of another. Seeking God in prayer is not our attempt to please, find, or satisfy God; it is the irresistible outpouring of a gratefully renewed heart. Praying in light of the gospel helps us find and keep our motivation.
Pray in light of the Psalms
The Psalter is a rich book; through them we are “taken into the depths of the human soul and raised to the heights of the glories of God” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5). The whole gamut of human emotions find expression in the Psalms, and yet through these intensely human poems there is a magnificent theology of God. Sometimes we face circumstances in life that we do not have words for. Due to sorrow, fear, or anger we simply don’t know how to address God. But for those who pray in light of the Psalms they are “helped thus to understand themselves, and also taken out of themselves, to draw near to God” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).
Pray in light of structure
There is not necessarily anything wrong with impromptu prayer. Spontaneous prayer is often enlivening and exhilarating. To pray without preparation reveals our true hearts and minds. However, this spontaneity can lead to repetition, clichés and mindless babble. As Barnes illustrates:
Two lovers may sigh at each other, but a relationship consists of more than sighs. So too with God. It is too easy for us to resort to set phrases or fill-in words that do not mean much. (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5)
It is good to think about the structure of our prayer, to move through our worship and requests orderly. This is especially true when praying publicly so that others can pray with you as they listen. Doing this also allows our prayers to differ each time and therefore become more engaging for our own hearts, minds and souls.
Pray in light of others
Being a Baptist my tradition is to avoid liturgy, but I do fear that me and my separatist friends lose something by avoiding liturgy at all costs. One of the most profitable aids to my prayer life has been the little book The Valley of Vision. Praying written prays is hugely helpful in widening our horizons, broadening our praying vocabulary and diversifying our topics of prayer. This is something that the Anglican liturgy does well. We can indeed be helped by reading the prayers of others and praying the prayers of others.